When should I worry about my dog not eating?


It can be a really worrying time when your dog is off their food. Unfortunately ‘anorexia’ or loss of appetite can be caused by a whole host of reasons. In order to determine the treatment to give to your dog, it is important to identify what the underlying cause of the reluctance to eat is.

Loss of appetite in a dog can be a sign of illness so it’s important to seek veterinary help if you notice changes in your dog’s normal eating habits – particularly if your pooch is normally a good eater. It’s best to get to the bottom of the problem as early as possible, as if left untreated for several days it can lead to dehydration and malnourishment.

There are different types of anorexia. 

True anorexia is when your dog simply refuses to eat – this is often associated with serious illnesses. Pseudo-anorexia is another type which is when your dog is hungry and really wants to eat, goes to the food bowl, but can’t eat due to a difficulty chewing or swallowing.

If your dog stops eating for a day or two, but is otherwise active and alert, then it’s ok to keep a close eye on them initially. You could offer them some bland home cooked food like boiled chicken and rice, which is a tasty but easily digestible diet. Try warming it up a little in the microwave, as this sometimes will entice them to eat. You could offer smaller meals more frequently. Take away any leftovers that they haven’t eaten within 15 minutes and offering again a few hours later. Avoid chopping and changing the diet and offering too many different types of food. Sometimes a quick change in food can cause an upset tummy, which may complicate matters. Be careful to avoid any toxic foods such as onions and garlic.

If your dog is quiet, not themselves, or displaying any other symptoms like vomiting, diarrhoea, weakness or lethargy; or has not eaten at all for 2 days then you should seek veterinary attention.

Potential causes of anorexia

There are many different possible causes! They include:

Illness

A decline in appetite could be a sign of a significant illness such as kidney disease, liver disease, diabetes, infection (bacterial or viral), fever, cancer, pyometra (infection of the womb), pain (anywhere in the body, not just the mouth), gastroenteritis etc. As you can imagine, all of these diseases are treated in different ways so it’s important we identify the cause to be able to give the correct treatment. If your vet suspects one of these diseases could be the cause then they will need to run some diagnostic tests. Often starting with a blood (+/- urine) test. 

Dental disease

If your dog has oral pain due to decay, gingivitis (inflammation of the gums), a broken tooth, abscess or an oral tumour then this can cause them not to eat. During their clinical examination your vet will be able to check your dog’s mouth to assess for any problems here.

Environment 

Sometimes dogs can be quite sensitive to a change in their routine or environment. Particularly if they are in unfamiliar surroundings. Causes of stress could include moving house, taking your dog on a trip or a stay at the kennels. If they are uncomfortable with a situation they are in they may not feel like eating. For example, hot weather, being around another dog, a different food bowl, or being fed at an uncomfortable height.

Medication 

Some medications may cause a reduced appetite or nausea. If your dog is taking a new course of medication and this occurs, you should let your vet know.

Vaccinations 

Vaccines prevent some serious, often fatal, infectious diseases in dogs. Sometimes after your dog’s jab, they may be temporarily quiet and off their food for 12 -24 hours. 

Food

Check that the food hasn’t gone off or has an odd smell to it. If food has been left out, or not stored in an airtight container then it will go rancid after a while. 

What is the treatment for anorexia?

Treatment will very much depend on what the underlying cause of the anorexia is. Often once this has been addressed, their appetite will return to normal. Sometimes this may take a few days and additional measures may be required. Depending on your dog’s condition your vet may give an injection or tablet to stimulate their appetite. These need to be given with some care, as they don’t fix the problem – they simply make the dog want to eat. In some cases, if it’s going to be longer than a couple of days while your pet heals, or the treatment takes effect they may suggest placing a feeding tube. This is passed into the oesophagus (food pipe) so your dog can receive a liquid diet via the tube. This isn’t permanent – it’s just to keep them fed until they start eating by themselves.

If you are worried about your dog’s appetite, then don’t hesitate to get in touch with your vet. Finding and treating the underlying cause is the best way to approach this situation. To get your dog back up and about again.

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