Your dog may eat less or stop eating for a variety of reasons. Most dogs have the occasional ‘off’ days when they don’t eat or finish their dinner. But not eating can signal more serious concerns and should be investigated by a vet.
Eating less or not eating is also called anorexia or poor appetite. It suggests your dog either can’t eat or doesn’t want to eat. The causes may vary from simple dislike of the food on offer, to serious dental disease or an underlying illness. Treatment and outlook depend on why your dog won’t eat. Always speak to a vet if your dog stops eating, or if they’re eating less for more than a day, especially if it’s accompanied by other symptoms.
What to do
What to do if you think your dog has a reduced appetite
Find out whether they:
- Want to eat but physically can’t
- Don’t want to eat /aren’t interested
- Are being prevented from eating
- Are acting normally or have any other symptoms
- Check they’ve not been fed elsewhere
- Check their mouth for evidence of injuries or broken teeth. But don’t get bitten!
- Make sure they’re drinking
- Check your dog food is in date and looks/smells as it should
- Check they haven’t eaten anything they shouldn’t
- Check side effects of any new medicine to see if they include tummy upsets.
- Check your dog’s weight as an indication of more severe problems
- If you have more than one dog, check that they all get equal opportunity to eat.
What are the common reasons of reduced appetite in dogs?
Hunger is a biological need. It’s the body saying it needs food for energy and nutrients.
Appetite is different. Appetite is the desire to eat. It can be closely tied to hunger. But other things like behaviour, emotion and environment, can also affect appetite.
Possible reasons for:
- Reduced hunger – less need for fuel:
- Ageing – older dogs need less food
- Reduced activity or convalescing
- Neutering (although appetite behaviour may not change in some dogs, resulting in weight gain)
- Reduced awareness of hunger – the brain fails to register the need for fuel and/or to trigger appetite:
- Brain injury
- Reduced appetite: real or apparent loss of interest in food:
- Eaten too many treats between meals
- Holding out for something better!
- Severe pain anywhere in the body, such as arthritis
- Feeling nauseous – ‘real’ loss of interest or aversion to food:
- Tummy bugs
- Illness; especially pancreatitis, cancer, liver disease, inflammatory bowel disease
- Infection – pneumonia, cystitis, pyometra
- Certain medicines – some painkillers and antibiotics
- Balance problems – vestibular disease
- Wanting to eat but can’t – physically struggling or unable to eat, hunger and appetite unchanged:
- Severe dental disease and tooth injuries
- Ulcers on tongue or throat (stomatitis)
- Muscle or jaw weakness
- Nerve problems causing swallowing difficulties or weakness
- Chewing pain – pain in the ‘hinge joint’ of the jaw or severe middle ear pain
- Traumatic injury – broken jaw
- Foreign body in mouth
- Neck pain – unable to lower head to food bowls
- Cancer of mouth, throat or jaw
When to worry
When to worry if your dog has a reduced appetite
If your dog isn’t eating, it’s always best to talk to your vet. This is particularly urgent if your dog is:
- Not eating anything and/or not interested in food
- In pain
- Losing weight
- Acting differently
- Wanting to eat but can’t
- Dropping food or eating on one side
- Showing other symptoms- vomiting, diarrhoea, changes in drinking habits
- Developing jaundice – a yellow tinge to their gums or the whites of their eyes
Our Joii vets are available 24 hours a day for advice; call us now if you have concerns about your dog.
Tips to reduce some preventable causes of reduced appetite in dogs
- Keep your dogs mouth healthy with good dental preventive care, including brushing your dog’s teeth and regular vet checks
- Feed a balanced diet appropriate for your dogs age and lifestyle
- Feed healthy treats in moderation
- Don’t throw sticks or things likely to cause tooth or mouth injury
- Keep your dog up to date with vaccinations and parasite preventatives
- Neuter your female dog to avoid a pyometra
Things to look out for when your dog is eating less
Clues that your dog is eating less than usual, and the possible causes include:
- Being quieter than usual and/or becoming withdrawn
- Drooling saliva
- Going to food bowl and walking away
- Taking longer to eat or eating on one side of the mouth
- Dropping food
- Leaving food
- Not asking for food at regular mealtimes
- Losing weight
- Having low energy
How to help your dog at home when they have a reduced appetite
If your dog is eating less, it’s important to find out why.
Depending on the causes of eating less, the following measures may help to resolve the issue. Or at least help your dog to cope while the underlying problem is investigated and treated.
- Making sure your dog drinks enough water to prevent dehydration.
- Offering your dog special sugar and electrolyte solutions to provide essential minerals and energy while they’re not eating. These are available to buy online or in local pet shops. Or ask a vet for a ‘home recipe’ suitable for your dog.
- Offering softer food if your dog is struggling to chew or dropping food.
- Feeding warm tempting foods, like chicken and rice. Possibly adding salt-free gravy. Warming food heightens the smell, making it more appealing to dogs. Especially good for dogs who are recovering from surgery or an illness.
- Offering food by hand to encourage your dog to start eating.
- Feeding Hills Prescription Diet a/d to support convalescence.
- Reviewing feeding requirements as your dog gets older.
How do vets treat dogs with a reduced appetite?
When your dog is eating less or not eating, your vet will aim to find and treat the underlying cause.
- Treating underlying illnesses
- Carrying out dental surgery
- Repairing fractures/injuries
This is usually enough to restore appetite.
But if appetite is still poor despite treatment, vets may use the following for a short time to help improve or kick-start eating:
- Appetite stimulants: mirtazapine, cyproheptadine, capromorelin
- Anti-sickness/anti-nausea medicine: maropitant, omeprazole, ondansetron
- Pain relief
- Prescription diets
- Feeding tubes: nutrition is an essential part of recovering from acute illness. If your dog hasn’t started eating again, your vet may place a feeding tube. Feeding tubes take liquidised concentrated food directly to the stomach. The tube is removed once your dog starts eating again by themselves.
Are some dogs more likely to have a reduced appetite?
Dogs who are most likely to stop eating or refuse food include:
- Older dogs
- Dogs with other illnesses- heart disease, kidney disease, pancreatitis
- Dogs who scavenge – risk losing their appetite because of eating things that cause tummy upsets
- Dogs with dental disease
- Small dogs
What are some other causes of poor appetite or eating less in dogs?
Other potential causes of eating less or reduced appetite include:
- Being bullied by other pets in the house
- Household changes
- Travel and kennels
- Female dogs during seasons (‘on heat’)
- For unneutered male dogs, the presence of a female in season