Should you worry if your dog doesn’t seem like he eats a lot? Some dogs just don’t need or want much food, and if they’re not unhealthy, there’s no cause for concern. But if Spot used to be a real chowhound and now barely touches what’s in his bowl, you might want to perk up your ears and try to figure out if something’s wrong.
Here are some common reasons for decreased appetites in pets—and what, if anything, you can do about them.
New pet on the block
If you’ve added another animal to your family, including a new (human) baby, you dog might react by boycotting meals. Just like people, not wanting to eat can happen when something “unappetizing” happens. This can include the neighbor’s new yippy puppy—if you think his barking is annoying, imagine how your dog feels!
What to do: Heap extra TLC on your dog to make him feel secure and loved. If weeks go by with no improvement, schedule a veterinarian visit. You could be looking at a medical issue, not an emotional one, if the low appetite continues for that long.
Your appetite probably would take a dip if you had a toothache. It’s no different for your dog.
What to do: If it looks like something in his mouth is the trouble or you smell worse-than-normal doggie breath, you’ll want to call the vet; oral hygiene problems can be a symptom of a more serious medical condition, such as kidney disease. To prevent run-of-the-mill bad breath from happening in the first place, try offering dental rawhides that clean doggie teeth while freshening breath, like Dingo Dental Sticks.
Can’t stop sneaking treats to your terrier? Your dog only has so much room in his tummy for food—so you should count your lucky stars that he’s not cleaning his plate and eating all the goodies you’re tossing his way, or you could have a pudgy pooch on your hands.
What to do: Lay off the sweets and table scraps, and try non-food rewards like more affection, attention or a cute squeaky toy! Generally speaking, a high-quality dog food formula is going to offer complete, balanced nutrition, so you do want your pet to get most of his calories from the food bowl and not the treat snack. A product like Castor & Pollux Organix Dog Formula in Turkey and Vegetable tastes treat-worthy but has all of the nutrients your dog needs. If you are going to give treats, stick with healthy, protein-packed ones like Halo Liv-a-Littles; at least that way, you’ll know your pup is getting quality calories.
Icky eating conditions
Your dog might not expect a candlelit dinner, but if it’s really messy, chaotic, crowded or noisy where you set out his dinner, he might turn up his little wet nose.
What to do: Feed your dog at the same times every day and give him a quiet place to eat, especially if you’re in a multi-pet house where he could feel threatened by competition from other animals. Keep his feeding area clean; throw away old food before it gets stale and germ-filled.
The old switcheroo
You found a great deal on a new dog food brand at the supermarket. Your wallet is jumping for joy. Your dog is not.
What to do: Try not to switch dog foods unless your veterinarian recommends it for health reasons (he needs to switch to a special seniors-only diet, perhaps, or the brand you’ve been feeding isn’t healthy.) If you do switch, try to make the transition gradual, first serving ¾ a bowl of the old brand and ¼ of the new, then half and half, then ¼ and ¾.
Just because the last three dogs you owned ate like horses doesn’t mean your new dog will devour everything in sight.
What to do: A healthy dog will eat twice a day, no treats necessary, and take 10-20 minutes per meal to eat his fill. If your dog is following this pattern, don’t worry! If he’s not eating adequately, keep your veterinarian in the loop to rule out medical problems. Also consider your own motives. Are you offering food as a way to demonstrate love? If so, try healthier together-time activities, like a long walk together or a game of catch.
Jorie Mark is Vitacost.com’s Director of Marketing Communications and mom to three kids, ages 3 to 10.