Few things are as concerning as a dog that won’t eat. Whether you're a new owner or a seasoned enthusiast, changes in your dog's appetite may cause you to fear a dire diagnosis and hefty veterinary bills.
These are reasonable fears, considering that appetite loss is listed as a common symptom for lots of serious diseases and conditions, but there could be another explanation for why your dog is turning his nose up at his food.
Anorexia in Dogs
If you’re like most dog owners, one of the first things you probably do before calling the veterinarian is a Google search of your dog’s symptoms.
Appetite loss in dogs is called anorexia. Partial anorexia refers to an animal that is eating some food, but not enough to keep him healthy, and complete anorexia refers to total appetite loss for around three days.
Anorexia in dogs is different from the type of anorexia we associate with human eating disorders, and so this terminology can be a little confusing. In some cases, this confusion can lead you to the wrong conclusion about the seriousness of your dog's condition, putting your dog at risk.
Causes of Anorexia in Dogs
Illness is just one of a few reasons why dogs don’t eat. Your dog’s appetite loss could also be caused by a change in environment, a drug reaction, dental disease, pain, or nausea.
Illness and Appetite Loss
Although illness is only one of several causes of anorexia in dogs, it is still a very serious concern. Appetite loss is a common symptom for a host of disorders, from cancer to kidney failure. The best thing you can do for a dog with appetite loss is call your veterinarian and observe your dog for any other symptoms that seem out of the ordinary.
Think back to the last time you were in a stressful situation. Did you want to eat a full dinner, or were you too concerned with what was going on to eat? Many dogs react to stressful situations and new environments with a decrease in appetite. Some dogs stop eating when their owners leave them with the pet sitter for a few days. Others may temporarily stop eating if your family has recently moved to a new house or traveled to an unfamiliar destination.
Vaccinations are vital for your dog’s health, but they can cause mild side effects. One of those side effects is appetite loss. If your dog was recently vaccinated or placed on a new medication, call your veterinarian and ask if appetite loss is a possible adverse reaction. Loss of appetite from a vaccine reaction should only last around 24 hours, so be sure to get in touch with your veterinarian if it extends beyond that.
Have you ever tried eating with a toothache? Dental disease can make it painful for your dog to eat. Broken teeth, periodontal disease, and foreign bodies in your dog’s mouth all make eating difficult and require a visit to your veterinarian to resolve. If your dog is lying by his food bowl and not eating, or has thick, fetid saliva and is pawing at his mouth, you should contact your veterinarian.
Dogs can’t speak, which leaves us struggling to understand the clues they give us. Pain, either from an injury or an underlying condition, such as hip dysplasia or arthritis, can suppress your dog’s appetite and stop him from eating.
Many of the causes of appetite loss in dogs are serious. Sometimes though, dogs are just picky. Switching to a new diet can cause some dogs to turn up their noses, and others may turn down food if they are fed in a stressful situation, for example eating next to a food-aggressive dog. However, make sure you take your dog to the veterinarian to rule out any other causes before you conclude that your dog is a picky eater.
Treating Anorexia in Dogs
Appetite loss can have negative repercussions on your dog’s body. Dogs can go for several days without eating without suffering severe consequences, but if your dog hasn't eaten for 24 hours or longer you should contact your veterinarian — especially if your dog has a medical condition. If you have a puppy that isn't eating, you should call sooner. The younger the puppy, the sooner the call!
In most cases, resolving an underlying problem also resolves your dog’s anorexia. Removing an infected tooth, for example, should make it comfortable for your dog to eat again, and altering your dog’s lifestyle to accommodate behavioral issues such as food aggression, or medical issues such as arthritis can help him start feeling better. Your veterinarian may recommend hand feeding or adding a strongly flavored substance, such as animal fat, meat drippings, or fish to persuade your dog to eat.
When that is not enough, veterinarians turn to feeding tubes to make sure your dog is getting the nutrients she needs for her recovery. This is typically used on extremely ill or compromised dogs.
My Dog Won't Eat — What Should I Do?
Appetite loss is a worrisome symptom. If your dog has stopped eating, make an appointment with your veterinarian and take note of any other symptoms your dog is exhibiting, as this can help your veterinarian determine if your dog’s condition is an emergency that needs to be addressed immediately.