Most dog owners have far greater problems trying to stop their dogs from eating everything in sight than they do trying to encourage them to eat, and so asking the question of “why won’t my dog eat?” Is something that doesn’t tend to come up for pet owners very often!
However, this does tend to mean that when a dog goes off their food, something is wrong; and this might be a health problem or something you need to deal with urgently, but can mean a whole number of other far less concerning and easier to fix things too.
Whatever the root cause behind dogs not eating is, if your dog is normally highly food-motivated (like most) and they appear to have lost their appetite, it is important to get to the bottom of why this is.
This article will explain the most common reasons behind why dogs go off their food. Read on to learn more.
An upset stomach, ingestion of toxins, constipation, an intestinal blockage, or a systemic illness that makes your dog feel unwell can all serve to put them off their food. Some of these problems are very serious and can come on acutely, representing a veterinary emergency; such as bloat or GDV, which is more common in large and giant breeds with deep chests like the Great Dane.
Speak to your vet to rule out an acute health problem (or dental problems, covered next) before you move on down the list of reasons why a dog won’t eat.
If your dog’s teeth and gums are in poor condition and this makes them feel generally under the weather or makes it painful for them to eat, they’re understandably going to be very reluctant to do so.
Broken or rotting teeth, dental decay, and sore, inflamed gums are all painful and discourage eating, so get your dog’s teeth checked out by your vet first and foremost to make sure there’s not something wrong.
Dogs often eat well beyond point of satiety, and even keep eating when they’re uncomfortably full as they have very poor impulse control in this respect, coupled with an evolutionary instinct to eat when food is plentiful to mitigate the possibility of lean times to come.
However, dogs do of course get full and will eventually show some common sense and stop eating, even if they’ve happened upon a cornucopia; some dogs will reach this stage before others, and it may seem unlikely to you but you do have to consider that your dog might not be eating simply because they’re full.
Factor this in if you’ve been giving them treats, or if they might have eaten something you didn’t even realise.
Dogs will eat all manner of offensive and unsavoury things that make us humans feel nauseous just at the thought; and they tend to get away with most of this too. However, particularly when it comes to dogs that will eat absolutely anything, some of the things they eat might not be poisonous to them per se, but can still upset their stomachs; like rotting roadkill.
If snacks like this are causing your dog digestive discomfort, they’re probably going to go off their food temporarily while they work it out of their systems.
Some dogs are actually quite finnicky about their food being just so, but even dogs that will eat most things will go off their food if there is something obviously wrong with it – obvious to them, but potentially not obvious to you. This might be food that is spoiled (dry kibble from a large bag that has been open to the elements for a while will certainly become stale and potentially even mouldy towards the end of the bag) or food that’s become contaminated by something.
Strong scents can contaminate food too, such as if you use air fresheners in the same room as your dog’s food is stored or served.
This is an interesting one as dogs see most things as food. But if what you’re offering them is vastly different to what they’re used to eating (particularly if it is less desirable) they might not even recognise it as food at all.
This might be particularly likely to happen if you switch a dog suddenly from tins or sachets of wet food to kibble, or even more so, from a raw meat diet to kibble.
The dog’s most sensitive sense is their sense of smell, and for both dogs and humans, a lot of what we think of as being the taste of a food is actually scent-based.
If your dog’s sense of smell is a bit off (such as if they have a cold) they might not be as enthused about their food as normal.
If your dog simply doesn’t like the food that is on offer, they might not eat it, or be as enthusiastic about it as normal. This sometimes happens if you have to feed your dog a bland veterinary diet, or put them on a low calorie food!
Finally, if your dog won’t eat and this has been going on for hours rather than one meal, you’re likely to offer them or let them have more or less anything that they’re willing to eat in order to get them to eat something.
However, if your dog knows this, they might actually be holding out for something better than what is currently on offer.
For instance, if your dog is used to being fed significant amounts of human food, scraps or treats and you try to give them dog food, they might eat it; but they might learn that if they don’t, they’ll be fed something more valuable to them (and far less good for them) if they hold out.
This can result in many people who visit the vet because their pet is obese, in poor condition, or otherwise suffering from the effects of a poor diet claiming that their dog will only eat whatever the problem food is; however, this problem is caused by the handler, not the dog!