You pour their kibble only to discover they take a few bites and walk away. Or they skip meal after meal, leaving you worried. Loss of appetite in dogs can have many causes, ranging from benign to serious. Wondering why is my dog not eating food?
As a dog owner and trainer, I’ve helped many clients navigate their pup’s finicky eating or food refusal. The key is pinpointing the reason through vet exams and trial-and-error. Often simple solutions get your dog excited for chow time again!
This guide covers all the possible reasons your dog isn’t eating and practical tips to entice their appetite back. You’ll gain confidence handling skipped meals and learn when professional support is needed. Let’s solve the mystery of your dog’s missing mojo for food!
Table of Contents
Common Reasons Dogs Stop Eating
Appetite issues in dogs often stem from the following categories. We’ll explore each in more detail:
- Health problems – nausea, mouth pain, organ dysfunction
- Pickiness or preference changes – boredom with food, effects of treats
- Stress triggers – separation anxiety, changes in environment/routine
- Effects of aging – altered metabolism, sense of smell
- Behavioral problems – fear, depression, compulsive disorders
- Effects of medication or toxins
- Hot temperatures affecting digestion and desire to eat
The reasons can range from simple to complex. Work with your vet to methodically rule out or identify causes. Let’s dive deeper on each factor.
Health Issues Causing Loss of Appetite in Dogs
If your dog acts ill and refuses food, physical causes could be to blame. Common medical issues leading to appetite loss include:
Nausea or vomiting makes eating unappealing. Culprits include:
- Foreign object obstruction
- Food allergies or intolerance
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Motion sickness
Tooth and gum issues like abscesses, fractured teeth, or periodontal disease can make chewing painful, causing avoidance. Signs include dropping food, reluctance to chew, mouth sensitivity, and loose teeth.
Difficulty breathing from conditions like kennel cough or pneumonia can suppress appetite. Your dog may seem distressed or wheezy.
Problems with organs involved in nutrient metabolism and waste elimination can lead to nausea:
- Liver disease
- Kidney failure
Let your vet run tests if your dog is exhibiting any other symptoms of illness along with appetite decline. Meds can help manage issues, restoring their drive to eat.
Picky Eating and Food Preferences
In the absence of illness, your dog may simply have become a finicky eater. Reasons for food fussiness include:
Boredom with the Same Meals
Dogs love novelty. Serving the exact same kibble day in day out can cause them to lose interest. Their appetite may seem to come and go.
Effects of Tasty Treats
Too many extra tasty human foods or high calorie treats between meals can decrease their motivation to eat plain kibble.
Disliking Certain Foods or Textures
Some dogs have strong preferences. Try different proteins, flavors, or textures to find ones your dog likes. Crunchy kibble may be more enticing than canned food or vice versa.
Attention Seeking Behavior
Some dogs learn refusing food earns them extra attention or treats from owners. Ignore begging and stick to scheduled meals.
Simple diet tweaks like adding mix-ins and switching proteins along with scheduled meal times often get selective eaters gobbling again.
Stress and Changes Causing Appetite Issues in Dogs
Big changes and unfamiliar situations can become stressors that affect your dog’s desire to eat. Transition periods when appetite may decline include:
Adoption of a Shelter or Rescue Dog
It takes most adopted dogs 2-4 weeks to feel at home and regain normal appetite as they acclimate to new people, home, and routine.
Moves to a new house or family can overwhelm some dogs, temporarily causing irregular eating. Make the transition gradual.
Boarding or Kenneling
The stimulation and disruption of their normal environment when boarded can lead some dogs to go off food.
Traveling or Day Trips
Experiencing new places through travel or outings revs up some dogs’ metabolism, decreasing hunger.
Visitors or Crowds
Unfamiliar guests or loud gatherings occasionally cause shy dogs stress that reduces appetite.
Dogs with attachment issues may anxiously refuse food while owners are away.
As their routine stabilizes, most anxious dogs return to more consistent eating after an adjustment period. Let’s look at some other potential causes next.
