Dog not eating or drinking? What do to and when to get treatment
Is your dog not eating or drinking? When your dog loses their appetite, it’s tough to know what could be causing the problem and whether or not it's serious. Refusal to eat or drink is typically caused by one of three things: an underlying medical condition, emotional factors like stress, or a change in environment (like switching to a new dog food). It can be normal for dogs to skip a meal or two, but if they stop eating or drinking for more than 24 hours, you should bring them in right away. Your Juno Vet care team will determine the reason your dog’s not eating or drinking and provide appropriate care.
Table of contents
- Why is my dog not eating or drinking?
- What causes a dog to stop drinking?
- What’s the treatment for a dog not eating or drinking?
- What to do when your dog won’t eat?
Why is my dog not eating or drinking?
Since dogs can’t talk, it can be tough to know why they won’t eat or drink. Your pup may show obvious symptoms like vomiting, or more subtle cues, like refusing dinner for a day or two. Here are some important things to know if your dog has stopped eating or drinking.
1. What causes a dog to stop eating?
Generally speaking, reasons for refusing food or water fall into three categories: medical, behavioural, or environmental, like an issue with the food itself. Refusal of food can be sudden or it may develop slowly over time. It can happen for a number of reasons, from picky eating habits to a serious illness
2. Possible medical reasons why dog’s stop eating
Possible medical reasons for why a dog would stop eating include:
- An upset stomach for any reason
- Dental issues that make it difficult to chew food
- Pain anywhere in the body
- Any illness that causes an infection or fever
- Food allergies, IBD, or other digestive issues
- Ingesting something toxic
- Ingesting a foreign body like a sock, toy, or other item that could cause an intestinal blockage
- Medication side effects
- An underlying medical condition like kidney disease, liver disease, diabetes, cancer, etc.
Before you panic, common illness is the most likely reason your dog isn't eating. After all, that’s why humans don’t eat from time to time: they’re sick. When humans have a fever or are experiencing pain, we’re generally not as hungry, and dogs and other animals are the same.
3. Possible behavioural reasons your dog isn’t eating
Just like with humans, stress, anxiety, or fear can cause your dog to lose their appetite. A change in their environment or routine, like new people or pets in the house, traveling, or loud noises (thunder, fireworks, construction) can trigger anxiety. Even something as simple as changing the time or location of a meal can throw extra-sensitive dogs for a loop. Senior dogs are at a higher risk of anxiety or behavioural issues, and can be more sensitive to change than younger pups.
Generally, if your dog’s not eating because of stress or anxiety, they’ll start eating again once they’ve adjusted to the change. If stress or anxiety is a regular thing, your dog may need behavioural modification or medication to help them cope. Speak to your Juno Vet care team about your options.
Have a finicky eater? You’re likely used to your dog skipping a meal here and there and it’s probably not a cause for concern. However, if your picky pup won’t eat for more than 24 hours, you should bring them in for a visit.
4. Possible environmental reasons your dog isn’t eating or drinking
Change up your dog’s food recently? They may not like the taste or they could have an upset stomach. If you’re switching food, it’s important to be cautious because a sudden change can cause gut problems for your friend, which could stop them from eating for even longer. We recommend going slowly, mixing the new food with their current food, and taking about 10 days to fully transition. Speak with your Juno Vet care team about the best plan for your pup.
If you have other animals, it may be a case of mealtime intimidation. Many dogs don't like eating right next to housemates, which can cause them to avoid their bowl. We recommend having separate feeding areas if you have multiple animals in the house.
5. Is your dog drinking, but not eating?
If your dog will drink but won’t eat, it may be due to nausea, stress, or mouth pain. If they’re able to keep water down, that’s a good sign. However, if they’re vomiting after drinking water, they should be seen by a veterinarian right away, because it could be something serious. If your dog goes longer than 24 hours without eating—even if they’re drinking—you should bring them in for a visit so we can figure out what’s causing their lack of appetite.
