What To Do If Your Dog Won’t Eat
There are few things more frustrating than painstakingly preparing a bowl of food for your dog only to have him turn up his nose and walk the other way. While a dog not eating can be a sign of an underlying health issue, which we will discuss in a moment, often it’s not.
Today we will spend the bulk of our time on generally healthy, but picky dogs.
In this post you will learn:
- Health reasons a dog may lose his appetite,
- How long can dogs go without eating,
- Why your dog is not eating his food but will eat treats,
- The best dog food for picky eaters,
- Tips for both raw and kibble-fed dogs,
- And 10 (+BONUS) tips to get a picky dog to eat
Medical Reasons a Dog Won’t Eat or Loses Appetite For Dog Food
There are many medical and behavioral reasons a dog will suffer from loss of appetite (hyporexia) or simply refuse to eat (anorexia).
Among these are pain, dental disease, stomach upset, intestinal parasites, vomiting or diarrhea, pancreatitis, cancer, other types of infections, kidney disease, and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), just to name a few.
Likewise, behavioral reasons a dog won’t eat can run the gamut from anxiety and stress to relational issues with other pets. Dogs who have recently experienced a significant environmental change such as moving, traveling, or even storms or loud sounds, can become so stressed out that they won’t eat.
In 5 Subtle Signs of Stress in Dogs: How To Take the Fear Out of Nail Trims we discussed how fear and stress can affect a dog when trimming dog nails. One of the clearest signals of stress in dogs is a refusal to eat (even treats).
Before reading further, I recommend you speak to your veterinarian about why your dog isn’t eating. Root out any possible underlying medical conditions and solve for any possible stressors that may also be affecting your dog’s appetite.
The target audience for the tips I am about to share is those people with a dog who is picky about food and is holding out for something better, not a dog who needs medical care.
**This post contains affiliate links from which I may receive a small compensation. There is NO ADDED COST to you should you use these links.**
How Long Can Dogs Go Without Eating?
While I have read the research that says a dog can go without eating for up to 5 days, there is not a concrete answer on this. There are simply far too many variables for each individual dog.
A dog with underlying medical issues like kidney disease or cancer, or a puppy, for example, may only survive a few days without nutritional support while an otherwise healthy dog may be able to last 5 days.
Why is this important?
Most dog owners freak out at the prospect of their dog missing a meal. I am not quite sure why.
Do WE as humans wither away and die if we don’t eat a single meal? No, of course not.
It’s not that different for our dogs.
As long as they are happy, healthy, have plenty of access to water, and all the other necessities of life, missing a meal here or there is not going to kill them. A healthy dog will eat when they get hungry.
That said, if your dog refuses to eat for more than a couple of days, I would call the vet.
Why Is My Dog Not Eating?
Beyond the medical and behavioral causes for appetite loss mentioned above, there are numerous reasons a dog may refuse to eat their food.
Here are a few…
1. Your dog is being overfed.
Simply put, they are taking in more calories than they need and they are not hungry.
There are a few breeds, like Labrador retrievers and Beagles, who will eat as much as you give them and never seem satiated.
Most dogs, however, have a saturation point at which they say, “No more.”
2. Your dog’s gut needs a break from digesting.
Seen commonly in dogs fed commercial dog food (kibble) due to the increased time it takes to metabolize the food.
If you are feeding your dog at 7 am and 5 pm, his breakfast hasn’t finished metabolizing by the time dinner rolls around. Over time, this can lead many dogs to refuse a meal or pick at their food.
Humans perceive this behavior as pickiness, without realizing it is the natural consequence of the diet we are feeding them.
3. Your dog is spoiled.
Of course, I mean that with all due respect.
If you are succumbing to your dog’s big brown eyes and droopy jowls with a handful of cheese balls, I am talking to you.
I was you years ago. You can read about my experience hitting rock bottom with a picky dog here.
4. Your dog doesn’t like his food.
While it is true that a hungry dog will eat just about anything, there are times when a simple switch to a different food can do the trick.
But if you find yourself on your 5th or, sadly, 10th brand of kibble to find one your dog likes, let me cut to the chase…. You are wasting time and money on the wrong thing.