Effects of Aging on Appetite in Dogs
Advancing age can also impact dogs’ appetite and eating habits:
Reduced Sense of Smell
Nose decline means food becomes less aromatic and enticing. Opt for extra fragrant foods.
Oral Health Issues
Sore gums and teeth make chewing kibble difficult for elderly dogs. Switch to wet food or add warm water to soften kibble.
Less efficient digestion can cause nausea and appetite fluctuations in senior dogs. Feed small frequent meals.
Aging dogs need fewer calories but still require balanced nutrition. Switch to a high quality senior diet.
Dementia and confusion can disrupt eating routines for geriatric dogs. Stick to set feeding schedules.
If your senior dog stops eating, rule out endocrine and organ issues through vet exams. Tweaking nutrition and environmental factors often gets them interested in food again.
Behavioral Problems Causing Appetite Loss in Dogs
In some cases, psychological issues manifest as irregular eating habits:
Fear and Anxiety
Nervous dogs may become too distracted and tense to eat normally, especially in social settings.
Loud sounds like thunderstorms or fireworks can cause panting, pacing and reluctance to eat. Muffle noise and mute stimuli at mealtimes.
Depression from loss of a companion animal or family member moving away can cause appetite decline and weight loss. Engage them positively with walks, play and bonding time.
OCD tendencies like shadow chasing or excessive licking/chewing may indicate an anxious dog who forgets to eat.
Some dogs make a game out of holding out for tastier add-ins or refusing kibble in hopes of “better” foods. Stick to schedule and avoid giving in.
Consult an animal behaviorist if appetite issues seem rooted in psychological causes. Targeted training, enrichment and medication can get dogs eating well again.
Effects of Medication, Toxins and Metabolic Issues
In some cases, external factors cause appetite abnormalities:
Medication Side Effects
Some drugs like antibiotics, NSAIDs and chemotherapy may trigger nausea, altering appetite. Confirm dosages with your vet.
Swallowing poisonous substances can cause vomiting, lip smacking, or throat irritation that deters eating.
An underactive thyroid slows metabolism which can decrease appetite and cause weight gain. Blood tests check thyroid levels.
This adrenal gland disorder creates nausea and poor nutrient absorption leading to irregular appetite and weight loss. Vets can diagnose through testing.
Excessive thirst and unexplained weight loss are warning signs of diabetes along with appetite fluctuation. Your vet can check glucose levels.
So in addition to underlying health problems, a range of other factors could be sabotaging your dog’s drive to eat. Next we’ll cover environmental causes.
Effects of Heat or Weather Changes on Appetite
External temperature changes can also impact your dog’s desire to eat:
Dogs often eat less during hot spells, as heat saps their appetite and they try to stay cool. Offer chilled food and access to shade.
Some dogs need to eat more calories in cold climates to maintain body heat and energy. Increase food during frigid weather.
Anxious dogs may refuse food due to claps of thunder, lightning flashes or other stormy conditions. Distract them with safe dens and toys.
Altered daylight from time changes or seasonal shifts may disrupt your dog’s normal meal routine if accustomed to eating at specific times. Stick with a consistent schedule.
While environmental factors play a role, eliminating medical causes first is important before making dietary tweaks and changes to entice a picky dog. Next we’ll cover that process…
Diagnosing the Cause of Appetite Loss
If your dog stops eating for more than 24 hours or refuses several meals in a row, engage your vet to pinpoint the issue:
Checking temperature, palpating the abdomen, and assessing for pain spots helps reveal potential illness.
Bloodwork, urinalysis, fecal analysis and imaging tests diagnose underlying disease.
Let your vet know any recent food, treat or supplement changes when the anorexia started. Gradual changes are best.
Were any new medications prescribed near when symptoms began? Report details to look for side effects.
Once acute physical causes are ruled out, identifying whether pickiness, stress, age or other factors are affecting appetite comes next. With collaboration between you and your vet, most dogs that have stopped eating return to their food-motivated selves.
Tips to Make Your Dog Eat Again
Solving appetite problems involves both medical and behavioral management. Once illness is treated, try these tips:
Make Eating Enjoyable
Hand feed for dog bonding and teach cues like “take it” and “enough.” Praise lavishly for eating.
