What to Do When Your Dog Won’t Eat

Is your dog finicky about his food? This can be a frustrating problem. Here’s what to do about it.

We tend to think of dogs as being voracious eaters who will devour every edible item offered to them. This isn’t always the case. There are some finicky dog eaters who can make feeding time a real challenge. Dogs who are finicky about their food are more common than you might think. This problem is more frequently seen in homes where there is a single dog. When there’s no competition for food from other dogs, a dog may feel he can afford to be picky and hold out for a better offering. If your dog’s finicky eating has become a problem and he’s becoming thin or malnourished, you need to take action. What should you do when your dog won’t eat?

Rule Out Medical Problems

If your dog refuses to eat, the first thing you need to do is rule out an underlying medical condition. This is especially important if your dog was previously eating well. An examination and a few simple blood tests may be all you need to rule out medical reasons for his lack of appetite. You’ll also want to have your dog’s teeth checked to ensure there isn’t a dental problem making it painful for him to chew.

Reevaluate His Eating Habits

Ask yourself if you’re giving your dog frequent human treats during the day. If so, this may be part of the problem. If your dog has been given bites of filet mignon during the day, he’s going to be less than enthusiastic when you put a bowl of dry dog food in front of him. Question family members to make sure they aren’t contributing to the problem by giving your dog treats. Could your dog be stealing food or raiding your garbage can? This can cause digestive upsets which can reduce a dog’s appetite for his regular food. Plus, it can be downright dangerous if your dog ingests the wrong food. Be sure to keep garbage cans out of reach of your dog.

Develop a Feeding Routine

Dogs thrive on structure and are more likely to eat if fed at the same time every day. Establish a set time for feeding and try to stick to the schedule. Once you place the food in front of your dog, allow him 10 minutes to eat. If he doesn’t touch it, remove the bowl from his sight. You want to reinforce to your dog that feeding occurs at a certain and he needs to eat when the food is put in front of him.

Provide Your Dog with an Eating Area Free of Distractions

If your dog is a finicky eater, feed him in a quiet area free of noise and distractions. This is particularly helpful if your dog tends to be high strung or nervous. Make sure there are no children or other family members around to distract your dog while eating.

Reevaluate What You’re Feeding Your Dog

Did your dogs finicky eating behavior start after you tried a new dog food? Reevaluate what you’re feeding your dog on a daily basis. If your dog has been overindulged with dog cookies and human treats, he may refuse to eat dog food. You may need to retrain your dog to enjoy dog food again. If you’re feeding dry dog food to your dog, try adding some warm water to his food to soften it a bit to make it more appealing. Resist the urge to mix human food in with his dog food as this will just reinforce his picky eating behavior.

A few simple changes may be all that’s needed to get your dog to enjoy his food again. If these tips don’t work for your dog, you may want to schedule a follow up visit with your dog’s veterinarian.

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  1. Karen

    On June 29, 2008 at 7:36 am

    I have an 80lb. 10 yr old Lab mix. We have had her on the dry food her whole life and lately she has been taking mouth fulls of the food an dropping at my feet and will not eat the food anymore. What are your suggestions

  2. yash

    On August 9, 2008 at 10:49 am

    i hv found puppy in my colony 2 days back (ie 7th aug 2008) problame is that it dont eat anything n getting weaker how can i help him ??

  3. Debbie

    On August 20, 2008 at 11:47 am

    I have a 15 month old dog who has been a picky eater since I got her at 12 weeks. Lately, it has been worse where she would just not eat her food at all. I did a lot of research and was told to add some cottage cheese in with the dry kibbles. What a surprise! she ate everything in her bowl this morning.

    I also learned that heating up the canned dog food in the microwave, the food will become more appeitizing. I am going to try this for her dinner tonight. Hope it works.

  4. Katie

    On August 23, 2008 at 10:45 am

    Yash, Try Chicken Baby food for your pup, this may help.

  5. nancy lee

    On December 15, 2008 at 8:15 pm

    well,i did add some water and my dog still did,nt eat his dog food.

  6. kelly

    On December 31, 2008 at 8:02 pm

    My 12 yr. old golden refuses all kinds of food = dry, canned, heated, cooked food, added humann food. She went to the vet, nothing found. Continues to lose weight and refuse food. Unlike her,but she still wants certain treats or cookies. IDEAS?

