Why is my dog not eating?

Dog not eating? It may be a symptom of something awry with your dog's health.

Most of the times when a dog loses his appetite, stops eating or is unable to eat, the reason is an underlying medical problem. In other cases it can be a behavioural (psychological) problem.

The term to describe not eating, unable to eat or loss of appetite in dogs is anorexia.

What can be the causes?

Behavioural reasons
(less serious, but has to be addressed)

  • Stress linked to new owners and new environment – re-homed dogs or getting a stray from the SPCA or shelter.
  • A new addition to the family (human or canine).
  • Change of environment when moving house or taking your dog with you on holiday.
  • Stress when a dog is put into a boarding kennel.
  • Stress when a dog is left home with another caregiver when owners go on holiday.
  • Dislike of a new food or bored with food.

Generally, the anorexia lasts for about a day and the animal appears otherwise healthy. If the animal does not appear healthy and the loss of appetite persists for longer than this, there may be an additional medical reason too.

Medical reasons
(serious and should get immediate attention from a vet)

  • Digestive problems like diarrhoea and vomiting.
  • Diseases of the liver - for example - chronic hepatitis (not the same as human hepatitis A, B, or C, and NOT contagious) and cirrhosis.
  • Diseases of the blood – for example - severe anemia of different causes (immune-mediated hemolytic anemia, leukemia-related anemia, blood loss due to ulcers of the stomach or rat bait poisoning).
  • Bacterial or viral infections.
  • Respiratory diseases - some dogs may lose their appetites when they suffer from an upper respiratory disease (for example, asthma and kennel cough). It could be due to the fact that the disease temporarily reduces their ability to smell their food, or because it’s too difficult to breathe while eating.
  • Dental or periodontal disease.
  • Pancreatitis.
  • Kidney failure.
  • Inflammatory bowel syndrome.
  • Urinary tract infection.
  • Constipation.
  • Severe worm infestation.
  • Addison’s disease
  • Pain due to injury.

What to do?
It is essential to take your dog to the vet if he stops eating for more than 24 hours. Regardless of cause, loss of appetite can have a serious impact on your dog’s health if it lasts for more than 24 hours. Puppies (dogs less than 6 months of age) are particularly prone to the problems brought on by loss of appetite.

The general rule with young dogs is to take them to the vet if they’ve missed one of the 3 or 4 daily meals they should be fed and have no interest in the next meal. Don’t wait longer than that with a puppy.

Diagnosis and possible treatment
Your Vet will firstly do a thorough check-up of your dog and might have to do a few tests to determine the reason for the loss of appetite.

After establishing the medical the reason, the next step is to start with a suitable treatment plan - for example, if is it is an infection, an antibiotic will be prescribed. If it is a dental problem, your vet might recommend a dental clean-up under sedation, etcetra.

If it is serious medical problem your dog might have to stay at the clinic for a few days for treatment and observation.

Your dog might also be given supportive treatment, such as supplements.

If it is a behavioural problem, your vet will firstly have eliminated all medical reasons before focusing on giving you advice on how you can get your dog to eat. He might also give your dog a nutritional supplement and special food.

Some tips if your dog has behavioural eating problems
Puppies need to be fed at regular intervals. At each meal, place the correct amount of food into the bowl. The puppy should complete his meal within 10 minutes. If he walks away with food left in the bowl, pick up the bowl. This will accustom him to eating his food in an appropriate time frame.

Allowing ad-lib feeding (unrestricted access to food) especially with bulk feeders, is one of the common mistakes owners make. If you don’t meal-feed your dog, you are unlikely to be able to tell early-on if he is ill, as you never see him hungry. It can also lead to behavioural problems. One exception to this would be if a puppy weighing less than a kilogram is left alone for long periods of time. Tiny puppies need frequent meals for their blood sugar levels and need to have food available.

Avoid fussing about your dog and his food at mealtimes, as this will result in your dog expecting this at every meal. He will soon realise that by playing up, you may be pushed into providing ever more elaborate treats.

To make his well-formulated, balanced diet a bit more appetising, especially if your dog is recovering from an illness or injury, warm up his food for a few seconds in the microwave, it makes it easier for him to smell and might make it more appetizing – but make sure it is not too warm.

Puppies younger than five weeks old might need milk supplements, which you will have to give to them with a syringe. Speak to your vet about a milk replacer before you giving it to your puppy. - (Hilda Geyer/Health24, July 2009)

Reviewed by veterinarian Dr Katja Bier.

Read more:
Pet Health Centre
Water: your dog's life line

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