Dogs are usually hearty eaters, and are renowned for their love of food, sometimes taking this to extremes with begging, scavenging and overeating behaviour as well! Any of these issues can cause problems of their own, but at the opposite end of the spectrum, comes the problem of unwillingness to eat at all.
Over the course of their lifetimes, many dogs will lose their appetite or go off their food once in a while, and often, this inappetence will correct itself fairly quickly. However, if your dog seems perpetually unwilling or unable to eat, or loses his appetite suddenly, this may require further investigation.
Here are the eight most common reasons for dogs refusing to eat or losing their appetite.
It can be rather exasperating for the dog owner to discover that a dog that will cheerfully eat road kill, fox pooh and any manner of other nastiness may simultaneously be rather picky about what goes into his actual planned meals! Disliking the food that they are offered is one of the simplest and commonest reasons for inappetence in the dog, and can usually be resolved by making some changes to the food that is offered. If you have recently changed your dog food, this is one potential culprit; and it comes as a surprise to many dog owners to learn that this problem most commonly presents itself when moving from a cheap supermarket dog food brand to a better quality dog food, rather than the other way around.
Cheaper dog foods are often high in sugar, salt and artificial flavours; giving them the same appeal to your dog as a fatty hamburger or packet of crisps would when compared to a balanced meal with lots of vegetables! You should wean your dog slowly onto any new diet, to avoid refusal to eat or potential digestive upset.
If your dog does eat with gusto but doesn’t finish his meals, it is highly likely that you are simply offering your dog too much food. This is easily done, particularly as your dog ages or their activity levels decrease, which can mean that your dog’s appetite will reduce as well, and they will not eat as much food as they previously have done.
Calculate your dog’s food according to the guidance offered on the packaging, and ensure that you are not overfeeding your dog.
If your dog is keen scavenger, you will usually be well aware of this fact, and alert to it when out on walks. Some dogs are skilful scavengers, and can often wolf down a large or calorific treat within just a few seconds, which may account for a drop in interest in their normal meals. You should also consider the possibility that other people may be feeding your dog, particularly if he is a skilful beggar; could local schoolchildren be feeding him crisps and treats through the fence when he is out in the garden, or is he wandering around eating elsewhere when you’re not looking?
Rewarding your dog with treats can be a helpful part of training, and a couple of treats each day may well form part of your dog’s routine. But take care that you’re not giving your dog too many treats or table scraps, to the point that your dog is getting most of his food from ad-hoc supplementary feeding in place of his normal meals.
Many dog owners think that bad breath is just a normal state of affairs for dogs, and something that they have to live with. But bad breath in dogs should not be considered normal, and may be indicative of dental problems, including rotten teeth, gingivitis, abscesses and a range of other issues. Toothache or pain when eating can soon cause your dog to be reluctant to tuck into his meals, so schedule a dental inspection with your vet if you think that something might be amiss.
If your dog isn’t happy with the position of his bowl, is not left in peace to eat or is bullied when having his meals, this can soon lead to a reluctance and unwillingness to eat. As well as events that occur while your dog is actually eating or being offered his meals, generalised stress and anxiety can lead to loss of appetite in the dog as well. Try to identify the root cause of any problems or unhappiness that might be causing stress to your dog, and see what you can do to make his mealtimes more pleasant.
Loss of appetite or unwillingness to eat can be a side effect of a wide variety of illnesses both minor and major, so if your dog has lost his appetite and no other explanation appears likely, you should take your dog along to the vet to be checked out. If the lack of appetite is accompanied by vomiting and/or diarrhoea, illness is usually fairly obvious as the cause of inappetence, but many conditions including kidney problems, cancers, infections and a wide variety of other problems can also lead to a lack of appetite without any other obvious symptoms presenting themselves as well.
Finally, if your dog has just come home after any veterinary treatment or surgery, their appetite will quite possibly be suppressed for a day or two as an after-effect of the general anaesthetic or side effect of treatment. You should talk to your vet before taking your dog home (or on the phone afterwards if you have any concerns) to find out what to expect in terms of your dog’s appetite and eating habits during recovery.
Also, when your dog or puppy receives his vaccinations or annual boosters, this too can make him a little more lethargic and less interested in food than usual for a couple of days afterwards, which is perfectly normal and no cause for concern.