My Cat or Dog Won’t Eat

It’s been a while since I’ve published a video, but I have a topic that I want to discuss.

Why Won’t My Pet Eat?

Many of my patients visit me when their cat or dog is not eating, and the most frequent complaint is a loss of appetite or several days without eating, as some people delay seeking help. Unfortunately, some people delay seeking medical attention, and it may have been weeks or even months since they last consumed a proper meal. This situation can be incredibly frustrating for both the patient and their beloved pet.

As a cat and dog owner myself, I empathize with this feeling of distress when my own pets have a decreased appetite, especially my senior dog. It is crucial to address these issues promptly to prevent further complications and ensure a speedy recovery. I have field-bred English Springer Spaniels. They’re field trial dogs, athletic dogs. They eat dry food like machines. I never have to worry about putting dog food in front of them and wondering if they’ll eat or not. But in the rare times this does happen, it is very stressful for me. So I think the most important thing to remember if your dog or your cat is not eating, is to take a deep breath, don’t let your energy don’t let them feel your energy is what I’m trying to say.

Food Aversion

Your dog or cat can very quickly will become food averse. That’s the number one thing that we want to avoid here. We don’t want to take a medical condition that’s causing your favorite furry friend to not eat or drink and make that medical problem into a behavioral problem as well.

This happens pretty frequently. Let’s say that your dog had just stopped eating regularly or at all, what do you need to do? Well, first thing you need to do is call your veterinarian and get an appointment to go in and have a workup performed to figure out why they’re not eating.

The second thing is to just relax. I know this is very hard to do. I really do. But if they’re not eating, just let them be. They are emotional creatures and pick up on your stress very easily. Don’t try to force feed them. You know, don’t try to coax them into eating. These things will create behavioral problems that will only compound the current problem.

Please don’t force feed them. We get so many patients that come to us where the owners have a syringe or they have some method that they’re force feeding their pet. Your pet finds that very offensive, to be honest, and they will quickly get to a point where they’re not eating because they’re, for lack of a better word, they’re scared to eat at that point.

You know, they’re afraid they’re going to get food shoved into their mouth especially at a time when maybe they’re not feeling good. That’s probably the reason that they’re not eating, is they don’t feel good, so getting food into them might only make them feel worse and make them feel more sick. So the important thing here is get that appointment with your vet.

The Hazards of Human Food

So, what I also don’t want you to do is, to feed them just anything that you think they might eat at that point. That can create problems as well, especially in smaller dogs. They like to get pancreatitis if we feed them foods that are too fatty. We can cause a significant serious medical problem like pancreatitis.

So please don’t go buy a rotisserie chicken and start feeding that to them. Don’t brown up some hamburger and just feed that to them. That can actually be worse.

The White Diet

I like things like turkey breast, not chicken breast. It turns out chicken is fairly high in fat. Turkey breast, tilapia, pasta, just plain pasta, boiled, cooked pasta, no fat or low fat cottage cheese. Everybody always says add rice. Cats won’t eat rice, but dogs will eat rice one time, and then they won’t eat it again, but you’re welcome to try it. I like to call this the white diet, because these are all white foods. Try to remember, those are a few things you can feed, try to feed them while you’re waiting to get that appointment with your vet. So that being said, So what we’re trying to avoid is food aversion and we’re trying to prevent creating a very serious medical problem at this point.

Time is of the Essence

If your vet is booked out three weeks, not eating in either a dog or a cat, especially a cat, is a medical emergency. This is where you may need to make a trip to your local ER or urgent care vet clinic, so hopefully they can figure out what is going on, or they can refer you to a specialist like me who can figure out what’s going on if it’s a more complicated problem.

Rapid medical care for a patient that has completely stopped eating, a patient with anorexia needs to be seen by a vet soon, within days is what I’m talking about. When you get there, these workups can be a bit involved. Sometimes you run some blood work and you figure out, oh, there’s a kidney problem, there’s a liver problem That doesn’t happen every time.

Sometimes we have to do blood work, we need to maybe do some X-rays to figure out what’s going on, and ultimately we may need an abdominal ultrasound to actually see what the intestines look like, what the stomach looks like to find possible causes of their lack of appetite. I hate to say it, but sometimes these can be expensive workups as well.

But the good news is once you figure these things out, generally you can get a patient back to eating. You can treat the underlying kidney disease or liver disease and get them eating.

A Dental is likely NOT the Answer

The important thing to mention here is that it is very rare for dogs or cats not to eat because they have dental disease. So, the first step is not, my dog or cat is not eating, I should make an appointment to get a dental with my family vet, because that’s probably why they’re not eating. Dogs and cats will eat with periodontal disease that would make most humans, you know, you can’t believe how bad their teeth can be.

