Loss of Appetite in Dogs: Why Did My Dog Stop Eating?

If your dog stops eating, they might be suffering from a life-threatening illness.

Does it sound like an overstatement? It may not be. If your dog who loves their food suddenly stops eating, it can be a medical emergency. Whether your dog is not interested in eating or they want to eat but cannot, their health might be in trouble. Further, in small dogs or puppies, not eating alone can result in a dangerous situation.

The big picture considerations include the speed of onset, whether your dog refuses all food or eats some, and whether your dog looks or acts sick.

Further information: Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog: The Big Picture

Depending on the cause, your dog might show any of the following other symptoms such as:

  • vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • lethargy
  • weakness
  • increased thirst and urination
  • difficulty breathing
  • withdrawn behavior
  • weight loss
  • fever
  • hunched or abnormal posture (dogs with painful backs or necks will often stop eating and sometimes it’s the only symptom)
Loss of Appetite in Dogs: Why Did My Dog Stop Eating? Decreased appetite might reflect a life-threatening illness.

Introduction

Loss of appetite is one of the most unappreciated symptoms, particularly when the dog eats some or is thought to be a picky eater. For the longest time, we came to believe that Jasmine just wasn’t so interested in food

Is there such a thing as a dog who doesn’t like food? I don’t believe so. Either something is wrong with the food, or something is medically wrong with the dog. Dogs love to eat. Eating equals survival. Instinct drives dogs to eat, and eating brings satisfaction. Dogs are  opportunistic scavengers, meaning when there is an opportunity to eat something, they will.

Yes, I believe there IS such a thing as a picky eater, particularly after getting a taste of something specially yummy. But how common is that?

Spot

My mom’s parents fed their dog a risotto type of food. Some rice, some veggies, some bits of meat—Spot was perfectly capable of picking out the meat and leaving the rest, btw. At that time, my mom kept some rabbits for food. She had way too much rabbit meat, and she gave some to her parents. It was too much for them too, and a bunch of it went to Spot. He didn’t complain in the least.

Eventually, they ran out. Spot thought that returning to his usual diet was unacceptable. He refused to eat for a week until he finally got hungry enough to give in.

Some dogs learn they will be able to mooch something better out of you and won’t touch their kibble.

However, don’t immediately dismiss a chronically picky eater as a little manipulator. If a dog feels ill enough to lose their appetite, they might still be persuaded with higher-value food. Never assume your dog is simply picky.

Jasmine

In Jasmine’s case, it turned out that all that time, she was suffering from food allergies and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), which her vets missed for five years! As soon as we had the diagnosis and started treating, you should have seen her polish her bowl. When she turned her nose on her meal, we knew her IBD was acting up.

A dog that doesn’t like to eat? I’m not buying it.

JD and Cookie

The only time Cookie refused food was when she had a bout of pancreatitis after getting into some horse feed. JD refused food only once in his entire life and went on to throw up a bunch of plastic later on.

Every time we have had a dog not eating, there has been a tangible reason behind it.

Is it the food?

Yes, there can be an issue with the food—it is not a bad idea to take a closer look. It might be a bad batch. Or your dog is sensitive to some of the ingredients.

However, if you find yourself escalating in embellishing what you feed your dog, give it a second thought. Especially if you see associated weight loss or any other symptoms.

Stress, fear, and anxiety

Stress, fear, and anxiety can cause decreased appetite. Don’t I know it. Every time something isn’t right with any of our dogs, I just can’t force myself to eat anything. It can happen to a dog too.

There is a biological explanation for that. Stress keeps the body in fight or flight mode. All other functions are suspended.

Prolonged stress can do a lot of damage to a dog’s body. If your dog is stressed enough to refuse food, he needs some serious help. Ensure your dog feels safe where/when they eat. For example, competition from other dogs can keep them away from the bowl. As well as rescue dogs with a history of mistreatment around food won’t approach their bowl until they are alone.

Further information: Dog Adrenal Hormones: What is the Difference between Adrenaline and Cortisol?

Illness

Virtually any health problem will influence your dog’s appetite. Some medical conditions can cause a voracious appetite. Most of the time, though, appetite will decrease.

