Reasons why my dog won’t eat their food

If your dog won’t eat their food anymore, it’s not always easy to know why or what you can put in their bowl to encourage them to feed. Many dogs go off their food at some point in their life. To help you understand why your dog may not be eating, we’ve written this article to answer all your questions, give you tips on how to help them and tell you when to speak to your vet for advice.

Why won’t my dog eat?

Your dog may not eat for many reasons: if they’re in pain; are feeling anxious or stressed; if they’re unwell; feel nauseous; if they have side effects from medication; and sometimes simply because they don’t like the food you’ve given them. Suddenly being off their food is often a sign that something is wrong, either with them, how they feel or their food. If you notice a change in your dog’s appetite, and there’s no clear explanation, such as food that’s gone off because of a breach in a tin, then it’s best to contact your vet.

My dog won’t eat or drink, what should I do?

If your dog isn’t eating and is also not drinking, call your vet straight away. Your dog needs to stay hydrated and can quickly become unwell if they don’t drink. Try to encourage them to drink by ensuring their water bowl is clean and you’re giving them fresh cool water. You can add a little bit of juice from a can of tuna to their water (making sure to avoid tuna in brine or oil) or give them ice cubes to lick or chew on (read our hints and(read our hints and tips on giving ice to a dog). The cooled water from poaching a chicken can also be really tasty (don’t use stock cubes as they contain a lot of salt).

Medical reasons your dog may be off their food

Being off their food can be one of the first signs that your dog is ill, especially if it’s sudden. There are many illnesses that can make your dog not want to eat, varying from tooth pain, stomach bugs or more serious illnesses like pancreatitis or cancer. Possible causes include:

  • Pain in the mouth – this could be caused by tooth decay, infections, gum disease or a broken tooth
  • Stomach/tummy problems – this could be caused by viruses, infections, inflammation, something getting stuck in their gut, worms or eating too much. Most commonly, tummy upsets are caused by scavenging, such as picking up something they shouldn’t have on their walk for example. Sudden changes in diet may also cause tummy upset.
  • Pain – dogs are very good at hiding their pain, but it might cause them to be off their food
  • Organ issues – problems with their heart, lungs, liver, pancreas or kidneys could all make your dog feel unwell and not want to eat
  • General illness – if your dog has an infection or a virus then, just as we do, they may feel generally unwell and off their food
  • Side effects of medication – some drugs and medicines may make your dog feel unwell, although this is uncommon. Always check with your vet whether this is a possibility

Behavioural reasons your dog may not eat

Like us, our dogs are emotional creatures. Some dogs may not want to eat if they’re feeling anxious, stressed or scared. Many dogs thrive on routine and knowing what to expect, so you may find that even small changes to their environment or routine can be difficult for them to cope with. Possible behavioural reasons for being off their food include:

  • Changes in environment, such as having builders in, moving home, fireworks, storms or new pets
  • Changes in routine, such as a death in the family, death of a pet, a breakup, starting a new job, children returning to school
  • Separation anxiety, such as when you’re out of the house for a long time, when you go to work or if they’ve been in kennels while you’ve been away. Some dogs may not want to eat until their owner is home, even though their food is available to them during the day

Usually, if dogs aren’t eating because of stress or anxiety, their normal feeding patterns should return after a few days of the stressor being stopped. Some dogs may need extra support to help them cope with their anxieties and you may need to talk to your vet or a dog behaviourist about how to help them.

Is your dog a fussy eater?

If your dog turns their nose up at their food but shows an interest in what you’re eating, or their favourite treats, then it may be that they’re just being picky about what they eat. Your dog probably wasn’t born a fussy eater. Instead, their picky eating habits may suggest that they’re a very smart dog. By holding out long enough, your dog has realised that if they ignore their average daily meals, they’re more likely to get attention and, most importantly, more likely to be offered an alternative. Often, they will gobble down the new food offered, but this doesn’t mean that they like it any better than what they had before. Neophilia is a liking for new tastes and can be reinforced by continually offering different foods. They will initially eat a new food very well and quickly, but then as they get used to it, they settle down to eat normal amounts and may appear to be going off it.  Find out more about how to feed a fussy eater.

