It’s unusual for a dog to refuse food, especially if it’s always been a hearty eater. Many dogs can empty out a food bowl in a few seconds. Small dogs might have smaller appetites and they naturally need less food. But any dog that suddenly goes off its feed deserves attention, as it might indicate a more serious problem. If the behavior continues, bring the dog to your veterinarian and find out what’s wrong.
Here are some common reasons for a dog to reject food:
Changing foods: You might think you are doing your dog a favor by changing its food, but your pet might have different ideas. A dog might find new foods, new brands or new flavors less appetizing than their previous chow. However, your veterinarian might have instructed you to use a special food to treat obesity or some other disorder. If so, give the dog time to adjust, and consult with you vet about alternatives.
I. Issues: Like people, dogs can get a stomach or intestinal upsets. Perhaps it ate something it shouldn’t have, or ate too much of a good (or bad) thing. Signs of trouble include vomiting, diarrhea, crankiness and lethargy. You may withhold and see if the signs resolve for 12 hours. You can reintroduce food by providing a bland diet such as boiled, skinless chicken mixed with rice, a dish many dogs find soothing.
Change in routine: Your dog may be accustomed to certain routines and become upset when things change. If the dog has moved to a new home or gotten a new owner, it might be confused and upset. It’s a matter of time before your dog gets used to new routines, new faces and new places. If it takes more than a few days to resume eating, consult your vet.
Mourning: Has your dog lost a special friend, like a fellow pet or beloved human? If so, it might go through a grieving period in which it isn’t interested in food. In extreme cases, dogs have been known to starve to death when they’ve lost their owners. Try to cajole your dog with exercise and the company of other pets.
Ah, amour: Another reason your pooch may be off its feed is if another dog of the opposite sex is introduced to the environment. The problem is more pronounced for unaltered dogs, and bitches may lose their appetite during their heat cycle. Generally, unless you plan to show or breed your dog, it makes sense to alter it – there is no shortage of dogs looking for homes. You can try to keep potential mates away from each other, but be aware that doggy pheromones can travel a distance of miles.
Spoiled dogs: If you routinely give table scraps or fancy canned food to your dog and then try to switch to kibbles, it might be understandably upset and refuse to eat the new food. Switching foods should be done via a recommendation from your veterinarian. Also, watch out for oversnacking. Giving your dog too many treats throughout the day may ruin its suppertime appetite. If you use treats as part of a training regimen, adjust meal sizes accordingly.
Ploy for attention: Some dogs are drama queens and crave attention. They may notice that you become concerned when they don’t eat their food right away. Your dog might be putting on an act just to garner attention. Try being nonchalant when your dog refuses food but reward it with a little attention when it finishes its meal.
Spoiled food: Dry food can go rancid, and moist food can spoil. Your dog might be sensitive to food that isn’t fresh and wholesome. Always smell the food before you give it to your dog, and if in doubt, throw it out.
Free feeding: Cat owners frequently freely feed their pets, who will nibble throughout the day. Dogs who free feed commonly do not empty their bowl at any one sitting. Your veterinarian can recommend the optimum feeding schedule and amounts for your dog.
Dental problems: Dogs can get toothaches that will put them off food. If you detect red gums, worsening breath, salivation, dental decay or tenderness around the mouth area, have your vet check the dog. You also can ask your veterinarian about ways to help maintain your dog’s oral health.
If the problem is simply that the dog doesn’t like the food, you can try warming it up, adding gravy or buying a different type or brand. Believe it or not, dogs prefer smelly foods. If it’s appropriate, discuss the problem with your veterinarian if your dog refuses food.
Dr. Paul has a strong interest in avian and exotic animal medicine and surgery, as well as small animal internal medicine and surgery.
He has provided services for numerous breeders, kennels, aviaries, and mini zoos.