Locally-Owned in Oakdale and St. Paul, Minnesota

Why is My Dog Not Eating?

It was a scary day the day my dog, Dexter, refused to eat his breakfast. He is a Labrador – a dog that never skips breakfast, dinner, or the occasional lunch from grandma. He has a slow feeder bowl to prevent his kibbles from disappearing in under thirty seconds. He aggressively eats romaine lettuce!

But on that morning in 2012, Dexter would NOT eat. Not out of his bowl. Not when hand fed. If Dexter wasn’t a true food-loving Labrador, I might have waited to see if he was hungry by dinnertime, but given his gluttonous past, we canceled our plans so Dexter could visit his family veterinarian. Dexter had a mild case of presumed pancreatitis that was resolved by a special diet and medication.

Whether your dog is a glutton or a grazer, he must eat daily to get the nutrients necessary for health. Here is a list of eight possible reasons (in no particular order) why your canine companion may be ignoring food.

1. There’s an underlying illness.
A transient case of stomach/intestinal inflammation can cause nausea and poor appetite. However, if poor appetite persists beyond a couple of days, get your pooch checked out. If additional symptoms such as vomiting, regurgitation, diarrhea, pain, weight/muscle loss are present, get to a vet right away.

2. You’re feeding him too much, and your dog is stuffed!
Perhaps your dog’s metabolism and activity level don’t require that much food. Or perhaps, unbeknownst to you, there is someone else at home feeding your dog. Not sure how much to feed your dog? Ask your veterinarian! She can create a tailored feeding plan for your dog based on the dog’s body condition score and the nutrient content of his food.

3.  It’s a medication side effect.
A variety of medications can cause stomach upset. Before you give any medications to your pet, discuss potential side effects with your veterinarian. Also, discuss if the medication should be given with or without food. 

4. Calories from treats exceed 10% of his total calories. 
Too many treats are not good for canines, felines, or humans and can lead to nutritional deficiencies as well as excessive calories.

5. Dental disease.
Has your dog started eating more slowly than normal or refused to eat hard kibble but eagerly eats softened foods? Dental disease is one of the most common illnesses we see in veterinary practice. It’s a common misconception that dogs with dental disease won’t eat. In fact, they do eat – they just may change the way they eat. Looking in your dog’s mouth, you may see tartar, gingivitis, or even a broken tooth. All of these problems merit attention and action on your part, and even bigger issues may be hiding under the gumline, invisible to the naked eye.

6. Palatability problems.
Your dog might not like the food you’re offering. He may prefer chicken over lamb-based food. Or your dog could have a texture preference. You may need to try a variety of brands, textures, and protein sources until you find Fido’s favorite.

7. Stress.
Dogs that experience extreme stress or anxiety may have a poor appetite – caused by a variety of stressors, such as:

  • Thunderstorms
  • House parties or guests
  • The arrival of new children
  • Other changes in the home routine

8.  Your dog is smart and wants something tasty.
Your dog may have you wrapped around his little paw! Some dogs learn that if they hold out on their regular food, the good stuff appears – milk bones, bacon, deli meat, etc. There’s nothing wrong with the occasional treat, but a dog’s diet shouldn’t primarily be treats.

These are just some of the many possible reasons that your dog may not be eating. If you have any concerns about your pet not eating his/her food, please consult with your family veterinarian to determine the issue!


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