Your dog is playing you as mine did for the cheese balls.
10 Best Ways to Get a Picky Dog To Eat
1. Mix-In Fresh Raw Green Tripe
Tripe is the stomach of ruminating (grazing) animals including cows, buffalo, and sheep which systematically break down grasses with digestive enzymes, gastric juices, and amino acids.
When I say green tripe, I am not referring to the color. As you can see in this video, it’s not green. Green is the term used for tripe that is raw and unprocessed – basically, right out of the animal it came from.
When you feed your dog fresh, green tripe, they will be getting all of these digestive enzymes and probiotics, which are incredibly beneficial for all dogs, particularly those who are fed a diet of commercial dog food (kibble).
Fresh green tripe is great for digestion and gut health and packed with nutrients! It makes a perfect addition to any dog’s diet!
My only caveat to feeding green tripe is that you want to avoid canned tripe as it has been heat-processed for canning which destroys the beneficial enzymes. It is also extremely stinky.
Put it this way, if you don’t want your house filled with fumes of putrid poop, buy FRESH green tripe, not canned!
For more on the many nutritional benefits of feeding green tripe, check out this terrific article from Dog’s Naturally Magazine.
2. Feed Frozen or Partially Frozen
Dogs, like people, can have preferences for certain types of food, with texture and taste at the root of most of them.
For example, the thought of eating rubbery shrimp or squid makes me want to throw up. Likewise, both Junior and Sulley will root out a piece of slimy liver and nibble-bite it out of their bowl.
I figured out after the first few weeks of raw feeding that if I fed liver frozen in chunks or partially frozen, they would eat it. They just didn’t like it thawed out.
With my dogs, it’s the same with fish. They prefer whole fish frozen, not thawed out.
If you are finding your dog avoiding certain raw foods, try feeding them frozen or partially frozen and see if that doesn’t change their mind.
3. Grind vs. Whole Raw
Some dogs will look at a typical whole raw meal with a quizzical look like, “Do you expect me to eat THAT?”
Compared to a bowl of kibble, raw dog food certainly does look quite foreign and strange.
If you are struggling to get your dog to eat whole raw dog food, try grinding it up yourself or purchasing pre-ground raw from your co-op.
While your goal should be to eventually feed some whole raw meaty bones for the mental and physical stimulation and dental benefits, feeding ground food can really help when you are beginning your transition.
Mix in some fresh green tripe and your dog’s drool will be back in full force!
4. Try Commercial Pre-Prepared Raw
For some picky eaters, having someone else prepare their food can do the trick. Junior has had his picky moments off and on, but when I introduced Darwin’s Raw Dog Food, Raw Paws Pet Food, and Dr. Harvey’s, he took to them immediately. He loved the variety of new and different flavors and formulas.
With meals that are ready to eat and balanced, any one of these options may work for your picky dog.
If you are feeding an adult large or giant breed dog, consider adding a few scoops of any one of these pre-prepared raw options to your dog’s kibble. So you don’t waste your food, try the mix in small portion size before attempting a full meal.
5. Grind Organs
As I mentioned above, both Sulley and Junior can be finicky with organs. With the exception of kidneys, my boys just don’t love organs due to the slimy, soft texture.
So, to combat this I feed most organs ground up. Most raw food co-ops will sell pre-ground organs already balanced – 50% liver, 50% other secreting organs.
While the price for pre-ground organ may be slightly higher, I have found purchasing it this way to be more than worth that added cost.
6. Mix Supplements In
If your dog turns his nose up when you add supplements to his bowl, consider mixing them with something your dog DOES like.
Here are a few examples…
Mix supplements in canned pumpkin, plain yogurt, raw goat milk, fresh green tripe, an organ grind or other ground meat, or in an egg.
The thought process here is that most dogs won’t taste the supplements when they are mixed with a food they like more.
7. Feed Eggs
Eggs are packed with nutrients including B vitamins, iron, and fatty acids. In fact, eggs are one of the most complete sources of amino acids found in nature, which are the building blocks of protein.
In addition to being extremely healthy for dogs, they taste great, too!