Find out more about how to feed a fussy eater.

The impact of overfeeding

Sometimes, dogs may refuse to eat a meal because they’ve had too many snacks, treats or titbits throughout the day. When feeding your dog, it’s important that you stick to their daily calorie intake. Treats and snacks should make up no more than 10% of the daily calorie needs, otherwise, they will have an unbalanced diet. They may begin to put on weight, which can cause lots of health issues, as well as shorten their life. Make sure that other people in your household aren’t also feeding your dog or giving them treats, as this could double the trouble!

Problems with the Food

Your dog may not eat because of the food itself. It could be:

  • Old or stale – try throwing out the food and giving them something fresh. Make sure any food containers are airtight to prevent the food from spoiling. Cans and pouches should be put into the fridge if not completely used up in one meal and the rest used within 24 hours
  • Out of date – check the sell-by date and throw anything away that’s past it
  • Spoiled – sometimes dogs can smell that something isn’t right, even if we can’t. Store your food in a cool dry place. With dry food, once opened, make sure you use up the food within a reasonable length of time. About a month is right for most products. Buy products in a size of bag that is suitable for your pet. 
  • A ‘new improved formula’ that your dog doesn’t like. Some pets take time to adapt to new tastes in food. If your dog is a fussy eater, try to allow time to transition from the previous product to the new one – usually 7-10 days

What to feed a dog that won’t eat

If your dog won’t eat, try offering small amounts of food at a time. Warming the food gently to body temperature will increase its aromas and make it more tempting. Just remember to stir it thoroughly so there are no hot air pockets. Hand feeding can also tempt some pets. Some pets will be tempted to eat by adding Pro Plan FortiFlora, which is a tasty probiotic and helps with balancing the gut. Contact your vet if you’re concerned or if your dog just isn’t eating.

How to make a dog’s food more enticing

If your dog isn’t eating, you could try to make their food tastier by:

  • Adding a small amount of lukewarm water to their kibble and let it soak for a few minutes to soften
  • Give their usual canned dog food a gentle warm (to body temperature) in the microwave. By warming it up, it makes it smell stronger and becomes more appealing. Canned food can become hot quickly, so make sure to stir it and test it with a finger first
  • Try mixing some cooled boiled chicken in with their food to encourage them to eat. Make sure the chicken is boneless and without skin

Should I force-feed a dog that won’t eat?

No, if your dog’s not feeding, never force them to eat. You could try giving them something more appetising or encouraging them to try their food. If they’ve stopped eating, and you’re concerned about them, contact your vet for advice.

When should I worry about my dog not eating?

Contact your vet if your dog:

  • Hasn’t eaten anything in the last 24 hours
  • Hasn’t eaten anything in the last 12 hours and is sick or has diarrhoea
  • Isn’t eating and is also not drinking
  • Is losing weight
  • Seems unusually tired
  • Seems unwell in other ways g. coughing, constipated or straining to poo
  • Has signs of dental issues (pain in the mouth, bleeding or red gums, dribbles a lot, paws at their mouth/face)

Why is my dog’s stomach gurgling and they won’t eat?

If your dog isn’t eating, but their stomach is gurgling, it could be a sign that they have an upset stomach. The gurgling noise is made by your dog’s stomach is made by gas moving around in their gut. If your dog is unwell or hasn’t eaten in a day, then contact your vet for advice

Why is my dog not eating their food but will eat treats?

Your dog may refuse to eat their food because they really don’t like it or because they’ve been holding out for their favourite snacks. Also, if a dog’s not feeling well, they may not eat much but may make an exception to a treat. If your dog’s appetite suddenly changes, make sure to speak to your vet for advice. If you suspect that your dog is just being picky, you can find out more about feeding a fussy eater.

Why won’t my dog eat their dry food?

Dogs can suddenly go off hard food if they have pain in their mouth, such as problems with their gums, or teeth. Dogs that are feeling unwell, may also prefer to eat canned or wet food because the smell is more appetising. To help your dog, you could try adding a little bit of warm water to their kibble or you could mix in a small amount of wet food to make it more appealing. If your dog suddenly refuses to eat dry food, speak to your vet so that they can examine your dog.

