Dog Refusing Food: 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. Below you may find some helpful tips that may shed some light on this mysterious case of “empty stomach syndrome”.
Why Did My Dog Stop Eating? A dozen Reasons Why….
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 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 tummy ache?
Dogs get tummy aches just as humans. It is quite normal for a dog with a tummy ache to refuse food for a day. In this case respect his need for time. If your dog has been vomiting or has diarrhea generally a 24 hour fast will only 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. Then gradually add to the rice to his usual diet until it replaces the bland diet entirely.
3. What’ 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. Usually the appetite will resume 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 and 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 everyday and then you are offered potatoes, meat loaf, 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 where 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?
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 closely, 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 ok?
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 ok. 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? Very likely not. Rather feed your dog only at certain times, ideally twice a day for adult dogs and more often if they are young puppies.
11. Say ahhhhhhh…
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 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. 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 make 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 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 very likely will 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. Most dogs will not refuse some dog canned food. This is particularly good for dogs with dental issues.
5. Take the dish away
Every time your dog refuses food for more than 20 minutes remove the dish. Dogs learn quickly. Next meal time 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. Store food in fresh matter
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 in 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!
If your dog is refusing food because it is sick, giving some Nutrical may provide some nutritional support while being off food. Your vet may prescribe A/D a special prescription diet that acts as an appetite stimulant while adding necessary calories.
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”.
*Disclaimer: All remedies suggested are not to be used as a substitute for professional veterinary advice. If your pet is sick please refer to your veterinarian for a hands on examination. If your pet is exhibiting behavior problems please refer to a professional pet behaviorist.