Since dogs can’t talk, it can be challenging for a dog owner to know when a dog isn’t feeling well.
For that reason, it’s helpful to look for signs or “clues” that a pup isn’t feeling their best. This may include symptoms of illness (such as vomiting), or it may mean a subtle change in behavior — such as eating or drinking less than usual.
Here are some important things to know if your dog has stopped eating.
What Causes a Dog to Stop Eating?
A loss of appetite is referred to as “anorexia,” whereas “Hyporexia” or inappetence means a pet is eating less than normal (although the term anorexia is commonly used to describe both scenarios).
Refusal of food may happen suddenly or develop slowly over time. And it may be due to a variety of reasons, ranging from picky eating habits to a serious illness.
Here are some of the most common reasons why a dog might stop eating:
- An upset stomach for any reason (for example, eating spoiled food, garbage, sweets, poisonous plants, or table scraps).
- Finicky eating habits.
- A food change.
- Stress or emotional causes (for example, while boarding, while an owner is out of town, or when there’s a change at home. Your dog may have a hard time adjusting.).
- Dental problems that make it difficult to chew food.
- Pain anywhere in the body.
- Parasites (such as Giardia).
- Infections (for example, Leptospirosis, digestive system infections, anything that causes a fever or sore throat, or an upper respiratory infection that affects a dog’s ability to smell their food).
- Food allergies, IBD, or other digestive issues.
- Toxin ingestion.
- Foreign body ingestion (for example, swallowing a sock, toy, or other item that could get stuck and cause an intestinal blockage).
- Medication side effects.
- An underlying medical condition (kidney disease, kidney failure, liver disease, diabetes, cancer, etc.).
SEE ALSO: Dog Diarrhea: Causes and Treatment
What About a Dog Who’s Not Drinking Water?
It’s very unusual for a dog to not drink enough water if their food intake is normal.
One possible cause for decreased water intake could be a food change. If you feed your dog dry food and start incorporating canned food or another higher moisture content food into your dog’s meals, your pet may not drink as much water from their bowl since they’re getting more water at mealtimes. This is perfectly normal, so no need to worry.
But if your pup is also eating less than usual, or if you are concerned, go ahead and schedule an appointment with your veterinarian.
On the other end of the spectrum, if your dog is drinking more water than usual in combination with not eating, this could be a symptom of an underlying health problem, and it’s important you speak to your vet.
What Is the Treatment for a Dog Who’s Not Eating or Drinking?
Treatment for a dog who’s refusing their food consists of two components: treating the underlying cause and providing supportive care.
Directly addressing the underlying cause is important to ensure the loss of appetite is truly resolved (or managed as well as possible in the case of chronic illness). Without treating the underlying cause, anorexia could return after supportive care is discontinued.
To determine why a dog stopped eating, a veterinarian will take a detailed history (ask you about your dog’s symptoms, any changes in the home, history of travel, etc.) and perform a physical exam to check your pup’s overall health and look for any abnormalities that could explain the loss of appetite (such as an infected tooth or abdominal mass).
Diagnostic tests are commonly needed to reach a diagnosis, since these tests give your vet more information about what’s going on inside your pet’s body. Common tests include:
- A fecal check (to look for parasites).
- Bloodwork and a urinalysis.
- X-rays or ultrasound.
- Tests for infectious diseases.
- Depending on your dog’s history and symptoms, additional testing may be recommended, such as biopsies.
Once a diagnosis is reached, targeted treatment is prescribed. For example, a dog with intestinal worms will receive a dewormer, and a dog who’s eating less due to arthritis pain may be prescribed joint supplements or pet-safe pain medications.
Regardless of cause, supportive care is important to help a dog feel better, prevent complications of not eating (such as dehydration, nutrient deficiencies, or electrolyte imbalances), and promote healing.
Supportive care varies depending on a sick dog’s needs and symptoms, but common treatments include:
- Medications for nausea.
- Antacids or stomach protectants.
- Appetite stimulants.
- Pain medications.
- Fluid therapy (electrolyte balanced fluids administered under the skin or via an IV catheter).
- Special diets until your dog is feeling better.
- Extra measures to increase appetite or make food more palatable, like:
- Adding canned food or a special dog treat to tempt appetite.
- Warming food up to body temperature to increase the aroma.
- Hand feeding while giving extra praise and attention.
- Home cooking (ask your vet which foods would be best for your pup, but usually bland diets like plain boneless chicken and white rice are best).
- If needed, hospitalization and placement of a feeding tube. This is usually reserved for pets who need nutritional support for a longer period of time.
Remember: Never give your sick dog medications without checking with your vet first — many are toxic to pets!
If it’s determined your pup’s lack of appetite is due to picky eating habits, your vet can discuss techniques to establish a healthy eating schedule. But first, it’s important to rule out a medical condition.
SEE ALSO: How Can I Tell If My Dog Is Sick?
What Do You Do When Your Dog Won’t Eat?
If your dog stops eating, do you need to take them to the vet right away? Or is it okay to wait until morning — or even to monitor for a few days if your dog is acting normal otherwise?
It’s always best to be cautious and call your vet, especially since loss of appetite could be a symptom of a serious health problem that may get worse. Regardless of cause, prolonged refusal of food can lead to health complications. And, if your dog isn’t eating due to an illness, they need good nutrition for their body’s immunity and healing responses.
For all these reasons, it’s best to address a lack of appetite with your vet as soon as possible, even if your pet is otherwise acting normally.
Immediate veterinary care is recommended if your dog is refusing to eat and is also:
- A young puppy (their immune systems aren’t fully developed yet, so puppies are at a higher risk of serious infections).
- An old dog (since senior dogs are more prone to sickness, a lack of appetite may signal your older dog has an underlying condition that is causing inappetence ).
- An underweight dog or dog that has an underlying health problem.
- A toy or teacup breed. These pups are at risk of low blood sugar when they don’t eat regularly.
- Showing signs of illness, such as vomiting, listlessness, or a fever.
- Losing weight.
- You suspect your dog ate something toxic or ate an object that could have gotten stuck in the stomach or intestines.
SEE ALSO: What to Do When Your Dog Won’t Poop
Regardless of what is causing the loss of appetite, addressing the issue with your veterinarian as soon as possible provides your pup with the best possible care — before the condition progresses.
Prompt care will also help your pup feel like their normal self again as soon as possible.
If you have questions or concerns regarding your dog’s appetite, we’re here to help. Book an appointment.