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Home Care for the Dog that Won’t Eat

Dogs that won’t eat or have a diminished appetite, also known as anorexia, is a common symptom reported by pet owners. It can be a minor problem or a very significant life-threatening problem. There are many causes for this common symptom and a decreased appetite can suggest the start of many different diseases or problems.

As a pet owner, you may not know what to do when this happens, so this article will focus on what you can do for your pet at home and help you to understand when you should seek help from your veterinarian.

Here are some of the most common questions pet owners ask about canine anorexia:

What is Anorexia in Dogs?

Anorexia is the lack of appetite, not eating, or eating less than normal.

What Causes Lack of Appetite in Dogs?

Anorexia or lack of appetite in dogs can be caused by a variety of problems including fever, infections, pain, food change, as well as just about any other problem. Lack of appetite or decreased appetite can also indicate a systemic problem such as cancer, kidney failure, diabetes, liver disease, infectious diseases as well as just about any other problem. For a full list of possible causes, go to Causes of Anorexia in dogs.

What Can I do at Home for my Dog that Won’t Eat?

Specific home treatments for anorexia in dogs is dependent on the cause of the anorexia or lack of appetite. For example, if the underlying cause is kidney problems- then your dog needs more diagnostic tests and fluid therapy. Or if the cause is an infection, the treatment may be antibiotics.

The general approach for home care of a dog that won’t eat may include:

If your dog doesn’t eat a meal and you cannot take your dog to your veterinarian (which is recommended), then you may try the following:

Note: Please check with your veterinarian before giving ANY medications. Administer only prescribed medications. Many over-the-counter (OTC) medications that are safe for humans can be toxic to dogs.


This is important! If your dog continues not eat or you notice the onset of other symptoms, please call your veterinarian promptly. If your pet is lethargic, starts vomiting, has diarrhea, is weak or lethargic or has any other physical abnormalities mentioned above, it is important to see your veterinarian. Your pet needs your help and the professional care your veterinarian can provide. If your pet is having the clinical signs mentioned above, expect your veterinarian to perform some diagnostic tests and make treatment recommendations. Those recommendations will be dependent upon the severity and nature of the clinical signs.

When is Lack of Appetite an Emergency?

If your dog continues not to eat, acts lethargic, starts vomiting, has diarrhea, is weak, has trouble breathing, and/or you notice pale gums – then immediate medical attention is warranted. Please see your veterinarian. It is always better to err on having your dog evaluated sooner rather than later.

Here are some links to additional information that may be helpful.


The advice given in the Home Care series of articles is not meant to replace veterinary care. When your pet has a problem, it is always best to see your veterinarian as soon as possible. But in some cases, it is not always possible to seek veterinary care. You could be traveling, it could be after hours and there are no 24-hour clinics near you, or maybe you simply can’t afford it. Whatever the reason, when your pet has a problem, you need answers. Most vets will not give you any information over the phone – they will tell you to bring your pet in for an office visit. So, when these difficult situations arise, many pet owners don’t know what to do – and they end up doing the wrong thing because they don’t have sound veterinary advice. When your pet has a problem and you can’t see your vet, the information in this series of articles can help guide you so that you will not inadvertently cause harm to your pet. However, this information is not a replacement for veterinary care.