My dog won’t eat from their bowl but will eat from my hand

Your dog may not eat from their bowl because it’s placed somewhere that’s too noisy or busy or they may find the bowl difficult to eat from (does it slide along the floor when they eat?), they may not be hungry, or they may dislike their food. Whatever the reason, feeding straight from their owner’s hand is always going to be much more interesting and engaging than their bowl. To help your dog, you could try using a different bowl, cutting out all snacks and treats or try mixing in a little bit of another food in with theirs to see if anything changes. If these methods don’t work, make sure to check that they don’t seem to be in any pain when they eat.

My dog isn't eating but is acting normally, what should I do?

If your dog isn’t eating but seems fine in themselves, try to encourage them to eat. If they’re still not eating after a day, contact your vet for advice. Dogs can go off their food for many reasons but if their appetite doesn’t return then it’s important for you and your vet to find out why.

What to feed a pregnant dog that won’t feed?

If your pregnant dog isn’t eating, try giving her some of her favourite food, but little and often. Dogs in the early parts of pregnancy can go off their food, and so can dogs in the later parts of pregnancy, as they have less room for their stomach to expand. Feeding smaller and more palatable meals can help them get the energy and nutrients they need during pregnancy. During the last third of pregnancy, a growth-type diet will be more concentrated in energy and nutrients and allow them to eat more calories in a smaller amount of food. If a pregnant dog doesn’t eat anything for 24 hours or is losing weight, contact your vet for advice.

Why won’t my new dog eat?

If you’ve recently rescued a dog, they may feel too anxious or stressed to eat at first. It may take them a little while to feel at home but once they do their appetite should return in a day or so. Offer them a similar food to what they’ve been used to previously. Make sure they eat somewhere quiet and calm, without people or other pets interrupting them, and they’ll get there in the end.

What to give a sick dog that won’t eat?

If your dog is ill, they may not want to eat. In the short term for a day or so, boiled chicken breast and cooked white rice can help to settle any upset tummy, but this won’t be balanced for the longer term. Gastrointestinal diets, available from your vet, are very digestible but also contain other nutrients, such as prebiotics, that can help the tummy to recover. Make sure to give them only a small amount of food but try giving it often. As they start to feel better, their appetite should return. If your dog is sick or has diarrhoea and is not eating, then contact your vet for advice.

How to feed a stressed dog

If your dog is not eating because they’re stressed, try feeding them somewhere they feel comfortable and calm, giving them plenty of reassurance. If they’re still not eating, try giving them some of their favourite food. Dogs may not want to eat during fireworks, thunderstorms or unusual loud noises. Even if a stressed dog isn’t eating, make sure that they have access to clean fresh water. Dogs pant when they’re stressed, which means that being anxious can be incredibly thirsty work.

Why is my older dog not eating?

Changes in appetite in older dogs could be due to illness, tooth pain, poor eyesight, pain from joint problems or it could be a sign of canine dementia. Their sense of smell can also decrease as a pet gets older, which might make food less appetising. If your dog hasn’t eaten for a day, if they’re losing weight or if you’re concerned about their eating habits, contact your vet for advice. For older dogs, it’s important that you keep to a routine and feed them at the same time every day. It’s also important not to move their bowl, especially for older dogs that have poor eyesight. Some older dogs with arthritis or joint problems may find it more difficult to stand on slightly slippery surfaces, such as tiles or wooden floors. To help your dog, try putting down a non-slip rug or mat for them to stand on while they eat.

Why is my puppy not eating?

Puppies that have just moved to a new home may not want to eat much because they’re nervous about a new environment or about being around new people. It’s important that puppies feed regularly, so if they haven’t eaten at all in the last 12 hours or if they’re unwell, contact your vet for advice to have them checked over. 

Think your dog may be affected?

If you're worried about your dog's health, always contact your vet immediately!

We are not a veterinary organisation and so we can't give veterinary advice, but if you're worried about any of the issues raised in this article, please contact your local vet practice for further information

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