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Why is my puppy not eating?

Becoming a new parent is always a little scary and this goes for new pet parents as well! Regardless of whether you have a new human baby or a baby canine, it can be very nerve wracking if they are not eating. Most puppies generally love to gobble down their puppy chow so it may be a little concerning if they don’t immediately take to their food. There are many possible reasons a puppy may not eat. Not all are serious and most causes for satiety can be easily remedied with time or a change in their routine.

Reasons why your puppy may not be eating

My puppy didn’t eat their dinner. Are they just not hungry? Are they sick? Does their food taste bad? Minds start racing as soon as pet parents notice that their puppy isn’t eating. There are many reasons why a puppy may not be feeling too hungry. Check out the list below to see if any of the following apply to your pup.

Stress of being in a new environment

Imagine being plucked from your home and being plopped into a crowded room full of strangers. Unless you’re an extreme extrovert, this situation would be stressful and intimidating for most people. This is how a puppy feels when you bring them home for the first time. It’s very stressful for them transitioning from being around their mom and litter mates 24/7 to being in a new home with strange new people and unfamiliar smells, sights and noises.

Like people, puppies often will choose not to eat when they are stressed. During times of chronic stress or anxiety, the anorexic hormone leptin is released and causes the depression of hunger. Researchers from the University of Ulm in Germany believe that the increases in leptin circulation are the result of increases in the levels of cortisol, a hormone closely associated with stress. Some behavioral cues to identify stress in your puppy besides the loss of appetite is excessive drooling, yawning, shedding, panting, avoidance behavior, vocalization and pacing.

New food

After weaning puppies from their mother, breeders will transition them to a standard puppy food. Chances are that when you bring your puppy home, their food will not be the same brand or even food type as what the breeder was giving them. The unfamiliarity may trigger your pup to turn up their nose at their new food.

Rather than switching your puppy immediately to a new food, try transitioning them slowly. Ask the rescue or breeder for a small sample of food that they were originally getting. Mix the original food with a little bit of their new food. Slowly increase the amount of new food everyday until they are fully transitioned and loving their new chow! See below for an example of how we advise our pupsomers on transitioning to a new food.

Overfeeding

Most of us are guilty of giving our dogs “just a little extra”, whether that be food or treats. We love to treat our pups with food when they’re being good boys and girls. However, dogs have evolved to go for several days without eating and may not need all of the extra food or treats you’re offering. It is important to keep track of how long it has been since your dog’s last meal, as a dog should not go more than three days without eating (this timeline may vary depending on the dog’s size, health status and weight).

Positive reinforcement is always the best method for training puppies. This may involve giving them treats as a reward for good behaviour. Too many training treats make up what's filling up your puppy’s belly, making them not want to eat their dinner. Try using small, high value training treats rather than biscuits and full size treats to avoid your pup feeling stuffed!

It’s also important to refrain from giving your puppy table scraps. Think of it this way, if you were to offer a kid broccoli or chocolate for dinner, they are more likely to choose the chocolate. Your puppy feels the same way, human table scraps are always going to be more appealing than their puppy food. Your puppy may think that leftover lasagna is delicious but it may actually be more filling and potentially toxic.

Too much fibre

Dog foods have variable fibre levels and sources. A diet that contains a higher fibre content and more slowly digestible fibre, such as pulses, oats and barley, will keep your puppy fuller for longer and may contribute to your pup declining food. 

A 2009 study by a team at Wageningen University in The Netherlands examined the effects of dietary fibre and voluntary food intake in dogs. The researchers observed that with increasing dietary fibre, there was an increase in satiety factors in the plasma of the research dogs. The hormone responsible for decreasing appetite, leptin, is a precursor for these same satiety factors. As a result, the high fibre diets postponed the onset of hunger in the dogs.

Low quality commercial pet food is usually loaded with excess carbohydrates that are filling up your puppy's belly. Check that protein is always the first ingredient on your puppy’s food. You can also check the protein and fibre content of your puppy’s food by looking at the guaranteed analysis table found on the food label.

Picky eater

The reason your puppy may not want to eat could be as simple as he or she is just a picky eater. Similar to people, certain dogs just prefer the taste of different food ingredients. Certain breeds or 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. 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.

The most palatable ingredients to dogs are protein, fat and sugar. A picky pup will likely go for food that has a higher level of fat or protein. Incorporating fresh, sweet foods like apple or banana pieces may also help encourage a puppy to eat. 

Some puppies 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 puppy may turn down its food as it perceives the food as difficult to eat. There is variability in this statement, however, as some puppies 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.

Food sensitivities

Allergies are the result of the body reacting to a foreign substance or allergen. Once a puppy is exposed to an allergen, their immune system freaks out towards the otherwise harmless molecule and expresses an antibody-immune reaction. The result of this immune reaction is often observed as inflammatory allergy symptoms, this could include stomach sensitivities. 

If your pup has a sensitivity to a certain type of food, it may be making them nauseous and might even cause them to experience vomiting or diarrhea. As a result, they may understandably decide not to eat their food.

Potential health problems

One of the most common health-related reasons for food refusal in dogs is oral pain. Dental or gum pain is often aggravated by eating. Check your puppy’s gums for inflammation and foreign bodies, as well as the teeth for any cracks, breaks or discoloration. Brushing your puppy’s teeth and proper dental care is important to reduce dental problems. Dental kibble and treats may also help to keep teeth clean.

