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Why Dogs May Refuse Food

Updated on October 5, 2017
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Adrienne is a former veterinary hospital assistant, certified dog trainer, behavior consultant, and author of "Brain Training for Dogs."

Is your dog still in love with his food?

Get Your Dog's Appetite Back

Your dog has always been an avid eater. As a matter of fact, he has always gulped down his meal in seconds, and he has always made daily trips under your kitchen table just looking for a few crumbs. Yet, a day comes where he categorically refuses his food. Concerned, you start wondering if he may be sick or if he has suddenly turned out being a fussy eater.

Some dogs can be extremely finicky. They may turn their nose away from foods they dislike. Dealing with such dogs may be annoying as owners may find themselves continuously rotating between different dog food brands to satisfy their dog's special cravings.

However, in many cases, a loss of appetite may suggest a health ailment. This is why before considering your dog finicky, it is a good idea to have your vet rule out some conditions such as teeth problems, kidney or liver problems, or cancer.

Of course, there are many other health disorders that cause loss of appetite in dogs, this is why it is vital to rule out these conditions prior to simply considering your dog a finicky eater. Consider if there is a female dog in heat nearby, your male dog may no longer be interested in food. Below you may find some helpful tips that may shed some light on this mysterious case of "empty stomach syndrome".

Reasons Why Your Dog Stopped Eating

1) Has there been a sudden diet change?

Dogs may not readily accept new foods. If you just recently changed his food, he may be turning his nose up because the new food may not be as appealing as the previous. In this case, of course, the most obvious solution is to bring back the old food. However, if the old food is no longer good for him such as your dog is overweight and needs a food with less fat content, or your dog has turned out needing a new special diet, simply give him a few days. Sooner than later, his hunger will come back again and he will accept the new food.

2) Any signs of a tummy ache?

Dogs get tummy aches just as humans. It is quite normal for a dog with a stomach ache to refuse food for a day. In this case, respect his need for time. If your dog has been vomiting or has diarrhea, a 24-hour fast may benefit him. His upset stomach is just asking for some rest. Do not force feed. However, if you own a young puppy you do not want to fast him for more than 12 hours. Once the 12/24 hours are over, give your dog some boiled boneless and skinless chicken and rice for a few days to sooth his stomach. Gradually add the rice to his usual diet until it replaces the bland diet entirely.

3) What's going on in his life?

Have there been any recent changes? Has the dog moved to a new place, or is the dog with new owners? Stress may take a toll on a dog's appetite. A new environment can play a major role. Boarding kennels are very used to dogs not eating for 3-4 days because of the new place and the absence of their owners. Newly adopted dogs may not eat the first days as well. The appetite usually resumes once the dogs get back to his routine and gets more familiar with new places and new people. This only takes time.

4) Has he lost any close friends?

Dogs may get depressed and mourn the loss of a companion just as humans. Whether his best friend was a cat, another dog, or his beloved owner, dogs tend to lose their appetite when mourning. Some dogs have even refused food for long periods of time and even died from hunger. These cases may be hard to treat, but some exercise and environmental stimulus may bring part of his positive mood back and with that his appetite.

5) Is there love in the air?

On a merrier note, heat cycles are notorious appetite suppressants and it goes both ways for both bitches and studs. Unaltered female dogs may not eat when they have their estrus cycle and male dogs may be too distracted by the distinct "love potion odor" to concentrate on eating. In nature, dogs may not eat for various days when love is in the air. The same happens to domesticated dogs. Try to keep your dogs away from the sight of potential mates, but be aware that the smell of a female in heat may travel several miles.

6) Are you giving people food/canned food?

If you are feeding lots of table scraps routinely your dog may have decided that people food is tastier. Giving table scraps may be the recipe for a finicky dog. After all, if you were to eat rice every day and then you are offered potatoes, meatloaf, pastrami, and provolone, would you be happy to go back to your boring rice meal? Noooo . . . same case goes on with dogs that for some reason were given canned food and then had to be put back on dry.

7) Are you giving too many treats?

You are training your dog and giving treats as he learns. However, it never crosses your mind that your dog may be ingesting so many treats that he is refusing food because he is already full. Just think how you feel after eating loads of junk food, got the picture? Why not use your dog's kibble instead for training? Kibble is great to use when you are training in low distraction environments such as at home or in the yard.

8) Do you make a big deal out of eating?

Dogs are smart and dogs are attention seekers. Your dog refuses his kibble one morning. You step closeby, pet your dog, and literally beg her to eat another kibble. Next, you are pleading her to eat on your knees. Your dog, at this point, feels like a star. It's like, "Wow, every time I refuse food my owner goes bonkers over me. If I want to get all the attention I am missing during the day, all I need to do is turn my nose from the food I am offered."

9) Does the food look and smell okay?

With the tainted food issues hopefully behind us, some owners confessed that their dogs categorically refused foods that were on the tainted food list but their owners fussed them to eat until they eventually did. Give your dog the benefit of doubt, and check if the dog food smells and looks okay. Also, search for any recent recalls and call your dog food dealer to check if anybody reported anything unusual.

