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Why won’t my dog eat?

It is not unusual for a healthy dog to occasionally go through periods of little-to-no appetite. If your dog seems normal otherwise and has a good amount of energy, refusing a meal or two isn’t a big deal! Instead of jumping to the conclusion that something is wrong with your pet, take a breather and read through the many reasons your dog may not want to eat.


They Are Just Not Feeling Well

Refusal to eat because of an upset stomach is not a health crisis, and not always a cause for concern. Dogs are scavengers! They get their noses into things they shouldn’t and investigate with their mouths. Your dog could have gotten into any number of things in your house or yard, or while out on a walk. Change in weather, flea treatments and other medications can also cause your dog to temporarily refuse food.

If his mood and activity are relatively normal, and he’s not repetitively vomiting or having watery diarrhea, missing a meal or two may be just what he needs. Give his digestive system a break and a chance to clear out whatever is irritating his stomach. Ensure he gets plenty of fluids (goat’s milk or bone broth work well to entice your dog to drink more while providing some nutrition), and your dog should be feeling much better soon.

If your dog is experiencing some loose stool, pumpkin can be beneficial and is a healthier alternative to starches like rice or oatmeal. The starchy nature of grains causes them to convert to sugars in your dog’s body, which can irritate their digestive system. Pumpkin is much less starchy, while also containing lots of vitamins and nutrients helpful to a dog who doesn’t want to eat. Pumpkin has lots of fibre, which will help bulk and firm up your pet’s stool, while having a soothing effect on the stomach. The slightly sweet taste and aroma is also enticing for a dog who might not be interested in his usual food.

Another cause of a change in appetite could any recent vaccinations. A common complaint after vaccines is a change in behaviour, temperament, and appetite. This is known as vaccinosis, and these changes aren’t always immediate. They can manifest themselves some time after the vaccines take place. We carry a fantastic product called Anti-Vaccinosis which will help to eliminate any negative side-effects of vaccines without decreasing the effectiveness of the vaccine.

They May Have Been Over-fed

We often have the idea or feeling that food=love and have the tendency to feed too much, or give lots of treats and snacks to our pets. In reality, our dogs have a stomach which is extremely elastic, and is made to eat large quantities of food in order to sustain long periods of time without any food. This is because their ancestor, the wolf, doesn’t have constant access to food like our pets do. When they are able to successfully hunt and capture a meal, they gorge themselves and then often go days before their next meal opportunity. While Fluffy or Fido may not look anything like a wolf, their DNA is almost identical, and their bodies work in pretty similar ways.

Now I’m not saying to let your dog gorge on a huge meal and not feed them for a few days, but take a look at just how much your pet is actually eating. All of those snacks and chews on top of their daily meals can quickly add up. It’s not hard to give another meal or two worth of treats throughout the day. How can you feed your pet “less” without starving them?

  • If you’re doing a lot of training and find yourself feeding lots of treats, replace meal time with training time! Those treats will now become his meal, and having him hungry at training time will also make those treats much more enticing. Check that your treats are healthy and balanced, since they’re making up a large portion of your dog’s diet. In fact, we often like to use freeze-dried or air dried raw foods as training treats! Check out some of our favorites here!
  • Try feeding fewer meals. Many adult dogs do very well having one meal a day instead of two. This is a more natural way of eating for them, and allows their body time to develop a stronger appetite before each meal.
  • Try doing a fast day or “bone day”.  A few times a month, try replacing your dog’s meal with a nice juicy bone. His digestive system and organs will benefit from a period of rest to “cleanse” themselves.  In addition, a bone keeps him busy while giving him the satisfaction of chewing. It is no surprise that some of the healthiest dogs we see miss meals from time to time! Check out our guide to feeding bones here!

They Are Getting Bored

We wouldn’t want to eat the same thing for every meal, so why would our pets be any different? Variety is the spice of life!

  • Try rotating between a few different proteins to keep things interesting for your pet. Eating a variety of meats is often healthier for them too, as each animal has a unique nutrient makeup. Try to incorporate a good mix of red and white meats.
  • Think outside the box (or bag)! Feeding whole prey like an entire herring or quail, or a meaty bone like a neck or rib, is a great way to bring some excitement to your pet’s meal time. These are high value items to your dog, as he doesn’t get special treats like these every day! They are also great because having a “difficult” meal (as opposed to ground meat) is also mentally stimulating for your dog. Another great benefit is that crunching on bones cleans your dog’s teeth and keeps his breath fresh.

They May Be Stressed Or Anxious

Have you recently moved, or had a change in your family such as a new baby or dramatic shift in work schedule? Dogs can be stressed by change just like we are, and they also feed off of our own stress and energy levels. Sometimes these stressful periods will cause a dog to have a change in appetite or behaviour. Keeping to the same daily schedule of feeding times and walks throughout these times can help normalize daily life for your pet and ease some of their stress. You may also consider trying supplements.

They Could Be Simply Picky

We all want to do the best for our dogs, but sometimes we give in too much and end up fostering a picky attitude. Dogs who are offered many alternative foods or even treats when they turn their nose up to something, learn very quickly how to manipulate their humans. They know that when they turn down a particular food, something better (and probably less healthy)  is about to be offered next.

To break the picky cycle, offer your dog his meal and if he won’t eat, take his food away for a couple hours and try again later. Eventually he will learn that if he’s hungry, he will have to eat what’s in front of him. Think of it this way: if your children wouldn’t eat their veggies, you wouldn’t panic and offer them some chocolate, so why do this for your dog?

Next time your dog decides he doesn’t want dinner, don’t fret! Letting your dog get hungry is not a bad thing, and you aren’t being a bad pet parent! Look at your dog’s overall well-being, and try out some of the strategies we’ve given you. It’s also important to remember this: no healthy dog has ever starved itself to death!

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