Here’s How to Help a Puppy Who Will Not Eat

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puppy will not eat

Having a puppy that will not eat can be an emergency. Puppies less than three months, especially the small and toy breed dogs, are predisposed to hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) when they don’t eat.  Examples of toy breed dogs include Yorkshire terrier, Maltese, Shih tzu, Pomeranian, Chihuahua, Cavalier King Charles spaniel, Havanese, Italian greyhound, Miniature pinscher, Toy poodle, and Pug.  The inability to regular blood sugar in young dogs is referred to as juvenile hypoglycemia. In fact, there are special care needs for toy breeds. Learn more about Caring for Toy Breed Dogs.

What Do You Do When Your Puppy Will Not Eat?

What do you do when your puppy won’t eat?  Look at our 5 steps below to help your puppy.

Step 1. Look for Why.

The first thing to do is to try to figure out why.  Some reasons a puppy will not eat can be minor and others can be serious and even life-threatening.

Causes for a puppy will not eat include:

  • Gastrointestinal parasites (worms) such as roundworms, hookworms, whipworms
  • Viral infections such as parvovirus or coronavirus
  • Intestinal protozoan infections such as Coccidia or Giardia
  • Bacterial infections
  • Ingestion of toxins
  • Stomach upset from a sudden diet change or table foods
  • Getting into the trash and eating spoiled food
  • Ingestion of a foreign body (which is an indigestible object such as sock, toy, panties)
  • Other –congenital problems such as a liver shunt, heart defects, as well as many other problems that can affect organ function

Step 2. Evaluate your puppy.

Carefully look at your puppy for additional symptoms besides the not eating. Look for any underlying causes as well as evaluate your puppy for additional abnormal symptoms. Look for:

  • Vomiting and/or diarrhea
  • Worms in the stool
  • Fleas or ticks
  • Lethargy or weakness
  • Trembling, muscle twitching, and seizures
  • Limping
  • Signs of pain or discomfort
  • Coughing or trouble breathing
  • Pale gums


Step 3.  Get Help.

Puppies can get sick and go downhill quickly. Don’t wait too long to seek medical help for a puppy that will not eat. If you see any of the signs above, please see or talk to your veterinarian.

Your veterinarian may ask you about exposure to trash or toxins, history of deworming, vaccine history, and additional symptoms such as vomiting or diarrhea. They may check your puppies body temperature, check a blood glucose level, perform a fecal examination, as well as other tests depending on your puppies examination and clinical signs.

Step 4. How To Help a Puppy That Will Not Eat

  • Below are tips that can encourage puppies to eat.
  • Begin by offering your puppy his regular food once again. If he refuses, continue on to the next step.
  • Moisten the regular food with water of chicken broth for moisture and flavoring. Sometimes make the food more appealing.
  • Offer different canned puppy foods to help stimulate your puppy’s appetite. The best approach is to add a small amount of canned food to his regular food and hope that he eats the combination of regular food with some of the canned. Canned food can be more palatable and has the additional benefit of having a higher water content which helps with hydration.
  • Feed a bland diet such as a combination of boiled hamburger with rice. You can purchase a commercial version of this diet e.g. Hill’s Science Diet i/d or make your own. Get the recipe here – How to Make a Bland Diet for Your Puppy.
  • Heat a small amount of canned food in the microwave for a few seconds to release the aromas (but ensure it is not too hot to the touch) to stimulate interest in the food.
  • Offered baby food such as a chicken flavored food.
  • Syringe feed. When mixed with water, baby food or canned dog food mixed with water can be easy to pull up in a syringe to gently syringe feed. Sometimes getting a small amount of food into a dog or puppy can encourage them to want to eat. Please make sure your puppy is alert and has a normal swallowing reflex to minimize the risk for aspiration.
  • Only feed a small amount at a time to ensure your puppy tolerates it and doesn’t start vomiting.
  • Besides food, encourage your puppy to also drink. Ideas include:
    • Give your pet an ice cube to lick
    • Adding an ice cube to the water bowl can encourage some pets to drink
    • Allow your puppy to lick water from your hand or your finger
    • Offer small amounts of Pedialyte®
    • Offer low sodium chicken broth

If you try these tips and your puppy still won’t eat, the best and safest thing is to take your puppy to the veterinarian.  If your pet seems weak, becomes unable to stand, and/or you notice any additional muscle twitching – this is an emergency. This can be a sign of a low blood sugar. This is an emergency situation. Immediately call your veterinarian or closest emergency clinic. To help a low blood sugar, you can rub Karo® syrup on his gums.

Step 5. Avoid It

If you figured out why your puppy wasn’t eating – avoid the same situation in the future.  For example, if your puppy got into the trash, avoid exposure to the trash. If your puppy has worms, make sure you follow the prescribed a treatment and ensure you follow all instructions from your veterinarian.

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