Conditions that can make your dog unable to eat

Your dog is hungry but might have a hard time picking up, chewing or swallowing their food:

  • severe dental disease
  • pain and inflammation in the mouth or throat
  • salivary gland disease
  • masticatory myositis
  • temporomandibular joint disease (TMJ)
  • oral cancer
  • neurological issues
  • pain
Illnesses that can make your dog not want to eat

Your dog is not hungry:

  • loss of sense of smell
  • nausea
  • gastrointestinal disease
  • GI foreign bodies
  • GI obstruction (partial or complete)
  • inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
  • ulcers
  • intestinal parasites or infection
  • infections/fever
  • medication side effects
  • poisoning
  • problems with the pancreas
  • liver disease
  • kidney disease
  • heart disease
  • blood disease
  • pain
  • immuno-mediated disease
  • metabolic disease
  • cancer

Similarly to diarrhea or vomiting, your dog’s anorexia can be caused by a problem within the GI tract, or have nothing to do with it at all. A thorough veterinary physical exam can help to narrow it down to one or the other. They will want to follow up with blood work or imaging depending on what problem they suspect.

Further information: Anorexia in Dogs

Summary

Pay attention and don’t dismiss your dog’s change in appetite.

Every time any of our dogs had a change in appetite, there was a medical reason for it. Some of these are more serious than others. Some might require immediate attention, especially if your dog stops eating altogether—always consider the big picture.

When your dog’s appetite tanks, take it seriously. Gradually reduced appetite warrants investigation. The faster it happens, the more urgent the situation. Loss of appetite in small dogs or puppies is always urgent.

Real-life stories:
Pyometra in Dogs: Phoenix’s Lethargy and Loss of Appetite
Loss of Appetite in a Puppy: A Puppy That Doesn’t Want To Eat Or Play Is An Emergency—Aurora’s Story
Anorexia in Dogs: Aspen’s Leukemia

Related articles:
Is Loss of Appetite an Emergency?
Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog: The Big Picture

Further reading:
Anorexia in Dogs
Overview of Anorexia (Loss of Appetite) in Dogs

Categories: AnorexiaLoss of appetiteSymptoms

Tags: :

Jana Rade edited by Dr. Joanna Paul BSc BVSc

I am a graphic designer, dog health advocate, writer, and author. Jasmine, the Rottweiler of my life, was the largest female from her litter. We thought we were getting a healthy dog. Getting a puppy from a backyard breeder was our first mistake. Countless veterinary visits without a diagnosis or useful treatment later, I realized that I had to take Jasmine's health care in my own hands. I learned the hard way that merely seeing a vet is not always enough. There is more to finding a good vet than finding the closest clinic down the street. And, sadly, there is more to advocating for your dog's health than visiting a veterinarian. It should be enough, but it often is not. With Jasmine, it took five years to get a diagnosis. Unfortunately, other problems had snowballed for that in the meantime. Jasmine's health challenges became a crash course in understanding dog health issues and how to go about getting a proper diagnosis and treatment. I had to learn, and I had to learn fast. Helping others through my challenges and experience has become my mission and Jasmine's legacy. I now try to help people how to recognize and understand signs of illness in their dogs, how to work with their veterinarian, and when to seek a second opinion. My goal is to save others the steep curve of having to learn things the hard way as I did. That is the mission behind my blog and behind my writing. That is why I wrote Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog, which has turned out being an award-winning guide to dog owners. What I'm trying to share encompasses 20 years of experience. Dr. Joanna Paul BSc BVSc is our wonderful sponsor and has been kind to edit and fact-check my important articles.

14 Comments
  1. I always thought dogs would eat almost anything and that’s why they get into so much trouble. This supports the idea that if a dog isn’t eating, something is wrong!!!

    Cats can be very finicky. Many times, they will turn up their noises to a dish they just gobbled up the previous day. If my cats refuse to eat anything, including treats, I know it’s time to get them to the vet. Thank you for an informative article.

    • Yes, dogs normally eat almost anything. I don’t know if cats are more finicky but I do know that when they stop eating it’s a problem not only because of the cause but also because of the potential outcome.

  2. Do small dogs tend to be pickier than big dogs do you think? Or more prone to being spoiled? Seems like I rarely worked with a customer with a picky big dog, it was always allergies or IBD. Little dogs though – wow, I think every chihuahua and yorkie was a picky eater – or they had their human wrapped around their little paws to get what they wanted. Pickier than the stereotype of cats.

