Thursday, August 21, 2014

Symptoms To Watch For In Your Dog: Loss Of Appetite

I think this is one of the most unappreciated symptoms, particularly when the dog eats some or is thought to be a picky eater. For the longest time we came to believe that Jasmine just wasn't so interested in food ...

A dog that just isn't so interested in food? Is there such a thing?

I don't believe so. Either  something is really wrong with the food or something is medically wrong with the dog.

Dogs love to eat!

Getting enough food is a question of survival. Instinct drives dogs to eat and eating brings satisfaction. Dogs are considered opportunistic scavengers, meaning when there is an opportunity to eat something, they will.

When a dog doesn’t want to eat, something is amiss.

Yes, I believe there IS such a thing as a picky eater, particularly after getting a taste of something especially yummy.

My mom’s parents had a dog for a short while. They fed him risotto type food. Some rice, some veggies, some bits of meat. (He was perfectly capable picking out the meat and leaving the rest, btw.)

At that time, my mom kept some rabbits for food. She had way too much rabbit meat and so she gave some to her parents. It was too much for them too and a bunch of it went to the dog. He didn’t complain in the least.

When they ran out of the rabbit meat, though, he was determined not to go back to what he considered an inferior diet. He refused food for a week, until he finally got hungry enough to give in! He was clearly on a hunger strike, demanding more rabbit meat.

Under normal circumstances, though, lowered appetite, or not eating at all, is a reason to worry.

In Jasmine's case, it turned out that all that time she was suffering from food allergies and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), which her vets missed for five years!

Once she was diagnosed and the problem got addressed, you should see her polish her bowl!

Every now and then, she didn’t want her dinner and we knew that her IBD was acting up.

A dog that doesn’t like to eat? I’m not buying it.

The only time Cookie refused food was when she had a bout of pancreatitis after getting into some horse feed.

JD refused food only once in his entire life and went on to throw up a bunch of plastic later on.

Every time we have had a dog not eating, there has been an actual reason behind it.

Finicky eaters and decreased appetite

Yes, there can be an issue with the food. Taking a good look at the diet isn’t a bad idea. Some dogs have definite preferences when it comes to consistency (canned versus kibble), ingredients, etc.

But if you find yourself escalating in embellishing what you give your dog until they won’t eat anything other than filet mignon, you do need to give the situation a second thought.

Perhaps your dog is sensitive to some of the ingredients commonly included in foods. Perhaps your dog doesn’t feel well and only the most enticing foods can convince him to eat.

Before I’d accept that my dog was simply picky, I’d want to rule out every other possible reason for his poor appetite. I believe that you will most likely find one.

Stress, fear and anxiety can cause decreased appetite.

Don’t I know it. Every time something isn’t right with any of our dogs, I just can’t force myself to eat anything. It can happen to a dog too.

There is even a biological explanation for that. Enough stress keeps the body in fight or flight mode. All other functions are suspended. Did you ever try running away from danger while munching on a burger? I'm sure the burger is the first thing you let go of.

Stress is a REAL problem. Prolonged stress can do a lot of damage to a dog's body. If your dog is stressed enough to refuse food, he needs some serious help.

Virtually any health problem will mess with appetite.

Some medical conditions can cause voracious appetite. Most of the time, though, appetite will decrease.

The problem can be within the digestive system itself or elsewhere in the body. Some of the medical causes of decreased appetite include
  • Upset within the digestive tract
  • Intestinal parasites or infection
  • Intestinal obstruction (partial or complete)
  • Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
  • Gastrointestinal foreign bodies
  • Problems with the pancreas
  • Liver disease
  • Kidney disease
  • Heart disease
  • Cancer
  • Neurologic problems
  • Toxicities and medications
  • Metabolic diseases
  • Immune disorders
  • Infections/fever
  • Pain
  • Hematologic (blood) diseases
  • Dental disease (though you’d be quite surprised how bad the mouth can be and the dog still eating!)
  • Dehydration
  • and more ...

Every time any of our dogs had a change in appetite, there was a medical reason for it. Some of these are more serious than others. Some might require immediate attention, particularly if your dog stops eating all together.

The situation becomes even more urgent when other symptoms come with it, such as vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, weakness, difficulty breathing, increased thirst and urination, rapid weight loss ...

When your dog’s appetite tanks, take it seriously.

Related articles:
Veterinarians Answer: 10 Main Symptoms To Watch For In Your Dog 
Symptoms: Recognition, Acknowledgement And Denial
Symptoms To Watch For In Your Dog: Excessive Panting
Symptoms To Watch For In Your Dog: Excessive Drinking
Symptoms To Watch For In Your Dog: Bad Odor 
Symptoms to Watch For In Your Dog: Excessive Drooling  
What Can Your Dog's Gums And Tongue Tell You? 
Symptoms To Watch For In Your Dog: Coughing 
Symptoms To Watch For In Your Dog: Excessive Head Shaking  
Symptoms To Watch For In Your Dog: What Is That Limp? 
Symptoms To Watch For In Your Dog: Nose Bleeds (Epistaxis)
Symptoms To Watch For In Your Dog: Unexplained Weight Loss 
Whats In The Urine? (Part I: What You Can Notice On Your Own)
What's In The Urine? (Part II: Urinalysis)
A Tale of Many Tails—and What Came Out From Underneath Stories from My Diary-rrhea (part I)
Acute Small Intestinal Diarrhea
Acute Large Intestinal Diarrhea (Acute Colitis)
hronic Large Intestinal Diarrhea
Chronic Small Intestinal Diarrhea
Making Tough Medical Decisions For Your Dog: Lily's Story

Further reading:
Loss of Appetite in Dogs
Dog Not Eating? Possible Causes and Appetite Solutions
Anorexia (Loss of Appetite) in Dogs

Do you know what your dog is telling you about their health?

Learn how to detect and interpret the signs of a potential problem.

An award-winning guide to better understanding what your dog is telling you about their health, Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog, is available in paperback and Kindle. Each chapter includes notes on when it is an emergency.


  1. My dog had a tendency to get an upset stomach in the mornings. She wouldn't eat her morning meal and then would vomit a yellow bile liquid during late morning. After that she would eat normally for the rest of the day. Our vet recommended feeding her a late night meal before bed and that seemed to fix the issue. She now gets three smaller meals a day (morning, dinner time and late night) and is always ready to eat.

    Yes, when a dog doesn't want to eat, there's usually something going on that you should pay attention to. Great article.

    1. Yes, some dogs get this syndrome and more frequent feeding usually resolves it. I would still want to talk to a holistic or integrative vet about it because since only some dogs get this problem, and in a wild the would not have regular means, I don't believe it should happen.