My Dog is Not Eating: Solutions For Loss of Appetite in Dogs

We’ve all lived through the nights where no matter what you do, your dog refuses to eat or only want a dinner of treats. 

You feel like beating your head into the wall as you try to coax your dog into eating, switching from their normal dry kibble to adding in wet dog food, human food, table scraps, warm water stirred into kibble and nothing works.

Your furry friend has more fortitude than you do and has decided that tonight they’re going to be the Olympic champion of picky eaters.

So much so that they repeat the same thing the next day and now it’s days without food. 

Let’s look at the common reasons why a dog will refuse to eat:

  • Lack of Appetite / Hunger Strike (my personal experience)
  • Dental Disease
  • Separation Anxiety
  • Liver Disease
  • Kidney Failure
  • Upset Stomach
  • Canine Distemper
  • Pack Animals / Loss of a Canine Companion 
  • Other Medical Issues
  • Other stressful situation

Now that we have identified the reasons why your dog may not be eating, let’s explore how to handle each of these situations.

1. Lack of Appetite / Hunger Strike 

Feeding your dog treats or table scraps of human food close to their mealtime will definitely kick off a hunger strike and create a picky eater.  I know, I made this mistake and learned a lesson in the process. 

My dog would cry for a treat as we were getting her dinner ready and when it came time to eat her dinner, guess who wasn’t hungry.  

How we outsmarted our dog was, we mixed organic chicken bone broth with her kibble, and guess what, her appetite immediately reappeared. For variety, we’ll use beef broth every few meals to keep her on her toes and her appetite wanting her food.

Dogs who have enjoyed the texture and smell of canned, fresh, or raw food and the associated high fat, you will often find that your dog has developed a delicate palate and now prefer the same. 

Hand-feeding your dog table scraps is a great way to teach your dog to be a picky eater

Hand-feeding your dog table scraps is a great way to teach your dog to be a picky eater and a dog who will refuse to eat pet food at mealtime.  This is a really bad habit to teach your dog. 

Be careful here, a diet high in fat will lead to pancreatitis, which is a medical emergency and needs to be treated immediately.

It also can cause an upset stomach and obesity, according to the recent annual survey by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention more than half of the pet dogs in the United States are overweight or obese.

Pancreatitis will result in a very sick dog who will not eat and is often lethargic and vomiting.  

So how do you deal with a picky eater or a dog who prefers human food over dog food?

Start by setting a regular mealtime and feeding schedule and if they don’t’ eat in 20 minutes remove the food bowl. Do this again at the next mealtime, it may seem and feel mean, but your dog will get hungry and will eat their dry food or kibble.

Try adding some peanut butter powder and coating their kibble with it, or organic chicken bone broth.

2. Dental Disease

If your dog has chronic bad breath, it a sign of potential dental disease

Plague builds up on dog’s teeth just like it does on their parents and overtime this erodes the enamel causing cavities and teeth that become lose from gum disease.

If your dog is sniffing at their food and not eating, it’s highly likely they’re suffering from a dental issue or bad teeth.  They want to eat but it’s too painful to do so. It’s not uncommon for senior dogs to suffer from dental disease.

Talk with your vet about dental cleaning, I can only speak from my experience, our vet uses valium and not anesthesia for dental cleanings.  Valium makes my dog relaxed and sleepy without the anesthesia hangover. 

In the short term, home-cooked meals of soft food like white rice, bone broth, bland chicken or rotisserie chicken, and green beans or meat-based baby food will hold your fur baby over until you can get to the vet for a dental exam and cleaning.

3. Separation Anxiety

Dogs are pack animals and when their buddies aren’t home it’s upsetting and stressful for them. Or when they lose a companion animal, eg another family pet.  Dog’s grieve just like humans do and need time and extra TLC to get through this process.  

Separation anxiety can result in aggressive behavior, chewing on furniture, and more.  It can be treated very effectively, however, you will need patience as you work with your vet to resolve the cause of separation anxiety.

4. Medications

It’s well documented that NSAIDs can cause stomach and lower GI distress and ulcers.  Dog’s are no different when medicated with them.

If your dog is on an NSAID and stops eating it’s time to call the vet.

5. Liver, Heart Disease, Kidney Disease, and Cancer

These medical conditions affect blood chemistry and increase toxins in the bloodstream. 

As a result, your dog may suffer from a loss of appetite.

Liver disease and liver failure in dogs will often present initially as an increase in drinking water, diarrhea, and vomiting. with weight loss and a loss of appetite. 

Kidney disease presents as an increase in drinking water or water intake and urination, vomiting with or without diarrhea, and a lack of appetite and weight loss.

As kidney failure progresses your dog will become depressed, this is from the toxic wastes building up in their bloodstream.

Heart disease can have many different causes that range from congenital defects to age-related acquired.  For example, congenital defects in certain breeds are common and passed down through linage from parent to child. 

“Boxers, Cocker Spaniels, and Great Danes can be predisposed to canine dilated cardiomyopathy.

Like their pet owners, dogs as they age can develop cardiac arrhythmias, which is a defect in the heart’s electrical system, throwing the rhythm of the beats of the heart off. 

Arrhythmia can be treated effectively with medications.  

If your dog stops drinking water or goes days without water, you need to seek immediate attention from your local vet.  This is a very serious condition and without prompt veterinary care or your dog can die.

Every one of these disease states is a serious concern and requires immediate medical intervention by a veterinarian. 

5. Upset Stomach

An upset stomach in your dog is most likely caused by something they ate. Dogs are notorious for “Garbage gut” which means your dog ate something (maybe from the trash, table scraps, or that roll of toilet paper or the toy stuffing they just couldn’t resist) that has caused an upset tummy.

Other causes are bacterial imbalances in their digestive tract.  Symptoms of an upset stomach are decreased appetite, lethargy, and drinking less water.

Active Dawg USDA Certified Chicken bone broth

To treat a bacteria imbalance in the digestive tract consider adding chicken broth to their kibble or wet food.  Chicken bone broth has probiotics that are naturally occurring. 

Fasting and reducing your dog’s food intake with help with an upset stomach that is caused by “garbage gut.”

6. Canine Distemper

Canine distemper is a virus that attacks the nervous system, it leads to seizures, and partial or complete paralysis and resembles rabies in the later stages of the disease. 

Dogs and puppies infected with distemper will have a reduced appetite, vomiting, and fever.

There is no treatment for canine distemper except prevention with a vaccine.

7. Other Medical Issues

The inflammatory response from a recent vaccination or the stress from a visit to the local

Every one of these disease states is a serious concern and requires immediate medical intervention by a veterinarian can be stressful and result in a lack of a desire to eat.  This is temporary and will resolve itself fairly rapidly.

8. Other stressful situations

Changes in routine can upset dogs and they can stop eating.

Just like their parents, dogs like routines, they like to know that they’ll get their walks at a set time, that dinner will be ready promptly at 6 PM (or whatever time they are accustomed to), that you’ll be home from the office by X time.

Moving to a new house or taking a vacation are stressful events for both the parent of fur buddies and their 4-legged besties. 

Moving to a new house or taking a vacation are stressful events for both the parent of fur buddies and their 4-legged besties

Dogs like to feel secure and changes in their routine are disruptive and often can result in a loss of appetite or a temporary hunger strike. 

For the most part, a temporary loss of appetite is nothing to be overly worried about, if it lasts more than a couple of days, then you need to seek professional medical attention from your vet.

A few days is usually enough time for a dog to get past picky eater syndrome, anything more is the sign of a potentially serious underlying issue that needs further investigation.

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