10) Is your dog free fed?

Do you leave dog food out all the time? It is a fact that the most finicky dogs are those that have dog food available at all times. After all, would you find french fries interesting if they were always 24/7 available to you? Likely not. Rather, feed your dog only at certain times. Ideally, you want to feed your adult dog twice a day and puppy three times a day.

11) Are there any signs of dental problems?

Dogs can get tooth aches. The first thing vets generally check when dogs are not eating is the mouth. Check for any abnormalities such as red gums, dental decay, bad breath, or even objects stuck in the mouth. Some dogs tend to salivate when they have oral pain, and others may drop kibbles of dry food out of their mouth. Be very careful when checking a dog's mouth, you can accidentally be bitten as your dog closes his jaw. Have a vet carefully inspect his mouth.

12) Are there too many distractions?

You feed your dog in the middle of the kitchen when the baby is crying, the phone rings, and your cats are jumping all over. Dogs need peace and quite when they eat, and with too many distractions, your dog may lose his appetite. Try to feed in a quiet spot and keep other pets away. Some dogs refuse to eat if other pets are around.

How Can I Get My Dog to Eat Again?

Now that we have gone over some of the most common scenarios where dogs refuse food, it is time to find out what can be done to entice your dog back to normal eating. As mentioned previously, never force a dog that is acting sickly. If it is just a slight upset stomach, let it run its course. However, if your dog is refusing food for more than 24 hours or is acting lethargic, a vet visit is mandatory. A dog that has always been an avid eater sends out a bright red flag when he suddenly refuses his food and does not act right.

These tips are to entice dogs that are not acting sick. Some may work and some may not. If you are dealing with an obstinate case, play it safe and check with your veterinarian for an underlying cause.

1) Warm it up

Sometimes all it takes is to add a few drops of warm water or broth (with no onion or garlic) to have a dog gain interest in food once again. The warm water or broth moistens the dry kibble and allows more smell to be released. If your dog has dental problems, a softer meal is well welcomed. If you are giving canned food, try to warm it up slightly in the microwave. Make sure it is not too hot by mixing it well and testing the temperature with your finger.

2) Change food

In some cases, dogs need to change food. Dogs in nature have a variety of foods available and some dogs do better changing foods every now and then. Try to identify foods your dog likes a lot and that are good for him and then rotate them. Make sure though that your dog is not abruptly put on a new food. A dog's stomach needs time to adjust to a different food. Gradually over the course of one week, add the new food to the old until it replaces it entirely. Fail to do so and you may get a vomiting dog or a dog with diarrhea or worse both!

3) Pass some gravy

Some special gravies may be found at you local pet store. One, in particular, is made by Iams. They are tasty gravies that entice dogs to eat. Simply pour some on the dish and your dog will likely gulp it up. Be aware though: your dog may get addicted to it and refuse food if you do not have a bottle in stock!

4) Invest in smelly dog foods

Usually the smellier the dog food the better. You do not want to buy a dog food that appeals to you but rather a dog food that appeals to your dog. Stinky foods with a strong odor look like are the most appealing to dogs.

5) Take the dish away

Every time your dog refuses food for more than 20 minutes remove the dish. Dogs learn quickly. Next mealtime he may eagerly eat fearing you might take the dish away again. As a general rule, therefore, do not let food sit in the dish for more than 20 minutes.

6) Remove canned gradually

If your dog was on canned food and now is refusing dry. Mix some canned to the dry and decrease the canned gradually over time. Sooner than later he will be eating only dry once again.

7) Keep food fresh

Is the dog food bag open all the time? Is it placed in a damp area and prone to humidity? If this is the case, the flavor may have gone out the window. Invest in a nice plastic storage container. Nobody likes food that has lost most of its taste or worse has mold.

8) Exercise!

Dogs that are slightly depressed or inactive may get a nice bout of appetite back if they are properly exercised. Go for a long walk, or entice your dog in a nice game of fetch. Once back inside, he may have restored some of his good old appetite.

9) Do not give in

If your dog is finicky, do not give in and offer other foods. Rather, show firmly that that's all he gets. Some dogs are good at manipulating owners to offer different foods. All it takes is that special look to make owners give in. Stay firm, if your dog is without food for a day or two, it is not a big deal. After all, in the wild, there are some days when no prey is around.

10) Add some interesting stuff

Sometimes all it takes is to add a few baby carrots or some string beans to make your dog's meal interesting again. These can be healthy additions too!

Dealing with a finicky dog can be a challenging issue to deal with. However, in the wild, there was never a history of finicky dogs. A finicky dog in the wild was usually either sick or in heat. We are the cause of finicky dogs and as the source of the problem, we must solve the problem. Always rule out potential sicknesses first with your veterinarian and then start a "finicky feeding plan."