  7. help

    On February 10, 2009 at 10:06 pm

    my mom bought a new dog a yorkie… she wont eat dog food…so my mom started giving her some people food to tide her over till they could get her to the vet… when parents took her to the vet, they said she was fine.. to stop feeding her people food and that she would come around after a few days… my mom called me crying it’s been 3 almost 4 days and her dog is refusing to eat.. she is a toy orkie and is so small as it… i don;t know how to help and the vet does no good… her dog is WILLING TO STARVE…HELP they have seriously bought every kind of wet and dry dog food spending hundreds … my mom is scared that her dog, “child” is going to die regardless, either from not eating, or from poorly eating people food any suggestions

  8. To #7 help

    On February 25, 2009 at 2:41 am

    Not all “human food” is bad for dogs it just lacks some nutrients that dogs need so they can’t have only human food all the time…they need a doggie supplement…I would try cooking the Yorkie some chicken with rice and adding in a doggie suplement or try a human grade dog food, like from the Honest Kitchen for example which tastes like human food but has all the nutrients a dog needs. There are also a lot of dog stews out there that look and smell and probably taste just like people food. Your mom may just be able to fool her Yorkie into thinking that it is.

  9. To help

    On February 25, 2009 at 2:48 am

    I think this advice from another site could help your mom’s situation with her Yorkie….

    “Eating chicken wouldn’t kill your dog, but she could get malnutrition if she didn’t have a diet that contained all the nutrients she needs.

    First, if you feed your dog any treats during the day, stop. Make sure your dog is hungry, she she’ll less inclined to be finicky at meal time.

    You didn’t say which food’s you’ve tried, or if you’ve tried both dry and canned foods. Some dogs prefer canned over dry.
    Mixing some chicken or cheese (or something equally as tempting) into a nutritionally complete dog food would be the easiest way of ensuring that your dog not only eats, but gets the nutrients she needs. You may have to get creative about how you go about doing that though. Using a food processor to mix the dog food and chicken would make it nearly impossible for her to pick out the “good bits”.

    Using a “super premium” brand of dog food, rather than a supermarket band might work too. These foods cost a little more than supermarket brands, but they are nutritionally dense, so you actually feed your dog less than the cheaper brands. Plus, if your dog will actually eat it, it would be worth the additional cost for the convenience. Look for brands such as Canidae, Flint River, Nutro, Wellness, Eagle Pack Holistic or Nutrisource at larger pet stores or online.
    Many of the super premium brands use human grade all natural ingredients, you might find that you won’t need to mix in chicken to get your dog to eat it.

    Since your dog is so small, you might consider making your own dog food. Making your own dog food requires a simple mix of meat, vegetables and starches, but it’s wise to check with your vet before switching to homemade dog food.
    Dogs need a diet that consists of 40 percent meat, 30 percent vegetables and 30 percent starch. Follow this formula to ensure that your dog has a well-balanced diet.

    Cook all the meat before feeding it to your dog. Organ meats (such as liver, kidneys, etc.) can be quite cheap to buy, and eggs are very good for your dog.

    Safe vegetables for dogs to eat are: raw carrots, green beans, peas, sweet potato, white potato, broccoli, spinach, bok choy, celery. Onions are not good for dogs.
    You can also supplement a homemade diet with: flax seed, garlic cloves, kefir or active culture yogurt.

    Rotate the foods you feed your dog so that the dog gets a variety of foods. Use oatmeal, cooked pasta, brown rice or potatoes for your dog’s starch requirement. You can even grind eggshells and add this to your dog’s meal. Eggshells actually have a lot of nutrients. Most homemade dog foods can be kept in the refrigerator for 4-5 days.

    Here’s a sample recipe:

    2 C Lamb or meat of your choice (chopped finely or ground)
    1 C Rice (Brown or white cooked)
    1 half Carrot (Large, grated)
    1/4 C Peas
    1/2 C Yogurt (Plain, whole fat or 2 %)
    1 Clove Garlic (crushed)
    1 tsp. ground Flaxseed
    2 1/2 C Water

    Cook the lamb by boiling in water with the garlic. Cook over a low heat, covered, until the lamb is tender. Cook the rice according to package directions, using the water that was used to cook the lamb. Mix lamb mixture, carrot, green beans and flaxseed with the cooked rice. Mix in yogurt and serve after cooling.

    Any time you change a dog’s diet, you should do so gradually, over a period of 5-7 days. To switch a dog’s food quickly can cause an upset stomach or diarrhea.

    Lastly, dogs aren’t finicky by nature, they’re scavengers. If your dog is healthy, she will not starve herself though she might miss a few meals before eating the food you give her. It’s a form of “tough love”, not to give into your dog’s whims, but it is a win-able battle.”

