My Dog Won’t Eat – What To Do When Your Dog Is Off His Food

Dog won't eat

There are several possible reasons why a dog won’t eat. In this article I am going to help you to work out why your pet is refusing their meals, and what you can do to get them happily eating again.

I’ve had a few fussy eaters over the years but food refusal in dogs can be a sign of a health problem, and a dog that won’t eat or drink at all is a medical emergency. How you act when your dog won’t eat should depend on how long they have stopped eating for, and what other behaviors are accompanying their lack of appetite.


There are many reasons why a dog or puppy might go off their food. Lack of appetite can be caused by infections, pain, hormonal disturbances, and even by emotional upsets. Our terrier Polly, ate very little for the first week after we collected her from the breeder. To the point where I was getting quite worried about her. Once she had settled in her appetite returned.

Not eating can also be a learned response. Some dogs will refuse one type of food to encourage their owners to offer something they prefer. We’ll look at all this and more. But first things first. Let’s exclude serious health issues.

When a dog has gone off his food

When a dog hasn’t eaten at all for around three days vets will refer to it as ‘anorexia’. Partial anorexia is when a dog eats, but not enough to keep them healthy and fit. This is a medical term that simply means ‘no appetite’ and doesn’t mean that your dog anorexia in the human sense. 

Sometimes this loss of appetite comes on gradually. If a dog eats nothing for a few days or loses their appetite over a period of time this can be a sign of illness or discomfort. Problems with their teeth for example, may cause your dog to eat less – just as you or I would if we had toothache! A complete loss of appetite can be more of a worry.

My dog won’t eat today

If a dog with a normally healthy appetite suddenly stops eating altogether, be alert. You could have a medical emergency on your hands. The first thing to exclude is a mouth problem.

Tooth troubles:

Is your dog showing no interest in their food bowl at all, or are they attempting to eat? I find with tooth troubles, the dog will show enthusiasm around food being prepared. They will often try to eat, but pick at their food and keep backing off. And they may be more willing to eat soft or mushy food.

If your dog is less than six months old, its possible that a loose tooth is bothering them. If so, their appetite will return in a few hours when the offending tooth has been shed. In the meantime you can soften their food with liquid, to help them eat.

Dogs do sometimes crack or break teeth. And you won’t always be able to spot the offending tooth yourself. So if you suspect tooth issue, and it doesn’t quickly resolve, or if your dog is over six months old, a trip to your veterinarian’s office is in order.


If one of my dogs is showing no interest in the food preparation routine at all, then I’ll run through a checklist to exclude possible common health issues.

  • Are their poops abnormal? Runny stools or oddly colored stools might suggest a health issue
  • If they are female, did they recently finish a season? Female dogs that are not spayed are susceptible to pyometra, a serious infection of the uterus, and need to be seen urgently by a veterinarian if they go off their food in the first few weeks after finishing their heat.
  • Are they less than three months old?
  • Are they drinking more than normal?
  • Are they passing urine and stools?
  • Are they moving normally, and energetic
  • Is their most recent vaccination more than a few days ago? A recent vaccination can cause mild symptoms and affect a dog’s appetite for a day or two.
  • do they have any unusual lumps or bumps

If the answer is yes to the first question and my dog is drinking normally, over three months old, and acting normally, I’ll wait for 24 hours and review. If the answer to any of the other questions is yes, I’ll check in with my veterinarian

If your dog looks really sick – withdrawn, lethargic or unusually quiet, they may be in trouble, and need to see a vet without delay. Don’t assume your dog is okay because he isn’t crying. Dogs with severe tummy pain may just take to their beds and not make a sound.

Bloat or some kind of obstruction from eating trash are possibilities your vet might want to consider. If your pup seems to be just a little off colour, keep an eye on him for the rest of the day. But make sure he’s still drinking water. You can also try and offer food again in a few hours.

Adult dogs can go without food for a few days without any adverse effects on their health so the primary concern here isn’t getting them to eat, it’s finding out why they have stopped eating. There are many reasons why a dogs go off their food besides health problems.
Let’s have a look at some of them.

Dog won't eat

My dog won’t eat but is acting normally

If your Lab is full of energy and charging around like a puppy there is probably no immediate need to rush your dog off to the hospital. Your dog might not be hungry. While many Labs would eat until they pop, I have had Labs that won’t overeat. Or get bored with their food.

Maybe your dog has been getting less exercies recently and doesn’t need his usual amount of food. Or maybe someone has been slipping him too many treats.

