Many of us have challenging relationships with food – why can’t we crave carrots instead of chocolate when we are stressed?! Dogs aren’t immune to this, though they aren’t likely to dive into a pint of ice cream after a bad breakup or getting let go from a job. Instead, they may stop eating entirely. Thankfully, we have some experts to weigh in on issues revolving a new lack of interest in food.
Christine Caplan, a certified veterinary technician with AKC Pet Insurance, based in Portland, Oregon, says there are five main factors that may cause dogs to not eat:
- Medical conditions – Your vet will help you with a treatment plan to ensure your dog eats following a health issue, and sometimes an appetite stimulant is necessary.
- Surgery – It may take many days before your dog’s appetite returns to normal.
- Medications – Many medications can cause inappetence, and this is very common when opioids are taken.
- Aging – Most seniors lose their appetite due to illnesses or dulling senses. At the beginning of the day, many seniors just aren’t hungry.
- Stress – Any change or move can cause stress and GI upset.
Keep in mind, too, frequency is key here. “If the dog misses one meal I wouldn’t be too worried, but if the problem persists past that, a good medical exam and lab work is certainly recommended,” says Dr. Judy Morgan, 2019 Veterinary Hero Award Nominee and founder and CEO of Dr. Judy Morgan’s Naturally Healthy Pets, based in Wendell, North Carolina.
Lori Head, St. Joseph, Missouri-based head of US operations for Tonisity, maker of DoggyRade, echoes that sentiment, adding that although, “A loss of appetite in dogs doesn’t necessarily indicate serious issues, prompt veterinary attention is important and advised, especially a refusal to eat in dogs that usually eat well.” She lists dental disease, recent vaccinations and being in unfamiliar surroundings as other potential causes for dogs to stop eating.
Reasons your dog may stop eating can range from being a picky Poodle to a sickly Schnauzer. So, what is the solution for different reasons?
Dog doesn’t eat due to medical issues
“If your dog’s loss of appetite is caused by illness, your vet may recommend a prescription diet to meet your pet’s nutritional needs, while underlying issues are being addressed and identified,” says Lori.
Your dog may give you some clues if she is not eating because she isn’t feeling well. “Sometimes they realize a particular flavor (or protein) does not agree with them,” Dr. Morgan says and adds that a sick dog will usually have the following signs:
- making a lot of stomach noise
If a dog doesn’t feel well, Christine advises switching to a bland diet for a few days.
Dr. Morgan advises on possible physical issues or ailments that can prevent or deter a dog from eating:
- A foreign body obstruction, a mass in the stomach or bowel, or cancer of the stomach or bowel.
- Kidney failure and cancer are associated with lack of appetite. Sometimes dogs may not like a particular food or the smell is off (rancid food).
- Dogs may have an upset stomach from something they ate or a food sensitivity or intolerance.
- Pancreatitis, inflammatory bowel disease and colitis can all cause dogs to walk away from food.
- If inappetence is accompanied by vomiting or diarrhea, a veterinary exam is warranted, particularly if there is blood or mucus in the vomit or stool.
Dog doesn’t eat due to nonmedical issues
“If it’s medical, the pet owner needs to defer to their vet,” Christine says. “But if it’s behavioral, it’s important to explore different types of food, from toppers to a fresh food diet. You can also try feeding on a lick mat or a food mat versus a bowl.
Once a medical issue has been ruled out, Lori suggests things you can do when your dog won’t eat:
- Cut back on treats
- Feed your pet on a regular schedule
- Make mealtime fun time, such as playing with a toy that dispenses food, or rewarding your dog with food for doing a trick.
- Take your dog for walk before mealtime.
- Change your dog’s feeding situation; try feeding her alone if you have other animals.
- Also try different bowls or plates at different heights to see what your dog prefers.
You may opt for an assist from a pro, and there’s nothing wrong with that. “Working with a certified trainer or behaviorist is best if your dog is boycotting and you’ve ruled out medical issues,” Christine advises. “If stress is the reason, a trainer can help determine why this is happening and how to resolve this issue.”
Never let your dog starve it out
Whatever the reason for inappetence, we’ve all heard the “The dog will eat when she’s hungry” attitude, but that isn’t advised. In fact, Dr. Morgan calls this a “Horrible solution. A pet should never be starved. Waiting them out for 24 hours is fine. For puppies, no more than 12 hours.”
Dogs and people can have similarities with food, including skipping a meal for no real reason. But having these tools at the ready can help you determine if it is a truly an issue and if so, what to do. Whatever you do, keep the Ben & Jerry’s to yourself.
Elizabeth Anderson Lopez is an award-winning writer based in California. She and her husband have three rescue Bull Terriers. Dexter will eat his kibble and anything else (including paper); Tosh likes carrots but no other veggies; and Maybelene won’t eat unless there is a fresh or freeze-dried topper added. Contact Elizabeth at fromconcepttocontent.com.