When Your Dog Won't Eat

Kelly Roper
Dog refusing to eat

A loss of appetite, aka anorexia, is one of the most common issues that worries dog owners. Anorexia can be caused by a variety of health concerns ranging from minor anxiety or stomach upset to much more serious conditions. Find out when to call the vet.

Common Reasons a Dog Stops Eating

According to Pedigree.com, psychological issues as well as physical issues can cause a dog to stop eating. Here are a few examples of both.

Psychological Issues

  • Anxiety - Anxiety-related problems are among the many reasons a dog might stop eating. Separation anxiety is a common cause of poor appetite in dogs. Many dogs that suffer this form of anxiety will refuse to eat while their owner is away, be it for an hour or a week. Others suffer anxiety with thunderstorms, fireworks or other loud events that trigger an attack of nerves that can affect the appetite for days.
  • Depression - This is another common reason for dogs to lose the desire to eat. Depression in dogs follows much the same path as it does in humans, often heralded by lethargy, moodiness and loss of appetite. Depression can be triggered by an event such as the loss of a beloved family member or a move from one home to another, or, as in humans, a chemical imbalance can be to blame. Long term depression symptoms should be assessed by a veterinarian. Treatment options are available that can help your furry friend recover his spunk.
  • Breeding activity - In male dogs, appetite loss can often occur if there is a female in heat nearby. A male can sometimes become so obsessed with the scent of the female that he will not engage in normal activities, such as playing, sleeping or eating. Weight loss is sometimes quite severe during such a spell and cause a lot of worry. Generally, the situation will resolve itself as the female passes out of her heat cycle, but if your dog has lost a dramatic amount of weight, it may help to tempt him with foods he is not usually allowed to have.

Physical Issues

  • Minor conditions - A dog will sometimes stop eating over very minor physical problems such as a temporarily upset stomach, a mouth injury or dental problems. Under these circumstances, changing to a mild, soft diet and seeking help for the underlying condition will usually make the dog feel comfortable enough to start eating again.
  • Indigestion - A sudden loss of appetite could be a symptom of a more serious health problem. If your dog is fond of sneaking into the garbage pail, this can cause a condition commonly called "garbage gut" that can range in severity from a day or two of vomiting to a serious poisoning incident or an intestinal blockage that can be fatal. It's a good idea to call your vet if your dog stops eating after a midnight garbage raid. That way you can be sure that your faithful companion has not eaten something that could have disastrous effects.
  • Worms - Intestinal worms are another common health issue that can cause a lack of appetite in dogs. A worm infestation can cause dogs to stop eating, and it's often accompanied by lethargy, weakness and a bloated abdomen. A dog with these symptoms should be seen by a veterinarian to diagnose the particular parasite involved for effective treatment.
  • Major health problems - Serious conditions that can cause a drop in appetite include thyroid problems, heart disease, pulmonary disease and cancer, among many others. You may not notice accompanying symptoms in the beginning stages of many of these conditions, so take any decline in appetite with no obvious cause seriously.

Additional Causes for Canine Anorexia

In addition to the causes mentioned above, other issues that can make a dog stop eating include:

  • Stress
  • Excessively warm weather
  • Pain, usually from an injury or joint condition like arthritis
  • Viruses or infections, such as parvo
  • Pancreatitis
  • Bloat, also known as Gastric Dilitation Volvulus
  • Ulcers
  • Chemotherapy or radiation treatments

What to Do for a Lack of Appetite

If your dog seems normal with no other symptoms, there are a few things you can do to encourage him to eat.

  • Try to determine if this is a passing phase that will go away on its own. Some dogs skip a meal but are enthusiastic eaters the next time.
  • Try a change of food. Some pets get tired of the same taste day after day.
  • Warming the food before serving can entice a picky eater to eat.
  • Withhold food for 12 to 24 hours. Allow your dog to become hungry and see if that encourages him to eat.
  • Keep plenty of fresh water available at all times. A thirsty dog may not want to eat.
  • Monitor your dog closely to determine if he is eating something he shouldn't.

When to Be Concerned Your Dog Is Not Eating

Dog being examined by the vet

Many dogs will occasionally skip a meal. Some will even skip two meals. You should contact your vet if your dog skips three meals or has gone more than 36 to 48 hours without eating. You should also see your vet immediately if your pet displays other symptoms, including:

  • Fever
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Refusing to drink water
  • Showing obvious sign of pain or discomfort

You Know Your Dog Best

No one knows your dog's eating habits as well as you do, so use that knowledge to help your pet. If you know your dog is a picky eater, there might not be immediate cause for alarm. If you know he's normally a hearty eater, this sudden change in behavior may be cause for concern. Don't hesitate to call your vet for advice if you feel there's truly a problem.

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When Your Dog Won't Eat