A dog turning his nose up at food loss of appetite

Understanding Loss of Appetite in Dogs

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It's taken as a given that dogs love to eat. Puppies, young dogs, older pups, as pet parents, we expect that our fur kids will always be eager when it's time to eat. That's why it can be so distressing when your pet dog seems to lose his appetite and the food that used to get his tail wagging does not seem to excite him anymore.

In this context, when we say 'loss of appetite' we mean any situation in which your pup starts eating less than he used to, or, in more extreme cases starts refusing to eat at all. And while this is more common than you might think, there are lots of reasons why a dog might suddenly display a loss of appetite and not all of them have physical causes.

Loss Of Appetite In Dogs Symptoms

Dog resting on the beach

Watch out for signs of lethargy in an otherwise active dog

Signs of decreased appetite in your dog include:

  • Loss of weight
  • Eating very little 
  • Refusing to eat
  • Lack of energy
  • Not eating treats
  • Vomiting

What causes loss of appetite?

As we just mentioned, figuring out why your pup has lost his appetite can be very tricky, as there are all kinds of reasons this might happen.

Behavioral Causes

Often the reason that a dog seem to lose his appetite is related to his mental, rather than his physical state. Dogs have more complex emotions and behaviors than many people give them credit for - although most long time dog owners are aware of that - and when the balance of them is upset it can have an affect on their eating habits.

Here are just a few examples of the behavioral issues that may lead to a loss of appetite in dogs:

Stress

Dogs do get stressed too, and this stress can lead to a loss of appetite or for them to reuse to eat at all. A new home, new companions - fur or human - or being left alone longer than usual can all be events that are very stressful for some dogs. Some can also 'pick up' on stress in the household in general, especially if there are disagreements going on around them.

Pickiness

A bowl full of grain-free dry dog kibble

A change in their kibble may be one of the clues that can affect a dog's appetite

No dog is born picky about their food, but it is a behavior they can develop very quickly. Some pet dogs get used to certain foods - especially if they are tasty to them higher fat foods or, better still, the same thing as the humans are eating. Dogs who are fed scraps from the table are more likely to 'turn their nose up' at certain dog foods meant for them, hoping that something better - ie some of your dinner - will be along soon instead.

A dislike to a new food may cause your dog's reluctance to eat it.

Too many treats can cause this picky behavior as well. Even if they are labelled healthy dog treats are supposed to be given sparingly. They are just like candy for pups, and given the choice what kid, whether they have fur or not, wouldn't prefer candy to their less exciting meal?

Food quality

People do assume that dogs will eat anything and not be too bothered about the quality, but that's often not true. If the food they are being offered is rancid, they won't be keen to eat it (would you?) the same can be true of stale kibble or kibble that contains too many artificial flavors or coating that is designed to make the kibble taste like something else.

Physical Causes

Dog with mild plaque accumulation

Dental issues in your dog may well be the reason for his loss of appetite

If a dog seems picky, or off a certain food their behavior should certainly be investigated, but if they stop eating at all there is even more concern as the cause is more likely to be physical.

One common physical reason a dog may seem to lose their appetite is that they are experiencing dental issues with their teeth or their gums. You may know yourself how hard it is to eat if you have a toothache and the same is true for them.

Signs of dental problems in your dog include: bad breath, drooling, dropping food, unusual chewing habits, loss of appetite, redness of gums, bleeding gums, swollen gums

A loss of appetite can also be a symptom of all kinds of other physical ailments. An injury that has caused pain or inflammation, a digestive tract problem or bloat, kidney disease, autoimmune disease,  cardiovascular disease, cancer, blood, skin or brain disease or even an organ function problem may also be the cause of your dog's new refusal to eat.

An overactive bowel can also telescope on itself causing a potential fatal perforation. If your dog refuses to eat then bring him promptly to your vet for a through veterinary examination.

Other causes

Aging dogs have a naturally reduced appetite as they age leading to a decrease in appetite.

Finally, new medication or supplements may affect and suppress appetite in your dog.

Treating Loss of Appetite in Dogs

Seeing your vet at the first signs of a decrease in appetite in your dog is vital (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Clayton Lenhardt/Released)

When taking your dog to the vet because he seems to have lost his appetite the first order of business will be a full physical examination to rule out any illnesses or injuries that may be the cause. If any are found they can begin any required treatment right away.

If your pet dog is found to be in good shape physically, then it's likely that their lack of appetite is related to one of the behavioral issues we mentioned earlier. This is where you may have to become something of an amateur dog psychologist to figure out what's going on, but that is something your vet can help with too.

Although they may not work for your pup here are some things that are often very successful at solving behavioral issues that lead to a loss of appetite or refusal to eat certain foods.

Set Mealtimes

If pups are not fed according to a schedule, they are never quite sure when they might be getting their next meal and that can affect their eating habits. Try to feed your pup on a regular schedule and don't leave food out for more than thirty minutes. This will help pups learn that it's a take it or leave it thing, and many picky eaters will catch on to that fact very quickly and adjust their eating habits accordingly.

Cut Back on the Treats

Dog treats are not all bad and they can be effective rewards to help develop positive behaviors, especially in younger dogs. However, they should be given sparingly. Not only can they lead pups to refuse the food they should be eating but they can add too many calories to his diet. something he certainly does not need.

Go for Walks Before Meals

Try to arrange your pup's schedule - and yours of course - so that they can be given a walk before they eat. This will help them build up a better appetite and make them less likely to refuse to eat their food.

Gentle exercise in ageing dogs in particular is helpful in stimulating appetite. 

The distance walked is not critical, but most old dogs should be taken out for at least 20 mins twice daily.

Consider a change in diet 

A bowl of fresh dog food full of veggies and protein-rich meats

A change to more palatable foods like NomNomNow can produce fast results that’s going to translate to fewer vet bills down the road

You like good food, so does your pup, so he may deserve a different dog food that he finds more palatable. This does not mean that you need to start cooking restaurant quality meals - although some people do choose to make their own dog food - but choosing foods that have more protein, a wider variety of natural ingredients or a more appealing texture may be just what's needed to restimulate his appetite.

In the case of aging dogs you may want to consider changing his diet to a food formulated for senior dogs, also, try mixing dry  kibble with some wet food especially if he has sore gums. 

If you suspect that your dog might have kidney problems which led to his loss of appetite, consider a kidney diet food.

These are some of the diets your vet may recommend:

These formulas have restricted phosphate or phosphorus, are low in sodium to lower the progression of kidney failure and protect the kidneys from further damage.

Before making changes to your dog’s diet, its important to consult your vet to make sure they are getting the appropriate nutrition for the stage of kidney failure they are at.

Final Word

Not eating enough can be as bad for your pup as eating too much, and your pup deserves to enjoy his food as much as you enjoy yours! We help these tips help and don't forget, your vet can be your best source of help when you really need help getting your pup eating right, so don't hesitate to ask them for guidance.

Share Your Experience: Have a story about a lack of appetite in your dog? What sorts of things caused this and what were your experiences? Anything you can tell us to watch out for or advice you can give is very welcome. 

If you are concerned about your pet, visit or call your veterinarian – he/she is your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your dog. This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by, your veterinarian with respect to your pet.

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