What causes a dog to stop drinking?
It’s unusual for your dog to stop drinking, especially if their food intake is normal—but it’s not impossible. Here are some reasons your dog may stop drinking.
Common reasons your dog might stop drinking
If you recently started offering your dog canned food or other high-moisture food with their kibble, they may drink less. This is because they’re getting more water with their meal. It’s perfectly normal and no cause for worry. If your pup is also eating less than usual, or if you’re concerned for any reason, go ahead and schedule an appointment.
If your dog is drinking more water than usual while they’re not eating, they could have an underlying health problem—it’s important to schedule an appointment right away.
What to do when your dog won’t eat or drink
If your dog stops eating or drinking for more than 24 hours, you should contact your vet. The Juno app is a great place to start. Our virtual care team can help you determine if it’s safe to monitor your dog at home or if you should bring them in for a visit. Loss of appetite could be related to a serious health problem and prolonged refusal of food can lead to complications, so it’s best to speak with your vet even if your pet is otherwise acting normally.
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If your dog is refusing to eat and has any of the following symptoms, we recommend immediate vet care:
- They’re a young puppy. Because puppies are so small, they have a decreased blood sugar reserve and can experience detrimental side effects, like seizure, if they don't eat.
- They’re a senior dog. Our older friends are more prone to sickness, so lack of appetite is more likely to be an underlying condition.
- They’re an underweight dog or they already have an underlying health problem.
- They’re a toy or teacup breed. These pups are at risk of low blood sugar when they don’t eat regularly.
- Showing signs of illness, such as vomiting, listlessness, or a fever.
- Losing weight.
- You suspect your dog ate something toxic or ate something that may be stuck internally
What’s the treatment for a dog not eating or drinking?
Treatment for a dog who’s refusing food includes treating the underlying cause and providing supportive care.
It’s important to treat the underlying cause to make sure their loss of appetite is truly cured (or well managed if they have a chronic illness). If you don’t properly treat the underlying cause, their food refusal may come back to bite you.
1. Figuring out why your dog’s not eating or drinking
Your Juno Vet care team will ask you about your dog’s symptoms, any changes in the home, whether you’ve been traveling, and more. They’ll also give your pup a physical exam to check their overall health and look for anything that could explain the issue. This could be something like an infected tooth, or a lump in their belly.
We’ll also perform routine diagnostic tests to get more information about what’s going on inside your pet’s body. Common tests include:
- A fecal test to look for parasites
- Bloodwork and a urinalysis
- X-rays or ultrasound
- Tests for infectious diseases
Depending on your dog’s history and symptoms, we may recommend additional testing like biopsies.
2. Treatment and supportive care for your dog
Once you have a diagnosis your Juno Vet care team will develop a treatment plan. For example, dogs with intestinal worms will receive a dewormer, or a dog who’s bothered by arthritis pain may be given joint supplements or pet-safe pain medications.
Regardless of the cause, supportive care is an important part of your dog’s treatment plan. This will help your dog feel better, prevent complications from not eating, like dehydration or nutrient deficiencies, and promote healing.
Common supportive treatments include:
- Medications for nausea
- Antacids or stomach protectants
- Appetite stimulants
- Pain medications
- Fluid therapy
- Special diets until your dog is feeling better
Your vet may also recommend extra measures to increase your dog’s appetite or make their food more palatable. This could mean offering canned food or a special dog treat to tempt their appetite, warming their food up to body temperature to increase the aroma, or hand feeding them while giving extra praise and attention.
Remember: Never give your sick dog human medications without checking with your vet first — many are toxic to pets!
If it turns out your pup’s lack of appetite is due to picky eating habits, we’ll discuss tips and techniques to get them on a healthy eating schedule.
Whether it’s emotional, environmental, or you think there may be a medical reason your dog won’t eat or drink, get in touch with us right away. Your Juno Vet care team will have your pup back to their happy, hungry self in no time.