Dr. Mark is a veterinarian. He works mostly with dogs and also spends time training and caring for his own canine family.
Why is your dog not eating?
Not all dogs will stop eating, but dogs are individuals, and sometimes when they do, it is nothing to worry about. My Blue Heeler will miss several days when she is upset but my Lab would never miss a meal.
When a dog stops eating, and you are concerned about it, the first thing to figure out is if there is a psychological or physical problem going on. Which type of problem your dog has will help you decide how it should be taken care of.
Causes of Anorexia in Dogs
Psychological (no appetite):
- poor quality or rancid food
- excessive treats
Physical (hungry but cannot eat normally):
- dental disease (periodontal disease and gingivitis)
- inflamed and painful esophagus (esophagitis)
- inflamed and ulcerated mouth (stomatitis)
- painful jaw (either the joint or the muscles)
- neurological disease that does not allow a dog to swallow
- cancer of the mouth or throat
- pain (like arthritis of the neck)
Physical (not hungry):
- bloat (gastric dilatation volvulus)
- blocked intestine
- systemic disease with organ failure
- stomach and intestinal ulcers
- nausea and stomach pain
- loss of ability to smell
- immune disease
- heat (high environmental temperature)
As you can see from all of these causes, it is not always easy to figure out why your dog is not eating. You can give your pet a physical exam at home and try the tips below, but your dog may need more help.
What You Can Do at Home for Dogs That Stop Eating
Prevention of psychological anorexia is fairly simple and straightforward. Feed your dog his regular ration once or twice a day and never give table scraps or treats. Don't let him or her get depressed or suffer stress.
Pretty impossible to prevent, right?
If the physical exam is normal and you suspect that your dog has stopped eating because he is being picky or is depressed, there are a lot of things to do at home:
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- add some warm broth (you can use beef, bone, or chicken but make sure you make it up for your dog without onions)
- if you feed canned, warm the food a little (not hot, just enough to release the aromas)
- if you feed dry, add a little warmed canned food and mix it in
- try feeding by hand (dogs are social animals and many respond to this)
If, despite your best efforts, your dog will still not eat or is not eating enough to stay healthy, get veterinary help since they may need appetite stimulants or to be fed with a tube.
When Should I Be Worried That My Dog Is Not Eating?
Dogs can go several days without eating IF they are not tiny or have a secondary illness. If your dog is still not eating on the second day, there may be something more serious going on and you need to call your local veterinarian.
When Veterinary Care Is Needed
When a dog is showing any of the following clinical symptoms, he or she is not eating because of just being picky and should be examined by your veterinarian immediately:
- vomiting blood
- picking up food but then dropping it
- painful and unable to move normally
- slobbering more than normal
- urinating more than normal
If your at-home physical exam reveals some problems or your dog is still not eating despite any special offerings, you need to take him in for a veterinary examination as soon as possible.
Most of the issues listed here are not an emergency (vomiting blood and bloat are though, and a dog can be disoriented and slobbering after poisoning). If it is not an emergency, make an appointment with your regular veterinarian but be prepared for bloodwork or other testing (x-rays, ultrasound, etc) to find out what is wrong with your dog.
What Can I Do if My Dog Will Not Eat And I Cannot Take Them To A Veterinarian?
If your dog is not eating but has clinical signs that indicate they need medical care, you have to take them to your local veterinarian. If you cannot, or you live somewhere no veterinarian is available, there are a few things you can try:
- Nutri-cal: This is not a cure for a dog's health problem, just a means of providing calories to dogs that do not want to eat. Sometimes it will help the dogs keep their energy up while healing.
- Baby food: Some dogs that will disagree with the smell of canned dog food will accept baby food. The brands that are made up of just chicken, turkey, or beef are the best. Make sure you read the label and if there are sweeteners or other products (except vegetables), buy another brand.
- Chicken breast: If your dog does not want baby food he may respond to a grilled chicken breast. (Do not give them cooked thighs unless you have removed the bone.) It should be warm but not too hot, so it is okay to let it sit on the counter for a few minutes until it is just warm to the touch.
If your dog is not eating because of a blockage or bloat and you do not take them to the veterinarian, they will die. If you are not going because you do not have cash available at the moment, arrange credit or borrow the money.
If you are a regular client of a veterinarian, call them to see if you can arrange a payment plan. They may also have more ideas on arranging credit.
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Freeman LM, Rush JE, Cahalane AK, Kaplan PM, Markwell PJ. Evaluation of dietary patterns in dogs with cardiac disease. J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2003 Nov 1;223(9):1301-5. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/14621217/
Rakha, G. M., Abdl-Haleem, M. M., Farghali, H. A., & Abdel-Saeed, H. (2015). Prevalence of common canine digestive problems compared with other health problems in teaching veterinary hospital, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Cairo University, Egypt. Veterinary world, 8(3), 403–411. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4774851/
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.