  10. help needed

    On March 14, 2009 at 5:06 pm

    There is something wrong with my dogs kidney and she wont eat shes so thin i think she might die please help

  11. crystal

    On May 3, 2009 at 6:26 pm

    i have a four month old chow chow we just got her and i cant get her to eat any thing .she does drink alot but wont eat what do i do. thank u

  12. Connie

    On May 7, 2009 at 4:40 am

    to help needed-
    my 12 yr. old mini schnauzer has kidney failure and doesn\’t eat well. I am now giving her subcutaneous IV\’s every week and she is doing a lot better. She will only eat when I am in the tub or shower if I put her food on a paper towel in the bathroom.

  13. Catherine

    On July 29, 2009 at 2:53 pm

    My pomeranian has always been finicky. He eats only chicken and rice or lean beef and rice…..and…sneaks the cats’ food occasionally. Suddenly, he won’t eat at all. I’ve tried fresh cooking everything and he just turns his nose up on it.
    I’m worried he will get sick or starve. He will eat cat food , but , I have heard that it is not good for him. What to do? Please help.

  14. Maan

    On October 10, 2009 at 9:16 pm

    hello I have a dog & she’s been with us for almost three years now. I didn’t have any problems with her since last week she stopped eating & makes that honking sound when she sleeps. I’ve researched her condition & I’ve found out that she’s having a kennel cough, now she’s ok. she’s not making that honking sound anymore but she still doesn’t want to eat. please help me, what can I do to make her eat again? thanks.

  15. Maan

    On October 10, 2009 at 9:23 pm

    hello I have a dog & she\’s been with us for almost three years now. I didn\’t have any problems with her since last week she stopped eating & makes that honking sound when she sleeps. I\’ve researched her condition & I\’ve found out that she\’s having a kennel cough, now she\’s ok. she\’s not making that honking sound anymore but she still doesn\’t want to eat. please help me, what can I do to make her eat again? thanks.

  16. Maan

    On October 10, 2009 at 9:25 pm

    hello I have a dog & shes been with us for almost three years now. I didnt have any problems with her since last week she stopped eating & makes that honking sound when she sleeps. Ive researched her condition & Ive found out that shes having a kennel cough, now shes ok. shes not making that honking sound anymore but she still doesnt want to eat. please help me, what can I do to make her eat again? thanks.

  17. cindy

    On February 9, 2010 at 12:31 pm

    hello, I’ve had my dog for a little over a year now , and from the get go I’ve had a problem getting my dog to eat . we got him from a kennel, not knowing that he had kennel cough, mange, and other problems. He actually runs away when I go to feed him. Very scared, with his head down low. We have tried all different kinds of dry and moist foods such as kibbles and bits, bentiful,purina,iams,ol’roy, and pedagree., but nothing is working. I would love to find just the right kind for him to eat. I have tempted him with some catfood on top of his food to get him started, but he just eats the catfood off and goes on. My husband tells me I worrie to much., and I do, It bothers me when he dont eat and I worrie like crazy because we went through a rough time with him when we first got him. so help, help, help me find the right thing to do for my dog. cindy

  18. Jan

    On March 18, 2010 at 11:01 am

    I have a 7yr old shi tzu and got her from a rescue. She doesn`t many back teeth. Sometimes she will go3 days without eating. The food I am feeding her she has always ate before. I checked the teeth she has left and they are ok. She seems ok in every other way. Wants to go for walks. w
    What makes her do this not eating thing it is starting to worry me.

  19. lo,a

    On April 22, 2010 at 1:09 am

    My dog just got her shots.. But why won’t she eat??

  20. celina

    On April 27, 2010 at 7:21 pm

    i have 3 yearold puggle i have to constantly change dog food bc she just wont eat it after a while and i dont know what to do theres another dog here when he goes near her food she decides to eat it but dog food is expensive and i just cany keep changing dog food what do i do???

  21. Stephanie Brownell

    On May 18, 2010 at 10:13 pm

    I have a 15 year old black lab. She was eating twice a day just fine until two weeks ago. She now refuses to eat any dry food at all. I switched to wet food with rice & chicken broth. She will only have a few bites of that and will quit eating. She is getting very thin & I am concerned that she may have internal issues. Any suggestions would be welcome!!

  22. sierra

    On May 25, 2010 at 11:40 am

    i have a rottie and she is sick and i have no money to monday to get her to the vet and now she is not eating and i do not no what to do i need a littie help here plz

  23. Kitten

    On August 16, 2010 at 5:28 pm

    We recently switched our 8-yr old border collie from Beneful to Dog Chow Senior formula due to financial restraints, and she has to be coaxed to eat it, and even then, it’ll be well into the afternoon until she her breakfast is gone. We tried a bit of warm water mixed in with dinner and she ate all of it, and even licked the bowl clean. Thank you.