Both Junior and Sulley love raw eggs. Because of that, I use eggs to my advantage when it comes to them not eating their food.
Whether you are raw feeding or feeding a commercial dog food diet, you can try mixing in a raw egg a few times a week to get your dog to eat.
Simply crack the egg over the item your dog doesn’t love (like liver) or over the bowl of kibble (mix it in or leave it on top).
In my experience, most dogs love eggs and this can really help get a picky dog to eat.
That said, my boys aren’t as big a fan of scrambled eggs. And they like hard-boiled eggs only slightly more than scrambled. Raw eggs, the nutrient-dense ones, however, they love!
8. Transition Slowly (for Adult Dogs Only)
If you are wondering how to get a picky dog to eat his food while you attempt to transition from kibble to raw, consider taking this transition slowly.
There is no reason an adult large or giant breed dog can’t transition over the course of a week or two as you slowly add new raw elements to his bowl.
For some dogs, it’s just too big a jump to go from processed dry kibble to whole raw.
Here is a simple way to do this…
Start by decreasing the amount of kibble you are feeding by about a cup or so and replace the kibble with a few spoonfuls of raw ground beef. If that goes well, add some raw chicken meat. Introduce raw eggs and green tripe.
Slowly reduce the amount of kibble you are feeding as your dog is introduced to more protein sources and raw foods until you are completely transitioned over.
This is a process I would consider with a fully mature big dog. NOT a growing puppy.
Large and giant breed puppies need balance from day one and simply can’t afford to have their calcium to phosphorus ratio thrown off, even for a few days.
My recommendation for large and, especially, giant breed puppies is to either wait to transition to raw when they turn 12-18 months old or transition them completely from the start with the full balance of meat, bone, and organ.
For more on feeding large and giant breed puppies, click here.
9. Fasting (For Adult Dogs)
“What? Don’t feed my dog? Are you kidding? He will starve!”
If that is what you are thinking, hear me out.
Remember what I said earlier about how long a dog can go without eating and that sometimes a dog’s gut just needs a break.
Consider fasting your dog for a meal once or twice a week as a healthy detox.
In the wild, wolves will take down prey, consume it, then fast for several days before their next meal. And while our domesticated dogs are not wolves, they are closely related physically.
They fully digest a meal before consuming the next one. This is the exact opposite of the way we feed our pets.
Fasting your dog can give his gut a rest from digestion, provide a healthy detox from a variety of toxins, and it will increase the likelihood your picky dog will find his love for food once again.
10. Vary Meal Times
Like fasting, varying meal times can also get a picky dog to eat his food.
If your dog is expecting his meals at 7 am when you wake up and 5 pm out of routine, what would happen if you fed him at the same time in the morning, but waited until 9 pm to feed dinner? Or on the weekend, you don’t feed breakfast, but instead, feed a lunch. In other words, you make him wait for the food.
Beginner raw feeders will find that doing this can significantly curb hunger pukes as it keeps your dog from anticipating the next meal.
11. BONUS: Make Homemade Dog Treats
And as always, I like to provide a bonus for those who stick with me this long.
Consider making homemade dog treats using either nutritious elements you want to add to your dog’s diet or those foods your dog doesn’t like.
Homemade dehydrated liver treats are just one example that I have shared on BigDogMom.com.
Next week I will share another terrific NEW recipe your picky dog will love!
VIDEO: MY DOG WON’T EAT! HELP! | How To Get a Picky Dog to Eat | 10 TIPS + BONUS
Feeding a Picky Dog
If you remember nothing else from this post, I hope you will remember this… Let go of your emotional attachment to your dog’s meal and RELAX.
You worrying about your dog eating every morsel of every meal or standing over him anxiously awaiting his reaction to his food is not helping.
Dogs feed off of our behavior and emotion. If we are nervous, our dogs get nervous. If we are unsure, our dogs learn there just might be some reason for them to be unsure too.
Make sure you have ruled out any medical or behavioral conditions, feed the most nutritious food you can afford, and love your dog the best you can.
And if you have a friend or loved one with a dog addicted to cheese balls, please share this post with them!