Why won’t my dog eat?

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There are many reasons a dog may not want to eat but unfortunately, they can’t tell you why.

The golden rule is that if your dog hasn’t eaten for 48 hours then you should contact the Vet. The vet will ask whether your dog has still been drinking and going to the toilet and whether he/she has been sick or had diarrhoea. Just like humans, they can have infections or even obstructions. A vet can medicate and in most cases everything will be back to normal in a few days.

Can a dog just go off his food?

We tend to humanise our pets eating habits but if a dog has been eating the same food for weeks it is unlikely that they will suddenly decide they don’t like it.

For the odd occasion they don’t eat a meal it can be as straightforward as a tummy bug or having eaten (or drunk) something in the park that didn’t agree with them. You will find out soon enough the next time they go to the loo.

And by the next mealtime they will have their appetite back.

The most common reason a dog refuses food is when you have changed their food.

Oddly it could be when you have changed brand and have bought a more expensive food. The cheap foods are usually higher in sugar and fat – like junk food to a human. Who wouldn’t prefer a burger or pizza to a balanced meal with lots of fresh natural ingredients?

When changing from dry food to a raw food diet here perseverance and patience are required. You are making a positive change for the dog and they may need a little bit of coaxing to their healthier diet. So, try with a little bit of your dog’s favourite training treat on top – cheese or cocktail sausage for example.

Overfeeding is easily done.

Some surveys are suggesting that over 50% of UK dogs are overweight. This is a growing problem. If your dog is eating but then leaving some food, it is likely that you are feeding too much. Some foods have a higher calorific value and if you have changed food you should always check the feeding guidelines. The guidelines are for an average dog doing average levels of exercise, you will need to experiment and if your dog is leaving food give him/her less at the next mealtime.

As dogs age they should eat less as they exercise less, and their metabolism slows. Remember to reduce the amount you give them to prevent weight gain. Extra weight in old age is especially detrimental putting extra stress on organs and joints.

Sourcing food elsewhere.

We are talking about eating between meals. This could be you or someone in your family giving human food as treats OR it could be eating whilst out on their walk. If you want a dog that will eat at mealtimes you need to prevent treats and try to avoid exposing your dog to food in the park. Equally if you use dog treats for training you should carefully manage how many you give on a daily basis. Too many could affect your dog’s eating habits.

Dental issues.

These are becoming more and more common in younger dogs. It is now typical that a 5 or 6-year-old dog could have tooth decay. If your dog is reluctant to eat it could have toothache or gum problems. Why? Your dog’s diet may be causing these issues. Kibble or dry food tends to stick to teeth when it gets moist. Unless you regularly brush your dog’s teeth this will gather between teeth and close to the gumline. Over time this will cause decay. In the wild eating prey would naturally clean your dog’s teeth. So why not give your dog food that it would naturally have eaten in the wild to prevent gum disease and tooth decay?

Stress

This isn’t difficult to understand. Humans tend to lose their appetite in a stressed environment. If you are stressed about your dog’s eating it will be easy for your dog to pick up on this. Try to make mealtimes a quiet time, reduce any hubbub in the kitchen and if you have more than one dog try feeding them in different rooms. Try to identify what is stressing your dog. You will know they are stressed from their demeanour. Relax with your dog before mealtime, spend some quality time beforehand and see if this helps.

Illness

A reluctance to eat can also be an indication of more serious issues. Some illnesses will show no obvious symptoms. If it is combined with sickness and/or diarrhoea and continues for 48hours you should go to the vets. Kidney issues, cancer or infections can all cause a loss of appetite.

Visits to the vets

This may sound a little odd but if you dog has had an operation or is taking medication this can affect your dog’s appetite. Ask your vet whether this is a possibility. Booster vaccinations can have a similar effect.

Entering their reproductive cycle

A female dog will usually have her first ‘heat’ around 6 months and thereafter every 6 to 8 months. This will have an effect on appetite and typically lasts around 3 weeks.

Best Practice. Smart Dogs.

Some dogs are smart. If you have fallen into the trap of your dog refusing his/her food and you are providing them with yummy human food instead – how long do you think it will take for them to realise this? Look at your behaviour – have you encouraged pickiness by accident?

You should provide your dog with regular mealtimes from puppyhood. As a puppy it is usual to spread the food through three mealtimes then two meals as an adult. If your dog doesn’t start eating immediately wait for a few minutes, then remove the food. After 10-15mins serve the food again. If your dog does not want to eat remove the food until the next mealtime. Follow this process and it is highly likely your dog will get the idea and eat the food when it is presented.

Do not leave the food down all day for your dog to go back and forth. This will guarantee your dog becoming a fussy eater.

Many owners will be familiar with their dog reminding them it is mealtime. Get into a routine and feed around the same time every day. Remember never go out for a walk after mealtime. The undigested food in your dogs’ stomach can cause serious health issues.

Choice of food

Choose a food that your dog will love. A dog is designed through evolution to eat a certain diet. You’ll be surprised to learn that it is not commercial dog food. Commercial dog food is about convenience and cost. Choose a food that will allow your dog to thrive, not simply survive.

Choose a fresh natural wholesome food with loads of nutrients but no artificial additives or preservatives. The market for raw dog food has tripled in as many years as people realise the only way to provide their dog with a species appropriate diet is via raw food. There are many ‘complete’ meals which will provide everything your dog needs with the same level of convenience and value. Your dog will love it.

Fussy eating and a loss of appetite can be challenging but be persistent and consistent and you can stop it becoming a habit.