Help! Why won’t my dog eat?

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Help! Why won’t my dog eat?

Dogs are clever! They will often not eat if they feel nauseous or they have vomited recently. If they have vomited, they are more likely to eat after being fasted for a short time: 2 to 3 hours for a puppy, or 4 to 6 hours for an adult dog. Following this short fasting period, they should be offered easy to digest food such as boiled white rice with cooked chicken or white fish. Read our advice about how to tempt your dog to eat and when it’s time to speak to a vet.

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It is normal for a puppy's appetite to reduce as they get older and their growth rate slows down, so do not be surprised by this.

If your dog is fed a raw food diet, they may go off their raw food occasionally for no apparent reason. If this is the case, you may have to encourage your dog to eat other foods, or try to tempt them with an easy to diet for 24 to 48 hours.

What can I give my fussy dog to eat?

If you think that your dog is just being a fussy eater, has no signs of nausea, or is just declining dry dog food, you can try to entice them to eat using the following steps:

  • Add warm water to your dog’s food and bringing it to body temperature

  • Add a flavoured liquid or dog food topper, such as Slurps, Oralade, Purina Adventuros Sauces Dog Food Topper or Applaws Tasty Dog Toppers. The Applaws toppers come in 3 flavours and are perfect for pouring over kibble. In addition, Applaws also make broths and pates. More information can be found on the Applaws website

  • Make a gravy for your dog’s food. This can be achieved by adding water to a small amount of a very aromatic wet or canned dog food, and mixing it into a thin liquid. Pour this liquid over the food so that the food is coated in it

  • Add a basic broth to your dog’s food. This can be made using a simple stock such as chicken or beef, but it is important to avoid stock cubes that are high in salt or contain onions

  • Add water from a strong smelling food, such as drained tuna, that your dog likes, to their food

  • Add some diced or shredded boiled chicken. This should be mixed thoroughly with your dog’s food; do not just garnish the top of the dry dog food with the chicken, or you may simply find that your dog picks off the chicken and leaves the rest

What else can I do when my dog will not eat?

  • Reduce your dog’s treats and do not give them any table scraps to ensure they are hungry. Training treats are often used when out on walks. Treats often taste better than their dry dog food (very much like us with chocolate versus healthier choices like vegetables!!). However, this can leave them not as hungry for their actual meals

  • Place your dog’s food in an interactive feeding toy, such as a KONG or a snuffle mat. This helps to make mealtimes more fun, at the same time as providing a complete diet, meeting all their nutritional requirements

  • Feed your dog little and often to encourage them to eat several smaller meals

  • Try different food bowls. Make sure your dog’s food bowl doesn’t smell of washing up liquid or chemicals. Check if your dog’s tag or collar touches the bowl and makes a noise, which might distract them

  • Try to alleviate any stress that might be associated with mealtimes. You can try calming Adaptil spray (dog pheromones)

  • Make sure a suitable diet for your dog’s age and activity levels. If they only have a small appetite, choose a diet that has a concentrated amount of calories and therefore small portion sizes

  • Try a small amount of a new food flavour. Often something fish-based smells strong and may encourage your dog to eat. Arden Grange make a salmon-based diet and a white fish-based diet, whilst Forthglade make a sardine-based wet food

  • If you change your dog’s diet, make this change slowly. Soak the new food with the existing food for 30 minutes to make sure you can mix them thoroughly and to make the mix smell stronger. Hills offer further advice on their website on how to transition between different foods

  • If you suspect your dog is attention seeking, try to ignore them when they refuse their meal and praise them when they do eat it

What is a bland diet for dogs?

We often talk about feeding dogs a ‘bland diet’. In essence, this means feeding an easy-to-digest, highly digestible food for a few days until their stomach has fully returned to normal. You can read more about this here

Ideally a highly digestible diet should be fed for at least 3-5 days, with no treats or other food sources until your dog has fully recovered. Slowly transition back to the regular diet over 5 to 7 days. Start by adding 20% of their normal diet to the bland diet for 2 days. If stools continue to be firm and no further vomiting, slowly continue substituting the normal diet in 20% increments over the next few days.

How can I keep my dog hydrated?

If your dog declines food but will drink, you can offer Royal Canin Rehydration Support, a powder that you mix with water to help keep their electrolyte levels normal and to rehydrate them. Alternatively, you can buy Oralade, a solution that comes ready mixed in a bottle and is chicken flavoured. Oralade can be used as a meal replacement, if required, to ensure that your dog is getting nutrients whilst going through this fussy phase.

If your dog is not drinking enough water, you can make a basic broth either from poaching chicken or from a low-salt stock (take care to avoid onions).

Please offer only small amounts of water or rehydration fluids to start with, to ensure that your dog does not drink too much in one go and then regurgitate it.

When to see your vet?

  • If your dog refuses to eat despite trying the steps above

  • If your dog is drinking a small amount of water but vomiting immediately

  • If your dog is lethargic or has vomited more than three times in 8 hours

Further reading

Gastrointestinal diets for dogs and cats

Still have questions?

If you would like more advice on nutrition or raw feeding, please book an online video appointment to have a chat with one of our FirstVet nutrition vets.

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