  • Have you changed food brands? Some dogs are very suspicious of unknown tastes and smells. A new bag of kibble you just opened might be off – check and smell the food.
  • Has something in your dog’s environment changed? When dogs have emotional upsets it often puts them off their food – just like our children.
  • Have you moved house? Even a simple thing like a new food bowl or changing the place where you feed him can have him turning up his nose at food.

Most dogs also stop eating for a day or two when their owners go off on holiday. Or even just when their favourite companion isn’t home – a person or another pet. Are there visitors who might be upsetting him? Or a new pet? But, if he normally has a healthy appetite, keep an eye on him, watch and wait. One of the things you need to watch for is that your dog drinks water.

My dog won’t eat or drink water

If your dog won’t eat or drink water, then you need to talk to your vet. Right away. It isn’t normal for a dog to go more than a few hours without drinking or eating anything. If your dog is drinking a lot more water than usual and refusing to eat this can also be a sign of an infection or a serious disease.

Just like people, dogs get tummy bugs. When the are vomiting and/or have diarrhea their natural instinct will tell them to stop eating. These minor bugs are not usually serious and most dogs will carry on behaving normally throughout. And they will drink enough water to replace lost fluids.

Veterinary advice is to not feed your dog for about 12 hours after a tummy upset. Then start by feeding small amounts of bland food every few hours on the first day. This allows the digestive tract to recover. Increase the amount of food gradually and if it seems that the problem is solved you can start reintroducing normal food.

A lack of appetite accompanied by absence of bowel movements, or by straining, may indicate a bowel obstruction. So it’s off to the vet without delay! Obviously, you don’t want to run to a vet with every little minor tummy upset, but your vet would always rather see a healthy dog unnecessarily, than a sick dog too late. Illness aside, the vast majority of dogs that go off their food are not in the throes of a medical emergency.

Many dogs that gradually stop eating do it because they want you to feed them different food. Let’s have a look at this.

My dog won’t eat dry food

It’s very common for dogs to go off dry food. Let’s face it, kibble can be quite boring. If I ate the same old pellets every day, I think I’d get bored too. Having said that, most kibble fed dogs consume their daily ration with gusto. So why do some dogs stop eating dry food?

There may a perfectly good reasons. Older dogs, or those with dental problems or painful jaws may find them hard to chew. Or in winter the food might just be too cold. The solution here is simple – add a bit of warm water. But most often the reason is that someone added something tasty to the kibble at some point. And the dog has really appreciated that addition.

It might have been some tasty gravy or some after dinner scraps. Either way, plain old kibble without any additions the next day, doesn’t have quite the same appeal. So the dog turns his nose up, and what happens next?

Well, if you’re anything like most of us, and your dog has gone off dry food, you probably feel sorry for the dog and add something (a splash of gravy or a few scraps) to the kibble to encourage him to eat it. Which he does! Job done. Or not. Because you now have a dog that won’t eat dry kibble at all. Ever.

No – he is prepared to hold out for the tasty additions he has come to expect. So what do you do?

What to feed a dog that won’t eat any more

What to feed a dog that won’t eat any more

Some dogs eat a wide range of food to begin with and then get more and more selective. Perhaps you’re driving forty miles a week to get the only kibble your Labrador will eat? Or paying a small mortgage for fancy food in a pretty pouch?

The good news is, you don’t have to. This isn’t about ‘what’ to feed him. It’s about ‘how’.

The bad news is, your dog will make you feel like a bit of a heel whilst you go about teaching him not to be a fussy eater. He may also lose a bit of weight (which could be a bonus). We’ll look at that in a moment, but first a quick word about changing brands.

Which brand should you try?

People often ask me which brand of dog food they should try, especially when their dog is refusing several brands. I can’t tell you exactly which brand of food you should feed your dog. That is a matter for you, and possibly your veterinarian, to decide in consultation with your wallet.

But I will suggest you be wary of switching brands on more than one occasion. You can end up in a cycle of constantly switching from one food to another whilst your dog gets more and more picky.

My dog won’t eat dog food but will eat treats

Another common problem is the dog that will eat treats, or human food, but simply won’t eat dog food at all. The causes are the same as for the dog that won’t eat kibble unless it is smothered in yogurt or cheese sauce. Your dog has learned to play you. The solution is to teach him that you won’t play his game.

The problem, is that many people are scared their dog will starve themselves to death, or suffer terribly, if he doesn’t get to eat every three hours. Let’s take a look at that.

How long can a dog go without eating

Forget about hours. If he has access to water, a fit and well dog can last days without food. And most healthy, well balanced, dogs will give in and eat what is put in front of them within two or three days.

