Skip to main content

11 Things to check when your dog is not eating: A vet's guide

This dog is not eating and she looks sad
(Image credit: Getty)

It can be worrying when your dog is not eating their dinner. Whether they’ve stopped altogether or are only picking at their meal, it’s a cause for concern. Unfortunately, not eating is a common sign and can signify a whole range of problems, from a brief stomach upset to serious kidney disease. It can even be fussiness or because your dog isn’t hungry – so it’s hard to know when to worry. We’ll look at 11 things you can check to decide what to do if your dog has stopped eating.

When should I start worrying if my dog is not eating?

Medically, we call inappetence ‘anorexia’. Anorexia is listed as a possible symptom for most dog illnesses, meaning it’s not specific to one disease or problem. It can be serious, or almost normal. However, with your dog’s age, behaviour and other symptoms it is possible for your veterinarian to narrow down the possibilities. As long as your dog is otherwise well and is still drinking water, 24 hours without food won’t do them any harm. But if they start to show any of these other symptoms, seem unwell in themselves, or it goes on any longer, it’s time to see the vet.

1. How much is your dog drinking?

It’s a good idea to learn how much is a normal amount for your dog to drink. You can do this by filling their bowl with a predefined amount of water (say, two litres) and then keeping a tally of how much you have to refill it throughout a 24-hour period. If there’s any left at the end of the 24 hours, remove it from the total. If you notice this amount significantly increasing or your dog starts actively looking for water in new places, it’s possible there’s something wrong. If your dog stops eating and is drinking more than normal for them, they should visit a vet.

2. Is your dog vomiting, drooling, belching, or licking their lips more than normal?

Nausea is a common reason for dogs to stop eating their food. Unfortunately, like inappetence, nausea is a nonspecific symptom that could be caused by a whole range of diseases and conditions. If your dog is vomiting for more than 24 hours, also has diarrhoea, becomes lethargic, or is unable to keep water down, you should visit the vet.

3. Are your dog's teeth and gums okay?

Dogs with dental disease can become fussy, only eating the very tastiest things (things that are ‘worth it’) or avoiding certain foods altogether. If your dog has gone off his food, it’s a good idea to check his teeth for signs of a problem. Take care, as some dogs will object to having their teeth examined. If your dog is amenable, pull back their lips and look at each tooth. You should look for signs of gum disease (red gums), periodontitis (large amounts of tartar, a foul smell, wobbly teeth), dental fractures, and wounds to the mouth, tongue, or gums. If you can see a problem, best head to a vet for treatment.

If your dog is not eating, check their teeth for problems

(Image credit: Getty)

4. Is your dog getting training treats, snacks, or scavenging food elsewhere?

Some dogs are good at regulating their intake and will stop eating when they’re full. If you’ve been training your dog, they may have already eaten plenty. Similarly, if they’ve been alone with children, or you spotted them getting into the neighbour’s cat food, they might have eaten enough that they don’t want to eat their dinner. As long as they seem otherwise well, you don’t need to panic. Next time, remember that 90% of their daily calories should be from a complete and balanced source – their kibble!

5. Is your dog a small/toy breed?

Small and toy breeds tend to be a little more finicky with their food, often leaving it down for hours and going back to it. Whether it’s something in the breeds or just the tiny size of their stomach, it’s not abnormal for small dogs to turn their nose up at their dinner occasionally. If they’re otherwise well and not showing any of the worrying signs on this list, you don’t need to take them straight to the vet. Keep an eye on them and try feeding smaller meals more often to suit their tiny stomach size.

6. Could pain be the reason your dog isn't eating their food?

If your dog has suddenly stopped eating, it’s possible that they’re in pain. Dental disease (discussed above) is the most common type of pain to stop your dog from eating, but any pain, anywhere, can cause inappetence. Look out for limping, licking and the ‘prayer position’ as other signs of pain. However, since pain can be hard to identify, it’s best to book a check-up with the vet even if you don’t see other signs of pain.

7. Are your dog’s stools normal in colour, texture and frequency?

Stomach upset can often cause a dog to be off-colour and stop eating. Whilst vomiting may be more obvious, poor stool quality is a sign of an intestinal problem that might be causing mild nausea and discomfort. If this has come on suddenly as a one-off, it’s possible your pet picked up a virus or ate something that didn’t agree with them. Keep a close eye out for dehydration and contact the vet if the diarrhoea doesn’t pass or your dog becomes lethargic. Longstanding or on/off soft stools and inappetence should be investigated –8.  it’s possible a nutrient absorption condition or food intolerance is to blame, and the resulting stomach ache and nausea is why your dog doesn’t want to eat.

8. Has your dog's diet changed recently?

Some dogs are just plain fussy. If you’ve just switched your dog’s food, it’s possible they don’t like the new flavour. If you suspect this is the problem, try your pet with their old food. If they eat as usual, you’ve got to the bottom of your dog’s inappetence! Don’t forget, you want to avoid ‘teaching’ your dog to be fussy by giving them tasty things like gravy, treats or chicken instead of or on top of their usual diet. Just like a child, they should eat their main meal before being allowed dessert or they’ll learn to wait for sweets every time!

A dog looking anxious and stressed

(Image credit: Getty)

9. Could your dog be stressed or anxious?

Your dog might have stopped eating due to stress and anxiety. Has anything changed around the house? New additions to the family, or changes in routine? What about phobias – have there been fireworks or other loud noises, such as builders? If stress is the cause of your dog’s inappetence, it’s likely you’ll see other signs such as crying, clinginess, excessive licking, destroying furniture, or shivering. If stress is a possibility, talk to your veterinarian about what you can do to help.

10. Does your dog have a high temperature?

Dogs often stop eating if they’re running a fever, just like us. If your dog’s ears feel hotter than usual, it is possible a high temperature is to blame. They may also show other signs of illness such as lethargy. If you have a thermometer and you know how, you could check your dog’s temperature – anything over 39oC (102oF) is worthy of a trip to the veterinarian.

11. How is your dog's breathing?

If your dog has a heart problem or lung problem, it may be that they’re too busy breathing to want to eat. Watch your dog’s breaths. Are there more than 30 breaths in a minute when they’re asleep or resting? Are they short and shallow? Are they having to put effort in? If you think your dog’s breathing is a concern, you should contact your vet urgently.

Conclusion

If your dog is not eating and you’re concerned, your first port of call should always be your vet. They’ll use your answers to some of the questions above to help them determine what should be done to help your dog start eating again.