What to Do When Your Dog Won’t Eat

Reviewed by Amy Flowers, DVM on May 26, 2014

Dogs are usually eager eaters. So what's going on when they lose their appetite?

It may be a health problem. But it could just be about the foods you're offering.

Ask yourself these seven questions to help figure it out.

1. Is the Food Fresh?

A healthy dog may walk away from a bowl of food that's gone bad.

A large bag of kibble left open for a month will lose its appeal and could turn rancid. Canned food is only tasty and edible for three to five days after it’s opened, and you must keep it in the fridge.

2. Are They Bored?

Your pet may be getting tired of its food.

Try warming it up. Heat it slightly in the microwave to release more of its aroma and make dinner more attractive to your dog, says Tami Pierce, DVM, assistant clinical professor at University of California, Davis.

You can also liven it up with a little low-sodium broth, low-fat cottage cheese, boneless chicken, or hamburger for a few days. Don’t do this for long, though, or it can be habit forming and your dog will come to expect it, Pierce says. Once they are back to eating normally, start cutting back on the extras.

You could also give them wet canned food or make a mix of canned and dry.

“People avoid canned food because they mistakenly think it’s higher in calories and bad for the teeth, but it’s none of those things,” Pierce says.

If you do make a change, notice how your dog reacts. It could be that they don't like the new food for some reason.

3. Do You Give Too Many Treats?

You could be offering your dog so many treats that at mealtime they are not hungry.

Pierce says this happens a lot. So cut back on treats. Dogs shouldn't get more than 10% of their calories each day from treats and snacks. If you’re not sure how much that is for your dog, ask your vet.

4. Are They Missing People Food?

Have you been mixing some of your food in with your dog’s food, and now that you’ve decided to stop that, they won’t eat?

That's common, says Evy Alloway, DVM, a veterinarian at Connecticut's Killingworth Animal Hospital.

“If they’ve been getting table food or treats with their dinner and that’s become their habit, they don’t want to go back to regular food,” she says.

Slowly cut the amount of extras in your dog’s food to start weaning them off entirely.

5. Did You Change Their Feeding Schedule?

If your dog is used to a strict food schedule, and you change it, they may not be used to the new schedule yet. See if that makes a difference to their appetite.

6. Are They Sick?

If Fido is passing up their regular food, it could be a sign that they are sick.

Take your dog to the vet if they are:

  • Underweight and not interested in eating
  • Usually eats well but has stopped doing that
  • Is a puppy or older dog that isn't eating

Your dog could have swallowed a sock or something else. Or they might have a mouth ulcer that makes eating hurt. Or it could be more serious.

Your vet will likely test your dog's blood, urine, and poop as part of the checkup. They may also recommend X-rays or ultrasound.

7. Have They Barfed Recently?

Your dog may start refusing their regular food if they have been sick lately and threw up their standard kibble. They might have linked the food with being sick and now avoid that food.

If so, mix in a different food to try to get them interested again. If that works, slowly stop mixing the new food in.

Show Sources


Tami Pierce, DVM, assistant clinical professor, University of California, Davis.

Pet MD: “Help! Why Won’t My Dog Eat?”

Evy Alloway, DVM, veterinarian, Killingworth Animal Hospital, Killingworth, CT.

American Veterinary Medical Association: “Disease Risks for Dogs.”

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