  24. lauren

    On October 26, 2010 at 9:51 am

    i have a maltese cross shih tzu and she will noly eat human food i tried all sorts of food but no she wont eat it and is straving her self please help me she is my pride and joy thank you

  25. HLR

    On November 1, 2010 at 5:24 pm

    HELP!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    my dog, Abby, is 14½ and a few months ago she got sick with diarrhea and the only way we were able to stop it was by feeding her chicken and rice. we tried to get her back on the old food she was eating(dry food) but she wasn’t eating enough of it and was getting too thin. we tried putting her on wet food, but she is very picky about it and when we find one she likes, she stops eating it after a week. we tried feeding her chicken and rice again but she won’t eat it and she is getting very skinny and we don’t know what to do. IS THERE ANY WAY YOU CAN HELP???????????????

  26. HLR

    On November 1, 2010 at 5:24 pm

    HELP!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    my dog, Abby, is 14½ and a few months ago she got sick with diarrhea and the only way we were able to stop it was by feeding her chicken and rice. we tried to get her back on the old food she was eating(dry food) but she wasn\’t eating enough of it and was getting too thin. we tried putting her on wet food, but she is very picky about it and when we find one she likes, she stops eating it after a week. we tried feeding her chicken and rice again but she won\’t eat it and she is getting very skinny and we don\’t know what to do. IS THERE ANY WAY YOU CAN HELP???????????????

  27. vettech

    On January 4, 2011 at 1:50 pm

    how about you all stop asking for advice through comments on an article and call your vet. if you don’t like the answer, go to a different vet!! it’s that simple!!

  28. LRB

    On January 9, 2011 at 9:52 am

    I wish it were as simple as “vettech” seems to think it is. What began as the simple procedure of getting my 5 year-old Yorkie’s teeth cleaned has developed into an absolute nightmare. I’ve taken her to 3 different vets (two of them were specialists). She’s had a sonogram and all kinds of blood tests. None of them are sure what is wrong with her. Each one has made a different diagnosis but nothing that has been prescribed has fixed the problem. Sometimes exploring sites like this helps because you might discover methods of working with your pet that your vet(s) might not have considered. A healthy exchange of information between pet owners is a good tool. This, of course, doesn’t eliminate the need for vets but it can act as a supplement.

  29. amanda

    On February 1, 2011 at 10:07 pm

    Thanks Debbie – I heated up some canned food w/ kibble and my dog ate it all! My dog has been finicky for past week and has even thrown up bile and clear froth.

  30. menger

    On February 16, 2011 at 6:18 pm

    I do not have a dog, but did have a kitty. She started to be unable to keep food down, then, not even water. The vet kept saying, it’s a hair ball, feed her this $13 hair ball stuff.

    Took her to other vets who did an xray and she had a large malignant lung tumor which was pressing on her aorta and her esophagus. No wonder my poor kitty couldn’t eat nor drink.

    She was 14 years old and I loved her more than anything.

    There was nothing to do but put her to sleep. I had a very hard time saying good bye to Bonnie.

    I know she died hungry, but not thirsty because the second vets gave her subcutaneous fluids.

    All that to say, get a second opinion. I just pray Bonnie didn’t suffer too long. Dammit, I miss her, and I thank God for the second Docs, and I’m taking my other 2 geriatric kitties next week to them (both women docs) to get them evaluated before these 2 kitties develop something.

    I am sorry for everyone’s loss of their pets. Not sure when I’ll ever be over Bonnie. Everything in the house reminds me of her, even the other 2 kitties, whom she just hated! Those interlopers! She would just smack them when they got too uppity.

    Love to all, L

  31. melissa

    On October 24, 2011 at 7:50 pm

    my dog is 4 months old and wont eat his food i have my father forcing my dog to eat and he just wont eat it till 11:30 at night i told him to bring him to the vet but he wont listen. i don’t know what to do ? any suggestions

  32. candy

    On January 16, 2012 at 2:18 pm

    my dog just had babies she had two and this morning she ate 1 and we stuill had 1 left and she wont eat she just sleep and scut around what do i do please help me please please im beging u

  33. candy

    On January 16, 2012 at 2:18 pm

    my dog just had babies she had two and this morning she ate 1 and we stuill had 1 left and she wont eat she just sleep and scut around what do i do please help me please please im beging u

  34. help me

    On April 14, 2012 at 10:19 pm

    my dog was a rescue and before she use to eat then she started vomiting out of nowhere and wont eat or drink what should i do?

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