Why is my dog not eating?

My dog didn’t eat his dinner. Is he just not hungry? Is he sick? Does his food taste bad? There are many possible reasons a dog may not eat. Let’s start by taking a look at what makes your pet hungry in the first place. Hunger and the desire to eat is stimulated by a hormone called ghrelin. Ghrelin is released from the stomach and travels through the bloodstream to the brain, letting it know that it’s time to eat. Meanwhile, the hormone leptin works opposite of ghrelin and decreases appetite. The combination of these hormones helps to maintain an energy balance within an animal. This ghrelin/leptin balance may be upset by a variety of factors and could lead to your dog not wanting to eat.

A dog declining food is a notable behaviour and may be a means of communication from your pet. Not to panic though, food refusal is quite a common occurrence in pets and is not always cause for alarm. However, it is important to be cautious and observe your dog for any other behavioural or health changes. The purpose of this article is to help you understand some of the reasons why your dog may not be eating.

The dog. 

The reason a dog may not want to eat could be as simple as he or she is a picky eater. Similar to people, certain dogs just prefer the taste of different food ingredients. Certain breeds/sizes of dogs may be more likely to be picky eaters than others. Often, small or toy breed dogs are more likely to refuse their food. A 2015 study by researchers at Kansas State University examined the palatability of pet food in dogs and cats. It was observed that variations in eating behaviour was not as variable in cats as in dogs. A notable difference was observed between the eating behaviours of “working” breeds versus “toy” breeds, with smaller breed dogs showing more discrimination between the food offered. Senior dogs also tend to have a decreased appetite as they are not as active as a younger dog and do not need to replenish their energy stores as frequently. 

The most palatable ingredients to dogs are protein, fat and sugar. A picky dog will likely go for food that has a higher level of fat or protein. Incorporating fresh, sweet foods like apple or banana may also help encourage a dog to eat. Some dogs are also more sensitive to the size or texture of the food particles. Often if the food pieces are too large or too hard, a dog may turn down its food as it perceives the food as difficult to eat. There is variability in this statement, however, as some dogs also prefer a crunchy kibble over a soft food as well. This preference in texture may be remediated by combining a dry kibble with a fresh food topper.

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1. Geary, Nori. "Endocrine controls of eating: CCK, leptin, and ghrelin." Physiology & Behavior 81, no. 5 (2004): 719-733.

2. Aldrich, Gregory C., and Kadri Koppel. "Pet food palatability evaluation: a review of standard assay techniques and interpretation of results with a primary focus on limitations." Animals 5, no. 1 (2015): 43-55.

3. Torres CL, Hickenbottom SJ, Rogers QR. “Palatability affects the percentage of metabolizable energy as protein selected by adult beagles”. Journal of Nutrition (2003): 133:3516–22.

4. Karen Becker. “Intermittent eating (therapeutic fasting) is not starvation” https://healthypets.mercola.com/sites/healthypets/archive/2018/05/27/pets-therapeutic-fasting.aspx (2018).

5. Bosch, Guido, Adronie Verbrugghe, Myriam Hesta, Jens J. Holst, Antonius FB van der Poel, Geert PJ Janssens, and Wouter H. Hendriks. "The effects of dietary fibre type on satiety-related hormones and voluntary food intake in dogs." British Journal of Nutrition 102, no. 2 (2009): 318-325.

6. Wabitsch, Martin, Per Bo Jensen, Werner F. Blum, Claus T. Christoffersen, Piera Englaro, Eberhard Heinze, Wolfgang Rascher, Walter Teller, Hans Tornqvist, and Hans Hauner. "Insulin and cortisol promote leptin production in cultured human fat cells." Diabetes 45, no. 10 (1996): 1435-1438

7. Lynn Buzhardt. “Signs Your Dog is Stressed and How to Relieve It.” VCA Hospitals (2018).

8. John Lewis. “How to spot signs of oral pain in your pet patients” https://www.veterinarypracticenews.com/how-to-spot-signs-of-oral-pain-in-your-pet-patients/ (2017).

9. Teresa Traverse. “Why my dog won’t eat?” https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/health/why-wont-my-dog-eat/ (2019).

10. Vets Now. “My dog wont eat, what should I do? Dog not eating causes” https://www.vets-now.com/pet-care-advice/my-dog-wont-eat/ (2018).

Try Kabo

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Now serving Ontario, British Columbia, Montréal, Winnipeg, and Calgary.
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