Adrienne is a certified dog trainer, behavior consultant, former veterinarian assistant and author of Brain Training for Dogs.
How to 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 become 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 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 tooth 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 toothaches. 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 quiet 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.
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."
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
Questions & Answers
Question: My dog's food that he's been on since birth suddenly gives him diarrhea. Why would he suddenly not tolerate his normal food? He'll eat it, but it makes him sick. He's eating chicken and rice now, and I worry he's not getting what he needs nutritionally.
Answer: The first thing to do is to see whether there were any recent recalls. Google the name of the food and put the word recall at the end. Sometimes, you won't find recalls, but there may be changes in the food. Giving the company a call to and asking whether they have recently changed their formulation can sometimes be insightful. Sometimes, they make minimal changes that can upset the GI system of sensitive dogs.
If all this isn't productive, you may want to see the vet and see whether there's something going on with your dog. Some dogs develop sensitivities to certain ingredients as they age. On top of that, sometimes we think it's the food when there may be other causes such as parasites like intestinal worms or protozoans or other health ailments.
You are right to be concerned about keeping your dog long-term on a diet of chicken and rice. It's not nutritionally complete, and therefore it's meant to be given only for brief periods. It's important to sort out the underlying issue, so that your dog can go back on the food or be switched to another type altogether, based on what your vet suggests.
Question: How can I get my Bichon to eat fresh veggies? She eats the meat and separates the veggies.
Answer: Some dog owners have success pureeing the veggies and then mixing it up with the meat.
Question: What can I feed my 8 lb Pomapoo when she refuses all her food and acts sick but still begs to eat?
Answer: If you haven't already, please see your vet to address the underlying cause of not eating. Your dog may require treatment for an underlying medical cause. If your dog has nausea, your vet may also prescribe antinausea meds. Generally, there are various foods that may help, but things can get risky as she may develop an upset tummy. Meat-based baby food with no onion or garlic may be an option. Boiled chicken with no fat or bones. Boiled skinless and boneless fish. Ground cooked turkey. Some dogs love canned tripe. Sometimes adding a bit of grated cheese to kibble will entice dogs to eat. Nutrical can help provide extra calories temporarily if she is not eating enough.
© 2008 Adrienne Farricelli
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on February 05, 2020:
Hi Ashley, I would make sure the food is OK (no odd smells, no product recalls, expiration date etc.), then I would check the food bowl (no odd smells, remnants of soap-if you use that). I would then check your puppy's poop to make sure he doesn't have soft/stools diarrhea, check if he vomited somewhere, if he's drooling or acting odd and then I would have him see the vet to make sure nothing is amiss. I would also check whether the other pup may have started resource guarding (stiffening, growling, barking) when your other pup is near which may cause your other pup to feel intimidated. Maybe try to give more distance or feed in separated areas and see what happens.
Ashley on February 04, 2020:
I have two puppy lab/pits, I have been giving them the same food since we got them and all the sudden the one dog is not eating his food. The puppies are brothers and seem to do everything together. They normally eat next to each other and now all the sudden for the past 4 days, he does not eat next to his brother and will not go near his brother when eating. I am not sure what is happening with him.
Penny on April 30, 2019:
I have a long haired maltese that refuses to eat and has been throughing up a little. I think it is bile but not for sure. as far as bowel movements I don't know for sure which she does. What kind of stuff can I do to help her.
Joanna Tacheny on February 19, 2019:
Good article thanks! (There is a typo in #12, should be ‘quiet’ and it says quite. Just FYI
Val on October 09, 2018:
I've recently got a dog (Maltese Mix) and she's 1 and 1/2 years old. I live in an apartment and she's very aggressive to the other dogs and I took her to the dog park and she's aggressive to them also. What can I do to help acclimate her to her new home. We walk twice a day but when she see another dog...all Hell breaks out...
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on August 25, 2018:
Alisha, it's not really a major problem unless your dog gets sick from eating fish or it's getting too expensive for you. Maybe you can substitute the tuna for sardines packed in water. My holistic vet suggested I give my dog a can of sardines packed in water once a week for healthy joints and coat. Ask your vet if you can feed sardines long term to your dog. The health benefits may be worth it.
Alisha on August 19, 2018:
Hi I have a six month old Maltese! We ran out of dog food one night so I fed him a little bit of tuna. Ever since then he will barely eat his food without tuna in it. I tried switching his food but he still won’t eat.
What should I do?
Karun on July 13, 2018:
What is the best food to feed my female doberman puppy 4month??
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on May 26, 2018:
Tomika, the behavior of your puppy is concerning. I think it would be wise to have the vet see this pup to determine whether she is suffering from something medical going on.
TOMIKA MY on May 24, 2018:
I hope you can give me some advice for this problem. I'm really in need of your help.
I have a 5 months old puppy that recently lost two of her brothers due to an illness that was caused from eating something bad (We didn't know what it was because it seemed that they found and ate it while strolling around the neighborhood. They came home one day and got a terrible stomach ache that made them unable to digest their food; they always ended up throwing them back up and excreted watery poo. After that, they refused to eat no matter what I do and eventually lost their lives 2 days later. That was one of the worst day in my life...) After the loses, she became the only puppy in the pack (I have 4 more adult dogs--her mother is one of them). She seemed to be a bit depressed and chose to eat only the food with strong smell. She was already a picky eater before this but this time, I can clearly see that her sadness has caused some decrease in her apetite. It also seemed that she's became terrified of the older dogs which is a first (When her brothers were still around, she wasn't scared of them), she refused to eat whenever they're close by. I'm scared that if this continues, she'll fell ill and die of hunger... What should I do?
Cathy on May 14, 2018:
I have a female German Shepherd 14 months old want eat tryed her on every thing every time i take her to the vet they say to me is she running around play i said yes she is 35.60 kg but she looks skinny to me i love her so much she is a big girl
Brian on March 27, 2018:
Hope u have some kind of answer for this issue.
My female had 10 puppies, 5 found forever homes and are doing great. But after that five getting the remaining five adopted became very hard, no luck at 4 months old. But then a family heard of the pups an adopted Duke.
A week after Duke was adopted the family called and said he's not eating, drinking or playing, he just lays in one spot and does nothing. We picked him up a brought him home, we thought we would try to feed him and see if he'll eat for us, or we have a sick pup.
He downed a whole bowl of water and bowl of food, then ran outside to play w his brothers an sisters. Today he's just a happy little guy.
I'm not a breeder, so what did we do wrong, why his odd behavior? Is this normal for a pup to be so home sick I'm guessing?
Thank you in advance for any info
tammy on March 24, 2018:
I got new dog from owners that ppl food fed him for a year n now I have him n he won't eat dog food it's been two days howlong should I wait n what should I do as I don't want him eating human food
RS Elliot on January 29, 2018:
Humming bird love...that post is appalling...what kind of an owner are you? You are better off giving the dog up to someone that can take care of it..letting the dog starve is horrifying...I am sorry if i sound harsh...but really?
Hummingbird love on August 31, 2017:
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.
Melissa on July 23, 2017:
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.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on July 30, 2012:
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.
Green on July 30, 2012:
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?
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on April 17, 2012:
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
Carl on April 17, 2012:
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
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on December 09, 2011:
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!
krysti on December 09, 2011:
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?
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on September 01, 2011:
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.
mary on September 01, 2011:
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
Charity Squid on March 31, 2011:
Great hub! I especially like the heart-shape you made with the dog food in the photo.