Not every dog is capable of regulating his dietary intake perfectly. In fact, because the natural social structure of dogs is that of the pack, they will often be willing to eat whenever food is offered to them. Because most dog owners expect this food-driven behavior and are actually pleased when their dogs wolf down their food with gusto, there is an abundance of overweight dogs in our society! It is no surprise then that most dog owners are more than a little concerned when their dogs refuse a meal.
While one or two missed meals never hurt a dog, when your dog refuses food for more than a day, it is definitely cause for alarm.
What to Look For
Your first objective is to figure out whether your dog isn't eating due to lack of interest in the food offered, overall illness, or simple nausea. It's usually easy to rule out the lack of interest in the food offered by simply presenting your dog with a variety of different, interesting foods. Don't be too creative, though, because what started out as a spell of hunger loss could change to diarrhea if the new food is too rich in ingredients your dog can't tolerate well. It is usually best to start with something bland, such as boiled beef and rice.
What to Do
Ask yourself the following questions to figure out what to do next:
- Is this a sudden, abrupt change or has your dog's appetite been diminishing gradually? The answer to this question generally helps distinguish between acute, obstructive reasons for loss of appetite and those that result from chronic illness.
- Is your dog a thief? Dogs that steal food, items of clothing, etc., are more likely to develop a gastrointestinal obstruction from swallowing one of those items. While some dogs are able to regurgitate those items before any damage is done, surgery is often the only alternative for dogs that are not.
- Has your dog been gagging or vomiting? Nausea and vomiting often go hand in hand. While it's certainly helpful to know that nausea or vomiting is the reason for your dog's lack of hunger, it is still important to figure out what the source of that nausea is. This will usually require a thorough physical exam, blood work, and X-rays/ultrasound.
- Has your dog recently eaten something unusual in amount or ingredients? When dogs eat a particularly large meal or they are given a new type of food, it may take them longer to process what they've eaten. This could result in a longer period of digestion, so they won't be ready for their next scheduled meal. Be patient!
When to Get the Vet
If your dog shows no interest in food for more than twenty-four hours, take him to his vet. X-rays or an ultrasound exam are often required.