Try New Flavors
Rotate proteins like chicken, beef, turkey, or fish. Top with broths, cheese sprinkle, or hot water to enhance smell.
Light walking and play can stimulate hunger before meals. But avoid vigorous exercise for at least an hour after eating.
Use Food Puzzles
Increase motivation by putting kibble in puzzle toys, snuffle mats, and frozen Kongs.
Break meals into smaller portions throughout the day for finicky eaters. Take away uneaten food within 15-20 minutes.
Avoid Changing Foods
Stick to one brand for 2-3 weeks, changing proteins. Frequent changes worsen pickiness.
Bringing in professionals like trainers or behaviorists provides extra help re-establishing regular appetite and mealtime habits.
When to Seek Veterinary Help for Inappetance
Contact your vet promptly if your dog shows any of the following despite attempts to entice eating:
- Refusing food for over 48 hours
- Significant weight loss over 2-4 weeks
- Obvious illness symptoms like lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea
- Difficulty chewing or swallowing
- Loss of energy, mood changes
- Consumption of toxins or other concerning items
Also seek assistance if appetite loss recurs consistently after ruling out and addressing initial causes. Your vet can prescribe medications and recommend next steps.
The following circumstances warrant an emergency vet visit:
- An obstructed airway requiring immediate aid
- Bloating or stomach twist risk
- Possible poisoning from dangerous food or toxin
- Signs of shock like weak pulse, collapse, rapid breathing
- Traumatic injury, blow to the head, or other acute crisis events
Rapid treatment greatly improves the prognosis in serious cases causing anorexia. Now let’s recap when to worry – and when you can relax – if your dog stops eating.
When to Worry About Appetite Loss in Dogs – Key Takeaways
Here are some final guidelines on addressing changes in your dog’s appetite:
- A day or two of picking at food likely isn’t concerning – monitor and look for causes like weather changes or stressors.
- Appetite that declines for 3+ days warrants an exam to rule out underlying illness.
- If your dog seems energetic and well otherwise, try dietary tweaks and mental enrichment to stimulate their appetite.
- Refusal to eat for over 2 days along with lethargy, vomiting, or apparent pain necessitates prompt vet attention.
- Sudden inability to swallow, excessive drooling, and breathing issues requires emergency assistance.
- Tactics like stimulating senses through warm food and puzzles can entice finicky eaters.
- Work with your vet to methodically diagnose any disease while also identifying and managing behavioral causes.
Why is My Dog Not Eating FAQs
Q: How long can a dog go without eating?
A: Healthy dogs can go 1-2 days without eating before it becomes a concern. Puppies under 6 months old should never go more than one day though. Beyond 2 days warrants a vet visit to uncover the reason for appetite loss.
Q: What if my dog hasn’t eaten in 2 days?
A: If your dog hasn’t eaten for over 48 hours, contact your vet, as this can indicate an underlying health issue requires attention. Persistent appetite loss can lead to liver damage and other harmful effects. Try temptations like broth, cheese and hand feeding, but seek medical guidance if they still refuse food.
Q: Is it okay for a dog to go 24 hours without eating?
A: While not ideal, healthy adult dogs can generally go 24 hours without eating without concern as long as they are drinking water. Puppies under 6 months should never go more than 12 hours without food though. If appetite loss persists beyond 24 hours or accompanies other symptoms, seek vet assistance.
Q: What if my dog isn’t eating for 72 hours?
A: You should be very concerned if your dog hasn’t eaten in 72 hours, as this risks complications like hepatic lipidosis in which liver fat builds up dangerously. Please seek emergency vet care for a dog refusing food over 3 days so they can check for underlying illness and provide treatment before their health declines further.
While appetite issues startle most dog owners, the culprit is usually discoverable with some patience and persistence. In many cases, simple solutions get your pup excited to eat again!
Let me know if you have any other questions on handling dogs with appetite loss or picky eating habits. I’m happy to offer guidance and ideas to help both your dog and your own worry!