    • Well, yes, generally small breeds are pickier. Whether that is from being spoiled, that is another question. For example, some breeds prone to digestive issues include Scottish Terriers, Miniature Schnauzers, Yorkies, Shih Tzus, Basenji’s, Lhasa Apsos,

  3. I remember the days and weeks leading up to Dav dog’s IBD diagnosis. She stopped eating and started losing weight at an alarming rate. When we went to the vet, they warned us about the possible causes including some ‘worst case scenarios’ such as organ failure. She had blood drawn for a series of tests only to find that her blood work came back looking like that of a MUCH younger pup – she was in great shape but still not interested in eating and something off with her digestive system (she would get sick when she did try to eat). After finding out that she has IBD, we were able to adjust her diet accordingly and make use of medications when needed – but it was scary up until the point that we had answers!

    • Oh, I can see how scary that would be. IBD is so tricky to diagnose; blood work won’t show you. The only conclusive way to diagnose it still is a biopsy. Though they are experimenting with trying to diagnose it by analyzing intestinal flora.

  4. My little Luna sounds a little bit like Spot! She was my first dog that has ever refused to eat. It was incredibly stressful, as you said, it’s so important to consider underlying issues when a dog refuses to eat. I was always so scared when she would skip meals!
    We ended up spoiling her with special “toppings” on her food, which I feel made matters worse. I was finally able to curb her picky eating habit with a salmon oil supplement on top of her food. I felt good about that because the benefits of the salmon oil were truly something she needed.
    She has been checked by my vet SO many times and has been diagnosed with “picky eater syndrome”. Ha! It really is so worrisome when she decides she wants to skip a meal. Thanks for sharing this info and spreading awareness!

    • No other signs are present such as changes in stool, vomiting, weight loss? If so, than the diagnosis could be right. Some things, though, such as IBD, won’t show up on blood work.

  5. The fact that you speak from experience and can quote about your own pups gives your piece such authority. I know you have been there and that appetite loss is a very serious event. When our cats refuse to eat I monitor them carefully and book a trip to the vet!

  6. Great tips! My two dogs are such opposites when it comes to eating. My younger boy has always been super picky. It’s a common trait in his breed. I don’t get super worked up when he wants to skip a meal, as long as he’s still acting normal, because that’s always been par the course with him. My older dog, however, is obsessed with food. If he ever skips a meal I know something’s up. Last summer it happened and the vet diagnosed him with primary tonsillitis. I didn’t even know dogs could get tonsillitis! Luckily a course of antibiotics got him feeling better pretty quickly and he was back to gobbling up his meals again.

    • Your dogs are the perfect example of the differences. You’re on top of it. Yeah, they can get tonsillitis, they have tonsils. 🙂

  7. FiveSibesMom

    Excellent informative post as always, Jada. Our sweet Chloe fits this to a “T.” She was always our always hungry mungry Husky. There was not a treat, snack, or food this girl did not wooo and talk for! Tail always wagging, eyes always looking for yummies…then one day, out of the blue, she did not want anything. She attempted bites at bits of chicken, but then it made her sick. Because it was so unlike her, we called in our vet, and to our shock…she was in acute liver failure–her numbers were extraordinarily high (and all of them just had their annual bloodwork and physicals two months earlier and all was perfect) and we had to help her cross the bridge “immediately” our vet said, before everything starting shutting down on her and the pain that would accompany it …we were crushed. Absolutely crushed. On a breezy day last summer, with our other three Huskies present, and being held in my daughter’s arms, Chloe was helped to cross the Rainbow Bridge. As I type this, I have tears and still cannot believe she is gone. She was a healthy 9-year-old dog, until overnight she wasn’t. Our house is strangely quiet without her talking and being present at meal times. She was the sweetest dog. I still cannot believe how fast it came on and the only sign was lack of interest in food. As you said, it is *so important to pay attention and don’t think a lack of appetite is nothing to be concerned about.* It might not be serious, but it also can be a huge red alert, as in the case of our sweet girl.

    • I’m so so sorry about Chloe 🙁 So sad. So strange it hit so hard; gotta wonder whether it was some kind of an infection; leptospirosis maybe? It can go after the liver. So sorry. Hugs.

Share your thoughts