New medication or vaccinations may also alter appetite. Some medications cause nausea or alterations in metabolism as side effects. If anorexia is the result of new medication, the best solution is to give your dog time to adjust and consult your veterinarian. 

Unfortunately, food refusal may be a sign of health problems in puppies. This could range from a minor illness to organ dysfunction, inflammation or cancer. It is important to monitor your puppy for any new behaviors that may indicate a health problem, such as lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea and respiratory distress. If you believe that your puppy’s loss of appetite is a result of any alteration in health or medication change, it is important to consult your veterinarian and to keep your pup hydrated.

What makes a puppy feel hungry?

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 puppy not wanting to eat.

Tips to get your puppy eating

If you find your puppy hasn’t been eating as much as they should, don’t panic! There are a number of tricks you can try to get them to love their meal. See below for our tips on how to get your pup goggling up their food.

Proper portioning

It’s not uncommon for pet owners to improperly measure out their dog’s food. There’s a chance you may just be portioning out more food than your puppy can physically eat. There are several factors to consider when thinking about how much to fill your puppy’s bowl such as:

  • Activity level

An active puppy will need more food in order to supply energy for play and zoomies. A lazy puppy will not be burning as many calories during their lengthy naps and will require less food. 

  • Sex

Male and female puppies have different nutritional needs based on their size, metabolism and activity levels. Male puppies will often require slightly more food than females of the same age. 

  • Breed

Daily feeding requirements are mostly based on the calorie content of food. Puppies require more calories than adult dogs and should be adjusted based on the predicted adult weight of the puppy. Puppies should be fed a higher calorie content from about 4-12 months of age. Below are some of the average adult weights of popular large and small breed dogs.

  • Body condition

It is difficult to determine how much a puppy should be fed based solely on weight. A puppy may be a target weight for its age but if they have an overall larger body size, they may actually still be underweight. The same is true for obesity. This is why it is also important to consider body condition score. Below is a chart outlining puppy body condition score. Taking into account weight and body condition score, food should be proportioned accordingly.  



If you’re having trouble determining how much food to feed your pup, check out our blog on the ultimate puppy feeding guide or our custom puppy calorie chart below.The following is a chart outlines the optimal calorie intake for a puppy and should be adjusted depending on a puppy’s specific body condition score and health status. Caloric content is based on a puppy’s resting energy requirement (RER) and is adjusted for puppy growth.

 


Set a routine/schedule

The best thing to do is to maintain a strict feeding schedule for your puppy. Dogs respond well to routine. Feed your puppy their meals at the same time every day. Offer your puppy food for thirty minutes and if they do not eat it, remove the food until it is time for the next feeding. This routine will allow you to monitor how much your pup is eating at a given time and it reinforces consistency with mealtime.

Exercise

If your pup isn’t eating, try taking them for a long walk or entice them into a vigorous play session. Exercise will often help reduce stress due to a boost in metabolism and expenditure of energy.

Warm up their food

Dogs are very motivated by scent. Just heating up or moistening your puppy’s food slightly can make the scent of the food more enticing (because who doesn’t love a fresh cooked meal?). Microwave their food for 5-10 seconds but make sure that it’s not too hot! We don’t want any burnt puppy tongues!

Try fresh cooked food

Fresh cooked food combines the balanced formulas of kibble with the palatable components of canned/wet food. Fresh food uses human-grade ingredients and cooks them in a way that you would at home, to preserve nutrients and the natural integrity of ingredients. Using fresh smelling ingredients or a high protein fresh food topper may sway a picky eater. Substituting fresh food may also help if your puppy is just bored of their food.

Kabo offers a variety of healthy, fresh cooked recipes for dogs. All recipes are formulated to meet and exceed the requirements for puppies, as outlined by AAFCO guidelines. Which recipe would your puppy like best?

A hypoallergenic diet for pups with a sensitive stomach

If you suspect that your puppy may have a sensitive stomach, there is the option to try hypoallergenic food. This type of food is specially formulated for dogs who are allergic to the common food allergens, which can include:

  • Beef
  • Chicken
  • Fish 
  • Corn
  • Wheat (or other grains)
  • Dairy products
  • Soy

Hypoallergenic diets contain limited ingredients, are usually grain free and utilize alternative protein sources like duck, bison, hydrolyzed protein, salmon or venison. When exposed to these ingredients, an allergic puppy’s immune system will not recognize the diet as a threat and is less likely to attack it.

At Kabo we have our own in house hypoallergenic diet. Designed for dogs with food sensitivities, Kabo’s Delicious Duck Kibble uses duck as a tasty novel protein, swaps lentils and chickpeas in place of grains and soy and contains only whole, fresh ingredients with no additives.

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Take home message

A puppy declining food is a notable behaviour and may be a means of communication from your pup. 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.


Corgi puppy not eating his food
Corgi puppy not eating his food

View Sources

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

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.

Nomnom. “PUPPY NOT EATING CAUSES AND TREATMENT” (2021). https://www.nomnomnow.com/learn/article/puppy-not-eating-causes-treatment?click_id=5b1b6bd3-fd06-42de-82a5-b992a514f862 

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

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.

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


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