© 2008 Adrienne Janet Farricelli

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      Hummingbird love 7 weeks ago

      My dog has been refusing her dog foods for weeks and I have offered her the human foods. She eats okay. I have stopped giving her dog treats, I use dog food instead when out walking. If she keeps refusing, I don't have money to take her to vet. If she wants to die, let her be. It breaks my heart and I have no choice because I must pay rent, foods, buying a new car for my job and pay bills too. The vet would eat more of my money to fix my dog. She will die if she won't eat at all anyway.

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      Melissa 3 months ago

      My mom recently passed away. And Copper her dog witch is now my dog is refusing to eat at times since February of this year. He will eat it if I add things to it but then he go use to it and is down right refusing so much he is losing weight and I have to give in because I don't want him to get sick. What else can I do I tried everything on the list long walks around my block no leash because he stays close to me....note I look like my mom in the face. I stay away from wet can food because it smells horrible and looks like it has works in it even though it is just fat. I put bacon grease in his food to fatten him up.and Everytime I cook bacon he gives me those puppy eyes hes 2 years old. Human years.im trying to get back to making homemade dog biscuit he loves them but the gas omg. I also make it look like I'm cooking his food to trick him....can dogs have depression? I had to be the one to tell him about my mom. And when I brought her sweater home he smelled her on it and cryed so much I cryed...poor guy wants my mom back so do I we both miss her. I can't loose him to so if anyone can help with more advice it will help. I'm also going to try and set up a play date with his friend Lucy my mom's other dog that went with my brother. Number 4 I think is the big one thatay cause him to stop eating right.

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      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 5 years ago from USA

      I always think it is best to get her checked out. Some dogs are stoic and do not show pain/discomfort and the first thing to go away is appetite. Is he neutered? If not, any chances there may be a female in heat nearby? Also, is he refusing food if there is no canned food mixed in it? i have had dogs that refused food for days in a row if the canned food was not mixed in it.

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      Green 5 years ago

      My three yr old Doberman suddenly stopped eating dry dog food when he normally reminds me of what time it is to eat & almost inhales his food He has regular BM's & no vomiting His tail & ears r up & he hasn't lost any of his energy He started this 3 days ago & will eat his food if I mix it with soft food I've checked his entire body & his mouth didn't find anything apparently wrong He's drinking plenty of water Should I consider having him checked or just give it a few days?

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      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 5 years ago from USA

      Poor Darvey sounds like he misses his family and his routine! Have you tried already the tips in the article above? After the causes for refusing food there are tips. Try to find some Iams Savory Sauce at your local pet store to put on his food. Don't force him to go on walks if you need to drag him. Try to engage him in play at home, get a ball, a fetch toy, and see if he gets excited. Exercise helps getting dogs hungry. However, if he is lethargic I wold recommend a vet, look for mobile vets in town; they can come to your home~! best wishes

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      Carl 5 years ago

      My dog Harvey a Dobermann Pincher is refusing to eat at all, its been four days since, it happened right after my parents headed on hoiday for a week and a bit, they wont be home till 4 odd days time, its gotten to a point where he wont even go on walks having to be dragged, all he has been doing is drinking water, any ways I can help him out, I am not sure if I will be able to get him to a vet due to lack of 4 wheel vechile

    • alexadry profile image
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      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 5 years ago from USA

      It could very likely be all these changes are taking their toll on the dog. Having worked for a kennel, I saw many dogs refuse to eat the first day or two. My puppies refused food when boarded at the vet for 2 days. You can try to add Iams savory sauce with the owner's permission and try to feed in a quiet area. If there are too many noises and distractions he may just need to calm down a bit. I would let the owner know and decide what to do. Sometimes feeding something more enticing may stimulate his appetite. If he looks happy and not acting sick very likely he just needs to adjust. Otherwise ask you friend about have him checked out by the vet, best wishes!

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      krysti 5 years ago

      I recently brought home a pit just to watch him for a few Weeks for a friend. there are some differences in the homes I have kids which the dog plays with them and is always following us around but she won't eat. Is she just sad and adjusting or is it serious?

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      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 6 years ago from USA

      Even though it may make sense to miss his pal, I would doubt this is what is causing the symptoms you are seeing. I would take him to vet to play it safe and rule out anything else. Best wishes.

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      mary 6 years ago

      I have two dogs one I have had for six years and the other for six months. I took a trip to florida and took the six month old with me. I let a friend keep the older one. my six month old (romeo) was a very active dog until we came home. He started throwing up and wont eat. but he will drink. I haven't got my older dog back yet I am going tonight to get her. Could he be upset because shes not here with him. They are such good buddies. He just is so sad. I am worried cause he has lost so much weight in the past few days. He gets excited when he sees other dogs until he realizes they are not jasmine. Then hes back in the funk.... what to do.. should i wait till i go get jasmine to see what happens?? thanks mary

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      Charity Squid 6 years ago

      Great hub! I especially like the heart-shape you made with the dog food in the photo.