This post may contain affiliate links.
This post is about when a dog won't eat; they aren't sick and simply choose to fast. If you suspect your dog is sick, please contact your veterinarian. This post was originally published in December 2014. It has been updated with new information.
If your dog won't eat, but everything else is normal – your dog isn't listless, vomiting, and the stool is fine – then this is the post for you. If you notice any changes in behavior or appearance, contact your vet. This post is for dog owners who have otherwise healthy dogs.
When we switched our dogs to raw food, I thought they'd excitedly eat their food. Raw meat is biologically appropriate for dogs. I truly imagined a “finally, she gets it” attitude from our dogs. Instead, I got some hesitancy, a lot of sniffing and licking, and a slow build to their love of raw feeding for Rodrigo and Sydney. Scout, Zoey, and Apollo have always loved their raw, but there were a couple of days – years back – when Scout chose to go back to bed instead of eating.
Why Our Dogs Won't Eat
Each of our dogs has a different reaction to food and it's been fun getting to know their Food Personalities. There are several reasons why our dogs won't eat:
- my dog isn't hungry
- I'm feeding my dog too much
- my dog isn't interested in the protein (Rodrigo and Scout will pass on chicken)
- the food is different (smell or texture)
- the meal is missing something (Sydney used to wait until I added her green beans before she'd eat)
- the raw egg isn't mixed into the food (Rodrigo prefers it this way – or cooked)
- my dog wants to go potty before eating
- my dog is tired (Scout used to be a grump in the morning and sometimes would skip breakfast and sleep in)
- there isn't enough space between their dish and another dog
- my dog wants me to feed them*
- my dog is having a bad gut day**
- my dog is in pain
* When we first adopted Rodrigo and Sydney, I read a lot to help us combat “littermate syndrome.” One book recommended feeding puppies by hand to help them bond to you so I did this with our dogs. As a result, if the dogs see me with a spoon in my hand, they'll wait for me to feed them. Sometimes I do.
** Rodrigo has had digestive issues since he was a puppy and in 2019 he was diagnosed with exocrine pancreatic insufficiency. Sometimes, he has a bad gut day. When this happens, I feed him a mixture of Olewo carrots, bone broth to soothe his tummy. Kefir mixed with a raw egg and a digestive supplement also helps to calm his gut. These meals have become rare since his EPI diagnosis and the addition of digestive enzymes to his diet.
How I Get Our Dogs to Eat
Feeding our dogs a raw food diet helps a lot. I rarely have a morning where one of my dogs won't eat – it may happen once a year because our dogs are rarely “not hungry.” So on those rare mornings when one of our dogs won't eat, I first try to temp them with food. If they still won't eat, then I need to figure out if my dog isn't feeling well and they need a break. If the lack of appetite is a sign of a health issue; if this is the case, then I take notes for the vet. And sometimes one of the dogs will choose to self fast and in this case, I do nothing.
Tempting Our Dogs to Eat
The best way to temp my dogs to eat is to pour warmed bone broth over their meal (I always have a jar available in the freezer). If they're still not interested, then I watch to see if they want to eat (they try, but then start licking their lips because they feel nauseated or if they just aren't interested. Either way, in my experience, all of this usually clears up within 24 hours. #knockonwood
A few other foods that the dogs will eat include:
- canned sardines
- green tripe
- raw goat's milk
If they still won't eat, then I put the food in the fridge and try again in a few hours or at the next meal. And I make sure the water bowls are filled with fresh, clean water.
When My Dogs Choose to Self Fast
When I was new to raw feeding, I was so uncertain. Over the years, I've learned to pay attention to and trust my dogs. If one of our dogs won't eat a protein or chooses to self-fast, then I trust that it's something they need to do. I still pay attention and take notes in case I need to call the vet. This helps me better understand my dogs and their diet and health.
7 More Reasons My Dogs Won't Eat
Health issues and upset tummies aren't the only reasons my dogs won't eat. Here are a handful more reasons that we should be aware of…
1 – A Change in Routine
I'm an accountant by day and I love a routine and dogs thrive on a consistent routine. But when our routine is shaken up, then the stress may result in one of the dogs not eating or being slow to eat. The last time this happened was when my stepson moved in with us (he's grown and living on his own now). The excitement of having him in the house full-time was a distraction to the dogs making mealtime a challenge. They'd prefer to excitedly greet my stepson than eat their breakfast.
2 – The Addition of a New Dog
The excitement of new energy in the house can lead to decreased appetites. When Apollo joined our family, the dogs were easily distracted by him. We also had a shake-up in pack dynamics that we had to work through. It didn't take long for everyone to settle down.
3 – Dental Issues
If a dog is in pain, then s/he may not want to eat. And the first thing I think about is dental issues. My dogs enjoy recreational and raw meaty bones which come with the risk of dental issues. Thankfully, we haven't had a negative experience, but the risk is there, especially for aggressive chewers. Also, there's just age that may impact dental health.
Over the past year, both Rodrigo and Scout have lost teeth for no apparent reason. They kept eating, but I pay closer attention to everyone's teeth now.
4 – Traveling with Dogs
We've only traveled with our dogs once. Years ago, Johan and I took Rodrigo and Sydney for a long weekend on the lake. It was heavenly. But, for the first night, Rodrigo and Sydney wouldn't only eat frozen yogurt (made for dogs). There were just too many new experiences, sights, smells, and sounds. Too many distractions. But once they settled in, they were happy to eat the following day,
5 – Vaccinations
I'm an “anti-vaxxer” when it comes to my dogs. I believe in puppy vaccinations and the one-year booster. After that, I don't vaccinate because I believe vaccinations have a longer life than what we're told – 7 years versus 3 years. Check out Dr. Jean Dodds of Hemopet – Vaccination Protocol. She has a lot of great information about vaccinations. I sat in on a presentation that she gave and it was very eye-opening.
6 – The Food is Bad
As a raw feeder, there have been days when the food turned. I couldn't smell it yet, but the dogs could smell it. This is rare, thankfully, because I've learned how long various foods can sit in the fridge before going bad.
7 – I've Rewarded Pickiness in the Past
And, finally, a reason why my dogs won't eat is that I've rewarded their pickiness in the past. I used to be a short-order cook for my dogs. If they didn't like something, I'd pick it up and try something else again and again. Unlike people who genuinely have picky dogs, I was creating picky dogs. Once I stopped doing this, the dogs stopped being so picky.
When I Consult Our Veterinarian
I only consult with a veterinarian if my dog's lack of appetite is accompanied by other symptoms of illness. But I do pay attention, especially if their lack of appetite goes beyond 48 hours and isn't helped by my tips and tricks (noted above).
I maintain a journal where I keep track of my dogs' monthly weight changes, notes on their lumps and bumps, and other information that would be helpful to their veterinarian. This isn't a special journal – just the basic lined journal you can buy at any office supply store or online. A journal is also helpful for pet insurance claims. If the lack of appetite turns into something bigger, you want to apply any associated vet bills to the claim.