There can be a number of reasons for a dog not eating their food and, as much as you may not like me saying it, it often it has to do with what we owners are doing.
If your dog doesn’t seem to like a new food you are serving, or they are a fussy eater in general, you may find you are over-feeding them, giving them too many treats or encouraging them to become fussy without realising it.
Introducing a new type of food into your dog’s diet without transitioning them across to the new diet slowly may also be another cause for a dog not eating, and some dogs can even have a genetically predisposed preference certain tastes, texture, size etc, or because of what they were fed as a puppy.
How dog owners create fussy eaters
It’s believed that a dog not eating or fussy eaters don’t always have an issue with the taste or smell of their food but rather they are smart dogs holding out for something more delicious. Sound familiar?
I’ve been caught out doing this myself, so I know how easily it is done. We resort to dropping in some different bits of food into their meal like mince, cheese, chicken or bits of treats to encourage them to eat, all of which are high-value rewards for dogs, so you’re actually reinforcing the behaviour and they start to learn that by holding out on their normal food, some better options will soon follow.
If your dog is already receiving a high quality, complete and balanced meal that they generally eat when hungry, then simply take the food away if they don’t consume it within half an hour. Do not give your dog any other food, treats or snacks until it’s time for his next meal. If you feed meals at a regular time each day, monitor how much you feed them so they are not overfed, this will go a long way to curbing the fussy eating.
Remember that in the wild dogs would go for days without a meal, so taking their food away for 24 hours will not harm them and, in fact, studies show that fasting is actually beneficial for both dog and human health. Given so many dogs are overweight or obese these days, we clearly need to re-consider how much and how often we feed our dogs.
Consistency is key with dogs in terms of the diet type you are feeding them so the more you mess around with their food the more likely your dog is to suffer from gastrointestinal upsets. If this happens, they may stop eating, which will make you want to try another food, leading to more tummy upsets and so it goes on.
Also, some pet dogs just love stealing food from the table, rubbish or a smelly scrap found at the park, so sometimes they simply eat things they shouldn’t.
If you’re sure you are not encouraging your dog’s fussiness, it is possible he could have a temporary gastrointestinal upset, so check around for some diarrhoea or if he has vomited somewhere. Provide plenty of water and keep an eye out for any of the other symptoms that your dog may have eaten toxic food. If the vomiting or diarrhoea lasts more than 24-hours or you notice blood in their stool, then take your dog to the vet.
Change in routine
A change in routine such as the time you feed or walk them, moving house, going away on holiday, bringing a new baby home, going back to work… anything that might throw out their routine or what they are familiar with can upset many dogs and be a cause for a dog not eating until they feel secure again. It’s best to keep any changes to their routine gradual, make sure that your dog has a safe, quiet place to eat, is positively reinforced with praise when they start to look out for or sniff their food.
Stress and anxiety
A little similar to a change in routine, some dogs may not eat when left alone due to separation anxiety, or if you have a multiple dog household they may be reacting to the other dog or pet. You may not notice subtle body language from one dog to another, one may be stealing his food or growling, staring or generally intimidating him when he is eating, or goes to eat. Sometimes a dog won’t eat if he is a slow eater and the other dog eats fast. He may prefer to eat alone so he can take his time.
If you have multiple dogs, it’s often a good idea to feed them separately so each dog can eat in peace. Dogs will often start eating again when they are left alone with their food.
I see this often with other people’s dogs coming in and out of Pooches HQ and make sure I provide Darcy with his own space to eat as he can be a slow eater and likes to feel safe and secure when he eats his meal.
Also look for things like cold drafts, noises that might be nearby, their tag clinking on the bowl. Basically…think like a dog and how you might feel uncomfortable if something was bothering you while you are trying to focus on eating, and you were nervous or didn’t want to let your guard down.
Older dogs/loss of senses
If you have a senior dog you may find they stop eating because of age-related problems including a decrease in their sense of smell, or dental problems. Don’t assume he is just losing his appetite because he is old.
Try warming the food or topping it with some meat and veggies (transitioning this in slowly over 14 days bit by bit if you haven’t already been feeding this in their diet) so that the smell and taste is stronger and more appealing as their senses begin to fade.
Sore or rotten teeth
Gum disease and rotten or sore teeth could also be a reason so definitely visit your vet if your older dog is starting to go off his meals. In fact, always check your dog’s breath and teeth for anything that might be going on there if they suddenly stop eating and none of the above reasons apply.
These are just some of the key reasons, outside of illness why your dog may not be eating, so if you are still having issues and your dog won’t eat after 24-hours, then do take him to your vet for a check-up as there may be something more serious going on that requires immediate attention.
About the Author: Lara Shannon is a certified dog behaviourist and trainer, Executive Producer and Host of Pooches at Play on Channel 10 and editor of Poochesatplay.com. Lara runs her own dog training business in Melbourne’s Bayside area, is a sought after pet expert speaker and Author of Eat, Play, Love (Your Dog).