So if you want to, you can safely refuse to feed a fit and well dog alternatives, until his hunger gets the better of him and he gives in and eats what you provide. You’ll find more detailed instructions for curing a fit and well picky eater below. The important part here is the ‘fit and well’. That includes mentally well. You shouldn’t be entering into a battle of wills with an elderly dog or a young puppy. Or a dog that has a health or emotional reason for not eating.

A dog who has a chronic illness may need a special diet. And those recovering from a health problem could need some coaxing to recover their appetite.

My sick or recovering dog won’t eat much

Dogs that have a chronic illness such as heart problems or cancer may lose their appetite. The same applies to dogs who are recovering from a serious illness or have pain from recent surgery or conditions like hip dysplasia. This is only partly because they are less active and need less food. Various metabolic changes also take place when the body is under stress.

In these circumstances it may be necessary stimulate your dog’s appetite and feed them differently so that they get the nutrients they need. You want to help them to maintain the best possible condition and/or heal and recover.

Your vet will probably advise you on what to feed your sick, injured or recovering dog. He is likely to suggest that you tempt your dog with foods that he enjoys. Meals should be nourishing, easy to eat and to digest. You should offer smaller meals more frequently. Dogs find moist, warm food with a strong flavour more appetising. Canned dog foods, meat, fish, and eggs fit the bill.

 The above also applies to elderly dogs who won’t eat much.

My old dog is not eating well

It isn’t uncommon for senior dogs to lose their appetite to a certain extent. Sense of smell and taste can decline with age, and lower activity levels may mean that the dog simply needs less food.

Most older dog gain weight because of inactivity. Those who keep losing weight usually have an underlying long term health problem, problems with their digestion or difficulty in swallowing. So if your older dog it not eating and keeps losing weight you should have him checked out by your vet.

When older or chronically ill dogs eat too little over a long time they lose, not only body weight, but also lean mass (muscle). You’ll want to avoid this by offering them small meals with a high protein and fat content. But what if your young puppy of new dog doesn’t want to eat?

My puppy or new dog won’t eat

Be suspicious if your puppy stops eating. Labrador puppies usually have voracious appetites, and will eat pretty much anything with relish. Even if your puppy seems otherwise well, talk to your vet if he stops eating altogether for more than a few hours. Moving home can be very stressful for a dog.

So if you have moved house, or if you have bought a new dog home from the pound, don’t expect him to tuck into everything you offer him right away. He may need a little time to settle in first. And yes, it’s okay to spoil him a bit for those first few days, tempt him with treats, or whatever it takes.

His emotional health is the priority here, not your ability to control his diet. That can wait a week or two. But what happens when your dog eats everything besides the food they should?

Fussy eaters

Your dog that is happily settled in your homes, in great health, and refuses to eat the food allocated for him. He happily scoffs treats, or food of a different make? What about dogs that will only eat if you wet their food? Or pour gravy on it. These are the fussy or picky eaters of the dog world.

These are often dogs that are having a great time making their adoring humans run around after them – providing their favorite delicacies – and generally giving their dogs what is very often a completely unbalanced diet.

The Labrador Handbook by Pippa Mattinson(paid link)

Don’t panic if you have ended up in this position. Just read on for the cure.

How to cure a fussy eater

How to cure a fussy eater

The cure for a fussy eater is straightforward. But before you begin:

Trying to cure a fifteen-year-old Labrador of a lifetime’s fussy eating is probably a bit mean.

  1. Don’t do this with dogs that are very old, very young, unwell, very underweight, or undergoing medical treatment.
  2. Do use a complete dog food that will fulfil all your dog’s nutritional requirements.

Here are the steps:

  • Decide what you want your dog to eat and offer him a small quantity in a bowl.
  • Set a timer for five minutes.
  • When the timer goes off, take the bowl away.
  • Do not feed him any treats whatsoever until his next mealtime.
  • At the next time, offer the dog a small quantity of exactly the same food again. For exactly five minutes.
  • Do not feed him anything else.
  • Make sure he has clean drinking water available at all times.
  • Rinse and repeat

Build up quantities as soon as he starts eating again. That’s it. All you have to do is ignore the pleading eyes, thwart any attempts to raid the fridge, and prevent the dog from eating the cat’s dinner or mugging your visitors. Some dogs will ‘hold out’ for a couple of days. But you will win this battle.

Remember that no healthy dog will normally starve itself to death, but very occasionally you’ll meet a dog that will keep itself chronically underweight rather than eat what you are offering.

The Labrador Site Founder

Pippa Mattinson is the best selling author of The Happy Puppy Handbook, the Labrador Handbook, Choosing The Perfect Puppy, and Total Recall.

