Naturally, you will be feeling worried if your dog has stopped eating, or is eating less than usual. If your dog is not eating their food but will eat treats, you may even be feeling confused! A decrease in, or total lack of, appetite has a wide range of possible causes, with many being serious if left untreated. If you notice any changes in your dog’s appetite, it’s important to have them checked over by a veterinarian as soon as possible.
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What can cause a dog to stop eating?
There are many possible causes for a dog to stop eating, or to eat less than usual. Some conditions can cause a dog to simply not feel hungry, while others lead to a hungry dog who is unable to eat, for example, due to pain or nausea.
If you notice a decrease in your dog’s appetite, or they aren’t eating, then you need to book a consult with your veterinarian. Some of the possible causes are serious, and if your dog stops eating, they can become dehydrated and weak pretty quickly.
Here are some possible reasons for a dog not eating:
Problems with the teeth and/or gums are a really common cause of reduced appetite in dogs. In fact, it is believed that by two years old, a whopping 80% of dogs have some form of gum disease.
While we all know how painful toothache can be, dogs often continue to eat despite the pain! This means that the problem is often picked up too late when the teeth or gums are in a pretty bad way. If your dog has smelly breath, red gums, is chewing on one side, dropping food, or favoring soft food, then it’s time for a trip to the veterinary clinic!
As well as toothache, arthritis in the neck or front legs can cause a dog to stop eating since it becomes painful for them to reach the food bowl. Problems with the muscles used for chewing, or the jaw itself should also be considered.
Any infection, whether it’s caused by a virus or bacteria, can cause a dog to stop eating. Pyometra (an infected uterus) is a common example.
Some conditions can cause a dog to simply not feel hungry, while others lead to a hungry dog who is unable to eat, for example, due to pain or nausea.
Naturally, any problem involving the gut could be the culprit if your dog isn’t eating. This includes anything from a simple gastritis (stomach bug), pancreatitis (an inflamed pancreas), to a blockage due to a foreign body (your dog’s eaten something that’s got stuck in the stomach or intestine). Often, if a gut issue is the culprit, your dog would also have sickness and/or diarrhea.
Some hormonal conditions, such as an underactive thyroid, can cause a reduced appetite. You may see other signs too, such as reduced energy, changes in thirst, or changes to the coat.
Liver or kidney disease
Conditions affecting the liver or kidneys often cause nausea or feeling sick. Signs your dog is feeling sick include drooling, lip-smacking, and showing interest in food but then turning away from it. You may also notice weight loss and an increase in drinking with liver or kidney disease.
Heart or lung disease
I’m sure you can imagine that if your dog is having trouble breathing, they aren’t going to feel like eating! Heart and lung disease can cause a dog to feel pretty rotten, so they don’t feel like eating.
Many types of cancer can cause anorexia, often with extreme weight loss. Just as in people, this is known as ‘cancer cachexia’.
While some dogs (Labradors for example!) tend to happily guzzle their food down in any environment, other dogs are more sensitive. Some dogs can experience a temporary decrease in appetite if they are stressed, or if there are too many changes in their environment. Usually, if this is the case, there will be an obvious stressor, and the dog will otherwise appear well. However, it can be very hard to tell, so it’s safest to have a veterinarian check them over to be on the safe side.
Problems with the food
Dogs have very acute senses of smell and taste; they may realize food has spoiled before you do! It’s worth checking the expiration date on their food if they turn their nose up at a meal. Some dogs are also fussy, so may reject a new food or flavor.
It’s worth noting that if your dog won’t eat their food, but will eat treats, you shouldn’t assume this is fussiness. Treats are ‘high value’ (i.e., especially yummy!) so dogs who are in pain or feeling nauseous may still accept treats.
Some dogs can experience a temporary decrease in appetite if they are stressed, or if there are too many changes in their environment.
My dog’s not eating, what should I do?
If your dog stops eating for 24 hours or more, seems unwell in themselves, is eating less than usual, or is showing any other signs, then you should make an appointment with your veterinarian. Some of the possible causes are more serious than others, so the sooner a diagnosis is made the better.
Your veterinarian will ask some questions about your dog’s eating habits, how much they are drinking and if you have noticed any other symptoms. They will examine your dog and then may suggest further testing such as blood work, urine tests, or x-rays.
If your veterinarian asks you to tempt your dog to eat, there are a few things you can try at home:
- Warming the food (of course check it’s not too hot!)
- Adding cooled water that has been used to boil plain chicken (with no added salt)
- Feeding from your hand
- Feeding from a raised food bowl
- Feeding soft food.
Your veterinarian will treat the underlying cause if possible, and may also prescribe anti-sickness medication, or appetite stimulants, depending on the cause.
If your dog stops eating for 24 hours or more, seems unwell in themselves, is eating less than usual, or is showing any other signs, then you should make an appointment with your veterinarian.
Take home message?
It’s only natural to be worried if your dog stops eating, or starts eating less than usual. Often, the cause is a simple stomach cat flu or mild infection. However, there are many possible causes, some much more serious than others – especially if left untreated. This means you should never try to treat or diagnose the problem at home, especially if your dog seems unwell in themselves or has been off their food for more than 24 hours. Seeing your veterinarian sooner rather than later can help your dog feel better faster.
You should contact your veterinarian for advice if your dog isn’t eating, even if they seem fine.
If your dog hasn’t eaten for 24 hours or more, isn’t eating and has other symptoms, or seems unwell in themselves, then it’s time to call your veterinarian.
Dental problems are a really common reason for a decrease in appetite in dogs, but there are many possible causes, some more serious than others. Always see your veterinarian before trying any home remedies.
Dogs can survive a little while without eating but will become dehydrated, malnourished, and weak. You should always call your veterinarian if your dog isn’t eating.