A common reason for dogs to visit the veterinarian is for the concern that “my dog is not eating”. The medical term for not eating is anorexia.
Sometimes canine anorexia is complete which means a dog will not eat anything and other times the anorexia is partial where a dog will eat but only if the food is augmented with more palatable things such as cooked chicken or beef or other table food. Another common scenario when a dog has partial anorexia or a decreased appetite and won’t eat his food but will eat treats.
There are many reasons why a dog will not eat or has a decreased appetite. Below we will discuss some of these reasons and give you tips on what you can do at home and when you should see your veterinarian.
First, why will a dog not eat his food but eat treats?
Dog Won’t Eat His Food But Will Eat Treats
Many times when dogs get sick or feel ill, the first symptom that we observe is a decreased appetite. Some dogs will still eat if you “doctor-up” the food with canned food, cooked meats such as chicken or hamburger, or offer other table scraps or human foods. Other dogs will eat only treats but not their food.
There are many causes of anorexia in dogs. Anorexia is considered a symptom, which means it can be caused by many different diseases. In some cases, a decreased appetite can be one of the first signs of illness. For example, diseases of the stomach, liver, intestine, and/or pancreas can cause a decreased appetite or anorexia. In addition, diseases of the kidneys, blood, and brain can cause a decreased appetite. In addition, dogs that are in pain or have infections are often unwilling to eat. Learn more about Anorexia in Dogs in this complete medical article written by a board-certified veterinary specialist.
Get some good tips on how to get your dog to eat at What to do When Your Dog Won’t Eat His Food — But He Will Eat Treats.
Look for Other Symptoms in Your Dog
When a dog is not eating, closely evaluate him for additional symptoms or problems. It is important to know if the anorexia is the only symptom or if they’re other symptoms. Take your dog out on a leash so you can observe all his or her habits.
Monitor your dog for:
- Is there vomiting? If s0, how frequently? Is it undigested food or bile? Is there blood?
- Are the bowel movements normal? Is there diarrhea? Have you seen abnormal blood or mucous? Is the stool black that can suggest digested blood?
- Is your dog scooting?
- Is your dog urinating normally? Have you noticed straining or more frequent requests to go out? Is there any change in the urine color? Have you noticed blood?
- Is your dog coughing? Any trouble breathing? Exercise intolerance?
- How is your dog’s attitude? Is he/she active, playful and happy? Are you noticing lethargy?
- Is your dog drinking? Have you noticed decreased or increased thirst?
- Has your dog lost or gained weight recently?
- Have you noticed any lameness or trouble walking?
- Is there any evidence that your dog is in pain?
- Does your dog have an abnormal odor or foul odor on his breath?
- Have you noticed any abnormal skin tumors or growths?
If your dog is showing any other abnormal symptoms such as not eating, vomiting, lethargy or anything else, please see or talk to your veterinarian. These observations may help identify the underlying cause of the inappetence.
How to Get Your Dog to Start Eating
If your dog is not eating, how do you get your dog to start eating?
- Consider the flavor your dog may like most. Just like humans, every dog is different as far as what he or she likes. Some prefer fish flavors, others beef and yet others may like poultry.
- Some dogs prefer dry food over canned and others prefer canned over dry.
The best approach is to try to get your dog to eat something….really anything. Start with healthy choices then work to other options. Begin by offering your dog his regular food but if he won’t eat that, then try something else.
- You may offer a bland diet such as a combination of boiled hamburger with rice as an option that works well in some dogs. You can purchase a commercial version of this diet e.g. Hill’s Science Diet i/d or make your own. Get our recipe on How to Make a Bland Diet for Your Dog.
- Offer your dog some different canned dog foods to help stimulate your dog’s appetite. Choose one that he has had and likes but if that doesn’t’ work, pick something new. 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.
If this doesn’t work, then you can start trying other options. Please see our article on Home Care of Dogs with Anorexia for some really good tips on how to get your dog to eat.