She is also the founder of the Gundog Trust and the Dogsnet Online Training Program 

Pippa's online training courses were launched in 2019 and you can find the latest course dates on the Dogsnet website


  1. I am afraid I am guilty, of adding a treat to encourage my dog to eat. We also changed flavor of food because she devoured it the 1st time offered! I had suspected she was playing me, when she would eat her treats fine with training sessions, and stopped taking kibble as training rewards! I have also been leaving the food bowl down for her to finish when she didn’t eat it all. Rosie is 6months old and started not eating in the mornings, so I started adding some crumbled dehydrated chicken livers over her food! Before this she was only eating when one of us was around in close proximity to her, like when I was working in the kitchen etc.
    I will try the 5min. rule with her kibble, wont add anything else to it and see what happens
    Thanks, Carol

  2. Just wanted to send my thanks and appreciation, this was an extremely informative and helpful article, filled with a wealth of information.
    Thanks again.

  3. Thank you so much for reaffirming that it’s not normal for a dog to eat or drink anything at all. When I first tried feeding the new dog I adopted from the local store, it was strange how he wouldn’t eat the food that the store recommended. After going back and telling them about it, they offered another bag of food free of charge, but the dog still wouldn’t eat it. I wasn’t about to just try every brand of dog food out there, so I’ll take your advice and visit a vet in my area immediately.

  4. Hello, my 6 month old lab has just gone completely off his kibble. He will eat wet food but completely refuses kibble even out of my hand (very unusual as these have always been training treats). This happened right after he swallowed a whole yak chew, but we also went on holiday so were away for a week (my brother looked after him). He seems ok in himself but should I be worried about the chew that he swallowed? Or do you think he’s being fussy to eat wet food instead? If he carries on doing this, is 6 months too young to try the ‘cure fussy eater’ strategy? Would really appreciate advice!

  5. My lab has started not eating or drinking while at home. If we go next door to my son’s where there are two labs she will eat and drink. I take her food over and put it in their dogs bowl and she eats it. What should I do?

  6. I have a 15 year old yorkie that is spilling a few proteins into her urine…just saw the vet…its not at a serious point right now…she occasionally has a bout of incontinence. She sleeps most of the day, gets excited to eat treats and loves fruit…but doesn’t want her dry food that she has eaten most of her life…her teeth have been cleaned and bad ones removed. I tried a moist food in a bag that has to be refrigerated. Per request of vet. She was excited about that but will only eat if she absolutely has to. She gets hungry goes to her bowl but will walk away from it!!..
    She is barely 4 lbs. So she cant afford to loose much weight. This has been going on for about 7 months.

  7. My dog won’t eat her food for three days, but she will eat treats, we have tried every dog food known to man and she said turns her nose up, my husband said she’s lazy but I think there’s more to the story. I have to coach her to eat her dry food, what do I do?

  8. Hi we were feeding our 7 month old lab 6 cups of kibble mixed with yoghurt which she was always excited to eat and would finish in a few minutes. We gave her Bravecto cut up and mixed with her food last week and she started eating slowly after that and 3 days later would not even finish her food. Now she is down to about 2-3 cups per day but is still very active. How do we get her back to her normal feeding?

  9. Some dogs will fast every now & again. I used to have a beagle-bassett that would fast 1 day a week. Not always the same day. Dogs are scavengers, so by nature they are gorge & fast. A wild dog will do like any other wild animal, eat as much as it possibly can, then sleep it off… & not look for food until it’s hungry again, which may be 2 or 3 days. There are a few trainers who actually only feed every 3 days… & then they give their dogs as much food as they want.

  10. My 8 year old Labrador recently went off his usual brand of food, trying to coax him I bought food in a pouch which he seemed to like but suddenly developed diahorrea. We switched back to his old brand and after a few weeks he’s refusing to eat it. We gave in and went back to the pouches which he seems to like but I’m worried that there might not be sufficient nutrition for such a large dog.

  11. The problem for me is my father; that he secretly feeds him, I reckon, unsuitable human food, that has salt and seasoning. And now he won’t eat his kibble or unsalted food. Talking to my father doesn’t help, as he doesn’t change. So frustrated.

    • I know your pain….my husband does the same thing even though I have asked him numerous times to stop. We have a 7 month old puppy and I do not want him to get used to table food and a lot of treats. My husband feeds him stuff behind my back and last Friday the dog threw up when he gave him several pieces of hot dog. He doesn’t see a “problem” with it and laughed at me the time before last when I told him to stop feeding him milkbones.

  12. Is it ok to crack a egg into his dry dog food. My 2 year old Lab enjoys that now and then. What do you think about that?

    • Hi Gerald, and egg is a great source of nutrients for a dog – the only risk could be that your Lab might eventually turn his nose up at kibble that does not have egg in it . 🙂