For most dogs, eating is one of their greatest joys in life. So if your dog starts refusing meals or stops eating altogether, it can be extremely distressing. There are many reasons that might cause a dog to stop eating, some of which you may be able to help resolve yourself, while others will involve a visit to the vet.
Stress or anxiety
Like humans, dogs can become anxious or depressed, making them less inclined to eat if they're feeling miserable. Possible explanations for emotional upset include being left alone for long periods of time. They could be lonely or bored during the day, or if they're of a nervous disposition, something might have happened to frighten them enough to put them off their food for a while.
Sometimes a new addition to the family can upset your dog. This could be either a new baby or perhaps another pet. In this case, they may need some extra love and attention during the period of adjustment. Moving home is a stressful event for everyone. As well as feeling unsettled at their change of environment, they can also feed off any negative emotions displayed by family members. Dogs thrive on routine and sometimes just one change is enough to trigger emotional unease.
Some dogs will eat anything you put down while others insist on the finest food money can buy. Whatever type of food they eat, making any major changes to their diet such as changing from dry to wet, or swapping to a different brand can be enough to cause a stomach upset making them less inclined to eat it again. Or they may be bored with their regular food and not feel like eating it at that time. Also consider whether it's possible they're getting food elsewhere. For instance if they're foraging around the garbage and eating old scraps of food or leftovers from plates, they might not be hungry at meal times.
As dogs grow older, they become susceptible to many age-related problems. It's common for older dogs to suffer from gum disease, especially if their teeth have been neglected over the years. A knock-on effect of having excessive bacteria in their mouth can lead to infections which then migrate to their vital organs causing serious damage. Also, dogs suffering from tooth decay can find it very painful to chew, especially if they're being fed dry food such as kibble.
Arthritis is another common age-related problem in dogs. The act of reaching down to their food bowl can cause a great deal of strain to their back and front legs which is particularly uncomfortable for them, especially if they are a larger breed of dog. As such, it can help if you place their feeding bowl on a raised surface or stand so they aren't putting undue strain on their joints.
Many illnesses can trigger a loss of appetite in dogs. Dogs are susceptible to catching viral infections which can attack their intestines. A large worm infestation will also harm their gut which can cause vomiting and diarrhea as well as loss of appetite. If they seem to be in any pain or have a distended belly there is a possibility that something has lodged itself in their intestinal tract causing a blockage.
There is always a possibility of something more serious. Heart problems, blood disorders, kidney disease and cancer all include a loss of appetite as a symptom. Major illnesses such as these will obviously need to be investigated and treated by their vet.
Whenever a dog stops eating, they're giving you an indication that something is wrong. Whether it's an emotional reaction to a recent event or a physical illness requiring medical attention, it's important they start eating soon. To put your mind at rest and to make sure there is no serious underlying condition, it's always best to speak to your vet who can hopefully shed some light on the problem and advise you on the best ways to help your dog start eating again.