When Your Dog Won’t Eat: Understanding Loss of Appetite in Dogs

As dog owners, we are accustomed to our furry friends having voracious appetites. Therefore, it can be alarming when our beloved pal suddenly loses interest in their meal. A loss of appetite in dogs is not only a cause for worry but can also point to a serious health issue. In this article, we will delve into the reasons behind a dog’s loss of appetite and provide insights into how to handle this situation with care and understanding. 

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The common types of appetite loss seen in dogs 

Temporary/Transient Loss of Appetite 

This type of appetite loss is short-term and frequently related to small factors like slight illness, stress, change in environment, or temporary decline in appetite due to weather conditions. In most cases, the dog’s appetite returns to normal within a few days. 

Partial Loss of Appetite 

Dogs that are just partially losing their appetite may consume less than their usual amount of food or exhibit less interest in certain meals or treats. They might still eat some food but not what they typically eat. 

Gradual Appetite Loss 

This type of appetite loss occurs slowly over time. The dog’s interest in food diminishes steadily, and they eat smaller portions or skip meals more frequently. 

Complete Loss of Appetite 

In this case, the dog denies eating or shows no interest in food at all. They may entirely abstain from their meals or treats for an extended period. 

Illness or Pain 

One of the most typical reasons for loss of appetite in dogs is sickness or pain. Dogs won’t eat when they are feeling ill or uncomfortable. Dental disorders, gastrointestinal issues, infections, or even a fever can contribute to a lessened appetite. 

Emotional Distress 

Dogs are fragile creatures, and they can be extremely affected by changes in their surroundings or routine. Hectic events such as moving to a new house, the loss of a family member (human or animal), or separation anxiety can lead to a temporary loss of appetite. 


Certain drugs, specifically those with negative effects, might make a dog less hungry. If your dog has lately started taking medication and isn’t showing much interest in food, consult with your veterinarian to determine if it could be a contributing factor. 


Older dogs may experience a decrease in appetite due to aging-related changes in their metabolism and lower exercise levels. 

Dental Issues 

Dental problems, such as gum disease, tooth decay, or oral infections, can be undiagnosed and cause a pet to have pain when chewing. 

Gastrointestinal Upset 

Stomach-related issues like gastritis, gastrointestinal infections, or inflammation in the intestines can result in a loss of appetite. Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea may accompany these conditions. 

Food-related Factors 

Dogs can occasionally become bored with their regular diet. They may lose interest in their meals if they have been eating the same diet for a longer period or if the food is insipid or unappealing. 

Medical Conditions 

Certain medical conditions, such as liver or kidney disease, hormonal imbalances (e.g., hypothyroidism), cancer, or infections, can lead to a decreased appetite in dogs. These conditions often require prompt veterinary attention. 

Observing Your Dog’s Behavior 

Changes in Water Consumption: Keep track of the increase or decrease in your dog’s water intake, since unusual drinking habits can provide insights into their general health. 

Lethargy: If your dog appears aberrantly exhausted or lethargic, it may indicate an underlying problem that affects their appetite. 

Vomiting or Diarrhea: Frequent vomiting or loose stools can be linked with a range of health issues that can contribute to loss of appetite. 

Weight Loss: Monitor your dog’s weight regularly to ensure they are maintaining a healthy body condition. Sudden weight loss is a red flag that should be addressed promptly. 

Monitor food intake: you should be aware of how much amount of food your dog is eating each day. This will help you determine how much your dog is consuming and whether there has been a significant decrease in appetite. 

Check for food aversion: Ascertain if your dog has a specific aversion to certain types of food or specific substance. 

Check for changes in behavior: Witness your dog’s behavior and keep an eye out for any changes in their demeanor, such as drowsiness or restlessness. 

Provide a variety of food options: Offer your dog a variety of food options to determine if their lack of appetite is due to food ennui or distaste.  Be sure to check with your veterinarian to ensure these foods are healthy and appropriate for your dog. Some human foods like raisins, grapes and avocados are toxic to dogs.  

Steps to Encourage Eating 

When faced with a dog that won’t eat, there are various actions you can take to help stimulate their appetite: 

Offer Tasty and Nutritious Food: Experiment with an array of types of high-quality dog food or think about adding a tiny amount of low-sodium chicken broth or plain boiled chicken to entice your dog to eat. Make sure the meat meals are suitable for their specific dietary needs. 

Warm the Food: Warming the food to room temperature or slightly above can boost its aroma and make it more appealing to your dog. 

Establish a Routine: Maintaining a regular feeding schedule can help regulate your dog’s appetite and reduce anxiety. 

Create a Peaceful Environment: Minimize stress factors in your dog’s environment, providing a calm and comfortable space for them to eat without distractions. 

Add Palatable Toppings: Pinch a small amount of low-sodium chicken broth, plain yogurt, or a spoonful of canned dog food on top of your dog’s regular kibble to improve the flavor and make it more tempting. 

Hand-Feed or Use Interactive Toys: Some dogs respond well to being fed by hand or using interactive food-dispensing toys. This can make mealtime more engaging and rewarding for your dog, encouraging them to eat. 

Minimize Distractions: Create a peaceful and tranquil environment for your dog during mealtimes. Get rid of any potential distractions that can draw their attention away from eating. 

Exercise Before Meals: Physical activity can assist in increasing the appetite of animals and make them more eager to eat afterward. 

Consult with a Veterinarian: If your dog’s loss of appetite persists despite your efforts, consult with a veterinarian. They can assess your dog’s health, provide further guidance, and potentially recommend appetite-stimulating medications or supplements. 

An overview of the typical steps a veterinarian may take 

Dental Examination 

If dental issues are suspected as a potential cause of the loss of appetite, the veterinarian may conduct a thorough dental examination or refer your dog to a veterinary dentist for further evaluation. 

Treatment Plan 

Once a diagnosis is reached, the veterinarian will develop a treatment plan tailored to address the underlying cause of the loss of appetite. The specific treatment will depend on the diagnosed condition. For example: If the loss of appetite is due to an infection, appropriate antibiotics or antiviral medications may be prescribed. 

In cases of gastrointestinal upset, medications to relieve nausea or gastrointestinal inflammation may be recommended. 

Appetite Stimulants: The veterinarian may prescribe appetite stimulants to help entice your dog to eat. These drugs can help stimulate the dog’s appetite and may be used for a short period under veterinary supervision. 

Monitoring and Follow-up: After starting therapy, the veterinarian will direct you on monitoring your dog’s improvement and any special care requirements. Follow-up appointments may be scheduled to evaluate the effectiveness of the course of therapy and make the required modifications. 


A loss of appetite in dogs can be a cause for concern and may indicate an underlying health issue or emotional distress. By understanding the potential causes dog owners can take appropriate measures to address the situation.  

If your dog won’t eat, it’s essential to seek assistance and guidance to ensure their health and well-being. At Caring Hearts Animal Hospital in Matthews, NC, our compassionate team is here to support you and provide expert guidance tailored to your dog’s specific situation. We understand the importance of proper nutrition and can help identify the underlying causes of your dog’s appetite loss.