And they’ll still be eating because they have to. As long as they don’t feel sick or nauseous — that’s generally what’s keeping them from eating, in most cases — if they feel some degree of nausea or illness. It isn’t pain from dental disease, interestingly enough. I’ve seen cats with teeth that are practically falling out of their head, and there’s so much inflammation, and they’re still eating hard food, doing fine.

So, the dental is not generally the ticket back to eating normally. It’s the medical workup to figure out what’s going on inside of them. That is what need to be done. So the takeaway from this is if your dog or cat is not eating, get an appointment with your vet right away.

Anorexic Cats and Liver Failure

It’s not a wait and see situation. Especially with cats. Cats actually can go into liver failure, they can get something called hepatic lipidosis, or people will call it fatty liver disease if they are not eating their normal amount of calories. Even cats in a negative energy balance, which means they’re not eating their normal amount, can eventually develop fatty liver disease, which leads to liver failure.

Dogs can go longer than cats without eating. If your dog or cat hasn’t eaten in a couple of days, you need to get them to a vet. Please at this point, seek medical attention.

The Underlying Medical Issue can be Complicated

Don’t force feed and try not to stress out. Your pet can feel your energy. I’m not a woo woo kind of guy or anything like that. But, they literally can feel your stress and that just makes them want to eat even less. So, take that step back, take them to the vet, don’t force feed them.

And then be prepared that the workup for this problem may involve several steps before you get to the answer. Hopefully you, you find something simple. You know, right away, but if you don’t, this may take some time to figure out., and the other reason for getting to the vet as quick as possible is this, this happens all the time too.

People often show up for an appointment and think because they’re there now that you’re gonna figure out what’s going on in 30 minutes, like a TV sitcom, and then everything will go back to normal. This is not always the case. Sometimes this involves more than one appointment, waiting for test results, sending out labs, histopathology, etc. to figure out what’s going on.

And some of these things can take a week or two or even longer depending on what tests are being sent out. So this is why I’d like you to get to the vet as quick as possible. Then you can figure out what’s going on and you can keep the stress away from yourself. And most importantly, keep the stress away from your pet.

Thank you very much for listening. Take care. ❤️

Frequently Asked Questions

Why won’t my dog eat?

I’m sorry to hear that your dog won’t eat. There can be several reasons why a dog may lose their appetite. It could be due to a change in routine, stress, illness, or even something as simple as a dislike for their current food. If your dog’s lack of appetite persists for more than a day or two, it is important to consult with a veterinarian to rule out any underlying health issues and determine the best course of action. In the meantime, you can try offering small, frequent meals of a highly palatable food or adding some warm water or low-sodium chicken broth to their usual food to make it more enticing.

When should I worry about my dog not eating?

If your dog is not eating, it is important to monitor their behavior and overall health. In general, a temporary loss of appetite can be normal for dogs due to factors such as stress, changes in routine, or minor illnesses. However, if your dog consistently refuses food for more than 24 hours or shows other signs of illness such as lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea, or weight loss, it may be a cause for concern and you should consult with a veterinarian. Additionally, if your dog has any underlying medical conditions or is on medication that could affect their appetite, it is important to discuss this with your vet. They will be able to provide guidance on the best course of action and help determine if there are any underlying health issues that need to be addressed.

Should I force-feed a dog that won’t eat?

I’m really sorry to hear that your dog isn’t eating. It can be a worrisome situation, but it’s important to approach it with caution. Forcing a dog to eat can do more harm than good and may not address the underlying issue causing the loss of appetite. It’s best to consult with a veterinarian who can examine your dog and determine the cause of their lack of appetite. They will be able to provide guidance on the most appropriate course of action, which may include dietary changes, medication, or additional treatments. It’s always best to seek professional advice when it comes to your pet’s health and well-being.

What do you do when your dog won’t eat?

When your dog won’t eat, it can be concerning. There are a few possible reasons why your dog may not have an appetite, including illness, stress, or a change in routine or environment. If your dog’s lack of appetite persists for more than a day or two, it is important to consult with your veterinarian to rule out any underlying health issues.

In the meantime, here are a few things you can try to entice your dog to eat:

  1. Offer a variety of food options: Try offering different types of wet and dry food, as well as treats, to see if there is something that sparks their interest.
  2. Warm up the food: Heating up the food slightly can enhance its aroma and make it more appealing to your dog.
  3. Add some tasty toppings: Sprinkle some low-sodium broth, shredded cheese, or plain yogurt on top of their food to make it more enticing.
  4. Stick to a regular feeding schedule: Establishing a consistent feeding routine can help regulate your dog’s appetite and make mealtime more predictable.

Remember that if your dog continues to refuse food or shows other signs of illness or distress for more than a day or two, it is best to seek guidance from a veterinarian who can provide personalized advice based on your dog’s specific needs and circumstances.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

For security, use of Google's reCAPTCHA service is required which is subject to the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Use.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Scroll to Top