Dog Won't Eat

Dog Won't Eat: Possible Causes & Solutions

If your dog won’t eat, finding the possible cause can help you more quickly find a solution. Finn has information about why this can happen and what you can do.

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Although all pet parents would love to know, our dogs can’t tell us how they feel. 

We have to pay attention to their nonverbal cues and behaviors to help us understand what is going on inside them. For example, your dog might be trying to tell you that they don’t feel good by not eating. 

What does it mean if your dog won’t eat? While we can’t get inside their heads and interpret for you, we can give you a little insight.

Lack of Appetite, What Is It and When Is It a Problem?

Just like us, dogs’ appetites can vary. Some days they just don’t seem to eat as much as others, and, most of the time, the difference is so slight you won’t even notice. 

However, if your dog seems to have a significant change in their appetite or doesn’t want to eat anything for more than 24 hours, you should consider it a red flag. 

In addition, if you know that your dog has eaten something they shouldn’t have (which can range from a sock to a bone-in chicken wing), you should have any loss of appetite checked out by their veterinarian. This could signify intestinal impaction or obstruction, which can be life-threatening and may require emergency treatment. 

Dog Won’t Eat? Here Are a Few Common Causes

While there are many reasons your dog may be less hungry than usual, they can be divided into three distinct categories — medical, behavioral, and dietary. Their lack of appetite may even be a combination of factors. 

article medical causes

Medical Causes

We can’t possibly list all of the potential medical causes of a dog not wanting to eat. However, they usually come down to issues that make your dog feel nauseated, overly tired, stressed out, or in pain. Here are just a few of the possible reasons you may want to consider or look at more closely:

  • Dental issues (broken teeth, painful gums, oral pain)
  • An upset stomach (nausea, vomiting)
  • GI issues (diarrhea, constipation)
  • Intestinal parasites (roundworm, hookworm, whipworm)
  • Pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas, often triggered by food indiscretion or table scraps)
  • Infection
  • Liver disease
  • Kidney disease
  • Kidney failure
  • Inflammatory bowel disease

Promptly taking your dog to the vet for a visit is essential because of the extensive range of conditions possible. While many are simply acute problems that don’t have long-term repercussions, others are serious, life-altering health conditions that need prescription medications to manage. 

Behavioral Causes

Not every cause of your dog’s loss of appetite is physical. Your dog may also not want to eat for behavioral reasons. 

While dogs don’t experience emotions the same way we can, they are just as susceptible to fear, stress, and anxiety. That is most obvious in dogs who deal with separation anxiety, where they shake, whine, and sometimes even destroy the house if they sense you may be leaving. 

Dietary Causes

In some situations, the reason your dog won’t eat comes down to an even more simple reason — they don’t like their food! Even if they usually like their regular food, they may turn their nose up at it if it is stale. 

Think about eating old, stale food. It doesn’t sound too appetizing, does it?

Your pup may also react poorly if you switch to a new food too quickly. Dogs need time for their stomachs to adjust, as switching too fast can give them GI problems that they may associate with eating. 

A good rule of thumb is to change foods over five to seven days. Feed them 25% of their new food and 75% of their food on the first day, then bump it up every other day by 25%. By day seven, you can begin feeding them 100% of their new food! 

What Symptoms Should I Look Out For When My Dog Won’t Eat?

More than just noticing that your dog won’t eat, consider a few other factors to determine the cause and what may be going on with your pet. Take a look at each of these questions, and consider taking them with you to your vet appointment. 

Is Your Dog Drinking Water?

article drinking water

Dogs can go for a while without eating, but they can’t go for very long without drinking water. 

If your dog is still drinking water and does not immediately vomit it back up, it’s still important to schedule an appointment, but it isn’t as dire. 

However, just because you can get your dog to drink doesn’t mean there isn’t something bigger going on.

Will Your Dog Eat a Treat or Anything Other Than Their Food?

If your dog is turning their nose up at their usual food, and they’ve not been vomiting or having diarrhea, see if they will eat a treat or a little bit of baby food. 

The answer may point to one of two things. If your dog takes the treat without any hesitation, it’s possible that they may be getting too many treats and are holding out for the good stuff. 

On the chance that your dog seems to think about it before taking it, or if they are drooling or licking their lips, they may not be feeling good but still have a little bit of reward incentive to eat something tastier. 

Will Your Dog Eat Wet Food But Not Dry?

When your dog is dealing with a sore tooth or gums, you may notice that they’re snubbing their dry food but will wolf down any wet food you offer. 

While this is more common in older dogs, teething puppies may also go through these periods. Check with your veterinarian to see if they can find the cause and suggest how to handle it. Depending on the cause, they may need to have a dental procedure done to get back to their usual, playful self.   

How Old Is Your Dog?

Your dog’s age can also hint at the cause of their lack of appetite, especially with the older dog. Elderly dogs are not only more prone to developing dental pain and chronic health conditions, but they also don’t have the same high caloric requirements as younger dogs do. 

What you may see as a lack of appetite could simply be an older dog who isn’t chowing down on their food with the same enthusiasm. 

Older dogs go through the same changes as older humans, like decreased vision and sense of smell. Both of these senses contribute to their appetite and, when combined with a decline in their cognitive function, your dog may just not have the same drive to eat as they once did. 

Try tempting them with food with more flavor, especially softer or wet food, and see if they perk up.

Has Anything Changed in Your Dog’s World Recently?

Dogs are creatures of habit, and any change to their routine can cause them immense amounts of anxiety

If your dog suddenly won’t eat, you may want to consider if anything has recently changed that may have stressed them out. Try to look at things from your dog’s point of view, because they don’t have the same triggers that we do. 

Have more people been coming over lately? Is there road construction outside the house? Have you gone back to work after working from home for a while? Have you moved the furniture, or their food bowl, around? 

Even little things can be significant stressors, especially for an already anxiety-prone dog.

What Can You Do When Your Dog Won’t Eat?

In addition to a visit to your pup’s vet, there are ways that you can help your dog feel better at home. 

The first factor to consider is whether your dog is vomiting or having diarrhea. If they have either of those symptoms, they may be at risk for dehydration. Unfortunately, forcing food on them or feeding them anything other than bland food, may worsen the problem.

Many veterinarians recommend feeding your dog just small amounts of white rice and boneless, skinless chicken breast or low-fat ground beef boiled in water with no seasoning. This temporary diet gives your dog a little bit of protein without being too hard on their stomach. It can also help to stimulate your dog’s appetite.

article rice chicken

Once your vet rules out any apparent signs of GI upset or any underlying medical conditions, you can try softening their dry food with low-sodium chicken broth, tuna water, or plain warm water. 

Simply changing their regular dry kibble up a little can make them more interested in their food and is an especially good option if you suspect problems with your dog’s teeth. Not to mention that these dietary additions can also help support a healthy coat.

In Summary

It can be stressful when your dog won’t eat. When your precious pup is suddenly turning their nose up at their usual food, your first step should be to call your veterinarian to rule out an illness or underlying condition.

Once that’s done, you can begin the detective work of figuring out what may be bothering them and make any necessary changes to get them back to their old self in no time. 

Here at Finn, we offer high-quality supplements to ensure your furry friends have everything they need to thrive. If you’re looking to give your dog’s diet a boost, we can help.


Dental Disorders of Dogs - Dog Owners | Merck Veterinary Manual 

Pancreatitis in Dogs and Cats - Digestive System | Merck Veterinary Manual 

Behavioral Problems of Dogs - Behavior | Merck Veterinary Manual



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