Your puppy is settling into their new home and you’ve picked out the best food you could find (and afford). Or maybe you’ve kept the food they were fed by their breeder or at the shelter. But for some reason your puppy has no interest in their meals.
This can be — and very well may be — a concerning sign in a puppy. And it’s a big concern in a very young or small puppy, as they have less ability to sustain themselves without enough calories. Read on to see why your puppy might not be eating and what to do about it.
Reasons Why Puppies Stop Eating
There are many things that could cause a puppy to lose interest in their food, such as infections, pain, organ problems, or the way you’re feeding them. Here are a few of the most common reasons why puppies stop eating as much as they should:
- Stress: Maybe you brought them home very recently. Maybe the kids have just gone back to school or are spending more time at home. Maybe you’ve got a full house for the holidays, which can stress out anyone! Or maybe your pup is being “bullied” by other pets in your home — don’t underestimate the cat! Although puppies don’t have bills to pay or life-sucking jobs to rush off to, it’s important to recognize that they can still experience stress. All puppies (and adult dogs) can go through a bit of an “Adjustment Period” when they first come home, having just left a familiar environment (and possibly their mother or siblings) for an unfamilar one filled with strangers. Keep an eye open for potential sources of stress for your pup.
- Digestive upset or obstruction: Puppies are notorious for eating things they shouldn’t, and unfortunately many puppy owners are just as notorious for intentionally giving their dogs snacks and “treats” that they shouldn’t. Some snacks and treats, whether pilfered by your puppy or given freely by you, can cause digestive upset as well as obesity and begging later in life; they may even cause your puppy to reject the healthier and balanced dog foods they should be eating! You can greatly decrease the chance of your pup sneaking their own “treats” by properly puppy-proofing your home. And even if neither of you are doing anything “naughty,” some puppy foods can just be too rich for some dogs, and every puppy will handle certain foods differently.
- Digestive infections: Unfortunately, there are plenty of viruses (like the dreaded Parvo), intestinal worms (like roundworms), bacteria, and other “creepy-crawlies” that can set up shop in your puppy’s gut and cause a range of problems. Many puppies have roundworms or other parasites in their gut before you get them home. This is a big part of the reason why we vets usually deworm puppies at most of their “puppy visits” and recommend fecal (poop) testing. And the vaccines we give help to prevent Parvo and other debilitating diseases. Learn more about “puppy shots.”
- Pain: Just like people, pain can cause your puppy to turn away from their food, too. The pain could be from an injury — after all, puppies can be quite accident-prone! (One reason why having a financial plan for potential puppy problems is so important!) Pups can also experience pain from teething, inflammation of their pancreas (pancreatitis), or growing pains from their developing bones. They could even have something stuck in their mouth — like a splinter or piece of wood from chewing on a stick — or a broken tooth from a bad chew toy. Or it might “just” be impacted anal glands! Check for any external or obvious sources of pain. If you don’t see any, it might be time for a quick check-up at the vet.
- Organ disease or dysfunction: Puppies can suffer from problems in their liver, kidneys, endocrine/hormonal system, and pretty much any other organ or part of their body. It can be the result of problems they were born with (like a liver shunt), or an infection, toxic injury, or something else they’ve picked up.
- Respiratory infection: One of the more common respiratory infections, Kennel Cough, can be mild and self-resolving, but it can also spread and reach the lungs. The best way to protect your puppy from Kennel Cough (and perhaps even Canine Influenza, a.k.a. “Dog Flu”) is to talk to your vet about vaccinating against these diseases, and keeping your pup away from the dog park or doggy daycare until they’re protected and ready – which is usually at least 17 weeks old! Learn more about when and how to take your pup to the dog park.
- Not liking their food: While it is possible that your pup just doesn’t like their food — especially if you’ve changed their food up too often or too quickly, or if you’ve been giving them table scraps — it really isn’t that probable that this is the main cause of your pup’s lack of appetite. After all, your puppy has two qualities that should make them happy to eat just about anything: your puppy is (1) a dog and a (2) puppy! Don’t make the mistake of assuming that your pup isn’t eating just because they don’t like their food. It’s more likely due to one of the factors I've already covered, and you should have them checked out by your vet to make sure.
What to do When Your Puppy Isn’t Eating
Adult dogs have a better supply of body fat as well as a liver that is fully capable of making glucose (energy) during periods of starvation. Puppies don’t have these same reserves, so missing even one meal could be problematic and cause for concern. When in doubt, call your vet. Below are some things you can do to try and tempt your puppy’s appetite at home.
Tricks to tempt a puppy’s appetite:
- If you’re feeding dry food, try adding in a little bit of canned food.
- You can also try adding a little bit of warmed, low-sodium chicken broth to your pup’s food, whether it’s kibble or canned. (Avoid broths containing onions, onion powder, chives, or garlic — as these can cause a breakdown of your pup's red blood cells.)
- Some pups will perk up their appetite when you add a little bit of plain boiled white rice to their meals; or some boiled and shredded, boneless, skinless, spice-less chicken breast. You might also add a little bit of plain cottage cheese or plain yogurt (just make sure the yogurt doesn’t contain xylitol, an increasingly common sugar substitute that is safe for people but extremely dangerous for dogs).
- Put their food in an interactive toy (a.k.a. “puzzle feeder”) to make meal times more stimulating and fun.
- Add a squirt or two of flavored spray to up the "yum" factor on their regular food.
Don’t hold out for too long. If the above methods don’t work, or your puppy is displaying the following signs, you should bring them in for veterinary evaluation.
Clear signs that it’s time to take your puppy to the vet:
- If your puppy has missed one of their daily meals and then isn’t showing interest in their next meal.
- If your puppy is vomiting and/or having diarrhea.
- If your puppy has decreased energy.
- If multiple dogs in your home, or among your circle of friends, are also experiencing decreased appetite.
- If you know your pup has recently gotten into the trash (or dirty laundry).
- If any toys are recently missing or destroyed.
- If you recently got your puppy from a pet shop or from an ad on Craigslist, Facebook, or another online marketplace.
- If you hear from your puppy’s breeder that other dogs in the litter are ill.
- If they've recently been spending time at the dog park, doggy daycare, or any other group of dogs.
- If the whites of their eyes, their gums, or the inside of their ears are yellow (or even yellowish).
I hope this has given you some good insight into why your puppy might stop eating. And hopefully, there’s nothing serious to worry about. Even so, please don’t wait too long to get them to the vet if their appetite doesn’t perk up, as that will likely just make things worse.