A dog attending a veterinary practice for a weight check up

Loss of appetite in dogs: my dog won’t eat – what can I do?

You’re sure to worry if your dog loses interest in his food – and particularly if his lost appetite goes on for so long that he begins to lose weight. There are a number of possible causes if your dog’s not eating. All of them should be investigated by your vet, as his lack of appetite can be a sign of something serious going on and could soon cause weight loss and the weakness and lethargy that often accompany it.

Possible causes for a dog not eating

There are many possible causes for loss of appetite in dogs. Some conditions cause pain or obstruction in your dog’s body that make it hard for him to eat. 

  • Ageing
  • Autoimmune disease
  • Conditions of the endocrine (hormonal) system
  • Heart failure
  • Poisoning
  • Advanced periodontal disease, which can cause oral pain and loose teeth
  • Pain in the chewing muscles or jaw (temporomandibular joint, or TMJ)
  • Gastrointestinal disease
  • Neurological diseases
  • A growth or tumour
  • Fever
  • Bacterial or viral infection

Anorexia in dogs

The word anorexia can be used to describe any loss of appetite. Hunger is physically driven, but appetite is mentally driven. Anorexia in dogs falls into one of two categories: true anorexia and pseudo-anorexia. Dogs with true anorexia don’t want to eat – and the cause is often psychological. Dogs with pseudo-anorexia still feel hungry but can’t eat because of pain or a blockage. Whatever the cause, your vet should always examine your dog if he’s not eating.

Anorexia is not a condition in itself, but it is a sign of an underlying problem.  If you suspect your dog has anorexia, get him along to your local vet for an examination. 

Signs and symptoms of anorexia in dogs 

Other symptoms you may see alongside anorexia in dogs:

  • Weight loss
  • Distended stomach
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fever
  • Changes in the eyes
  • Pain
  • A pale complexion 
  • Jaundice

Loss of appetite in dogs: treatment

Your vet will examine your dog and may suggest further tests such as blood tests, X-rays or ultrasound scans.

Once your vet has identified the reason why your dog isn’t eating, he will recommend a course of treatment, and help you plan the correct healthy, well-balanced diet for your pup. If the weight loss is due to pain, your vet may prescribe pain medication.

“Dogs with true anorexia don’t want to eat – and the cause is often psychological. Dogs with pseudo-anorexia still feel hungry but can’t eat because of pain or a blockage.” 

Dog won't drink water?

So long as dogs have access to clean, fresh water, they’ll happily help themselves as and when they need it. Just like humans, dogs will drink more in the summer when it’s hot.

If you feel like your dog isn’t drinking enough water, this is not a cause for concern so long as they appear happy and healthy in all other aspects.

Dehydration only occurs when dogs don’t have access to water, when they’re suffering in extreme heat or if they’re too ill or injured to drink/absorb water.

If you have any further concerns, have a chat with your vet.

Is your dog not eating? Want help and advice?

For expert advice on weight loss and lost appetite in dogs, contact your local vet. To find your nearest recommended vet or pet clinic, use our Find a Vet page.