Help! My Dog’s Not Eating

What to know about your dog’s loss of appetite 🦴

dog not eating

A dog not eating can be pretty concerning for dog parents.

From a mild issue to a serious health condition, there are a variety of reasons why your dog might have lost his appetite. The problem is, some dogs are just picky eaters, so determining if there’s even a problem to begin with is super important.

Simply put, it’s best to pay close attention to the timing of when your dog stops eating. Some dogs will stop eating and then resume eating a few days later, as if nothing ever happened. However, if your dog continues not to eat and you notice any of the symptoms you’ll find below, contacting your vet is definitely advised.

We spoke to Dr. Sylvalyn Hammond, a veterinarian and consultant for Zesty Paws, for more insight on why your dog might not be eating, if this could be a symptom of a larger problem, and when you should call your vet.

Reasons why your dog isn’t eating

Dogs can stop eating for a variety of different reasons.

“Some reasons are perfectly innocent, such as simply not having an appetite, while in other cases, a loss of appetite can be a sign of a much more serious issue,” Dr. Hammond told The Dodo.

According to Dr. Hammond, the most common reasons veterinarians see a loss of appetite in dogs include:

  • Illness — Much like humans, if a dog is sick, he may not feel like eating. A virus can result in a fever and lack of appetite for your dog. However, if your dog isn’t eating combined with either vomiting or diarrhea (or both), it’s advised to contact your vet within 8–12 hours.
  • Stomach upset — Some dogs have sensitive stomachs, which can easily trigger an upset tummy and lead to a reduced appetite. Some causes for stomach issues in dogs include switching your dog’s food, allergic reactions and new medications.
  • Stress — If your dog is feeling anxious, stressed or scared, he may not eat. This can be due to changes in his routine or environment, loud noises (like storms or fireworks), and even changing the time he eats and placement of his food.
  • Intestinal parasites — With an intestinal parasitic infection like roundworm, hookworm or whipworm, your dog can lose his appetite.
  • Dental pain — If your dog is having tooth pain, he may not want to chew his food. Other signs include if he abruptly stops eating, spits out his food or whines while eating.

Symptoms of a larger problem if your dog has a loss of appetite

When dogs are sick, not eating is often one of the first signs of their illness. According to Dr. Hammond, the following illnesses can cause your dog to stop eating:

  • Pancreatitis — An inflamed pancreas is called pancreatitis. Early detection and treatment is key for a successful prognosis. Other signs include nausea, vomiting, lethargy, stomach pain and diarrhea.
  • Intestinal obstruction — A bowel obstruction can occur when your dog swallows a foreign object, obstructing food and water from passing through the digestive system. A tumor or mass can also cause an obstruction. Other signs include vomiting, weakness, nausea, diarrhea, straining while going to the bathroom, bloating, dehydration and restlessness.
  • Bacterial or viral infections — These can occur when a dog drinks contaminated water, comes into contact with an infected dog’s urine or through virus particles in the air. Most infections can be successfully treated with antibiotics.
  • Kidney or liver disease — Because signs of kidney or liver disease are typically non-specific (weight loss, vomiting and diarrhea, in addition to lack of appetite), it’s important that these be diagnosed early. Some conditions are treatable, while others will need to be on long-term medications.
  • Congestive heart failure — This refers to the heart’s inability to pump adequate blood to the body. A variety of tests will need to be administered to accurately detect heart failure, but if diagnosed, medications and/or surgery will be advised. Other symptoms include persistent coughing, excessive panting, a swollen belly, and pale or bluish gums.
  • Cancer — Unfortunately, like in humans, there are many different types of cancer that can affect your dog. While most are treatable, once again, early detection is key. Other symptoms of cancer in dogs include lumps and bumps underneath the skin, abnormal odor, non-healing wounds, coughing, increased drinking and frequent urination.
  • Endocrine disorders — An endocrine disease (most commonly Cushing’s disease, hypothyroidism and diabetes mellitus) is caused by an imbalance in hormone levels due to the body producing too much or too little of a specific hormone. Symptoms include excessive thirst, appetite, urination, panting, a pot belly, ongoing skin problems and lethargy. These disorders are typically treated surgically, with radiotherapy or with medications.

Many of these issues can be life-threatening if left untreated, so early diagnosis from your vet is critically important to getting your pup well again.

When you should be concerned/call the vet

While an occasional skipped meal is probably nothing to worry about, if your dog stops eating, it might mean he needs veterinary attention right away.

“If your normally hungry dog turns their nose up at a meal, check for any other signs of illness such as diarrhea, lethargy, weight loss, labored breathing and restlessness,” Dr. Hammond said. “If any of these are noted, see a veterinarian immediately. If they seem to be acting normal, other than not eating, wait until their next meal in about 12 hours and see if their appetite has returned. If it hasn't, it's still a good idea to take your dog to the vet.”

Whatever the reason, a dog not eating is definitely something to pay close attention to — and a visit to your vet may be necessary. Here’s to getting your pup feeling his best again!