Being a pet owner myself, one of the major benchmarks that I use to ensure my dog is keeping in good health, is to monitor his food intake. It may so happen that your dog may refuse to consume food, which could be due to various factors. Apart from taking your dog to the vet, you can use this article as a handy guide in caring for your dog’s appetite!
What is considered normal food consumption?
There has been many conflicting school of thoughts on feeding your dogs. It is important to create a meal plan according to your dog’s age, level of physical activity performed and even seasonal conditions!
Many dog owners tend to adopt feeding their puppies an ‘all you can eat’ style, or Ad libitum, however such method is to be avoided as large volumes of food within a small digestive track can lead to greater ailments down the road. This could include binge eating, juvenile obesity, diabetes and other orthopedic conditions.
Similar to human beings, a dog’s stomach anatomy is quite simple. It is ideal to give a time gap of 8-10 hours between each meal as to allow for the food to be processed – moving food from the stomach bag to the small intestine, before they can signal hunger for the next meal. So having two meals a day, one in the morning and the other early evening could set the optimal food serving schedule.
The quantity of food served for almost all dogs is usually standard over time, however, you may choose to apply your discretion depending on the amount of physical activity performed in the day.
Seasonal changes can largely influence a dog’s diet. I know this from a first hand experience – large dogs, especially furry ones tend to consume less amount of food during summer/warm seasons. The main reason, is of course the heat. High temperatures make them less eager to play outside and exert themselves. So, they do not use much energy nor build an appetite for hunger.
At times like these, you could take your dog out to a cooling water body such as a beach or a lake – anything that they can dip their paws into to offset the warm temperatures.
As dog’s are a strong creature of habit, having a consistent familiar schedule of meal serving can bring a certain balance and ease to their day. This can be especially important in coping with any changes happening within the household – such as leaving the dog with a pet sitter or child leaving away for college etc.
Why may a dog lose his Appetite?
Similar to humans, dogs may refuse to eat because they just aren’t hungry, or an event in their day has caused them to lose interest in the meal for the day. However, a loss of appetite beyond one meal or maximum two – requires necessary action and guidance.
Breaking away from conventional meal servings could be an indicator of something far more serious. Here are some reasons to why a dog may lose their appetite:
Illness, infection or disease:
There are many viral infections and illnesses, such as distemper or parvovirus, that may cause a dog to lose their appetite. We could track the dog’s lethargy level along with the food intake, as they go hand in hand when they are disturbed by any condition from within.
Apart from not absorbing enough energy from the food, the remaining energy may be diverted to the immune system in combating whatever infection they are facing.
Recovering from a surgery:
After any major surgery, such as Dental or Orthopedic, the dog may tend be too weak or fragile to consume food as it does regularly. Usually in such cases, the doctor would prescribe a post-surgery meal plan during the recovery phase.
In cases were the dog especially weak and frail, the vet may decide to hold them back at the hospital to provide the necessary nutrients through intravenous fluids, or IV.
Mourning a death:
Dogs do have the capacity to feel lose and mourn a death of anyone they were close to – be it another dog or a human. Much like a human, they show similar mourning behavior such as skipping meals, becoming depressed and listless, or sleeping more than usual.
At time like these, a pet owner can provide a more phycological comfort such as being more affectionate (petting or cuddling them), spending more time and providing some kind of entertainment.
The environment or the events of the day can largely influence a dog’s appetite. It is possible that the dog may choose to avoid its meal if it in the midst of working out a stressful event or experience that occurred through the day. A common example of this could be getting yelled at or punished by the owner for some kind of misbehavior.
It’s important for the owner to ensure that their positive/negative reinforcements aren’t too extreme that it pushes their dog into stressful situations. Additionally, the owner could create the necessary protective atmosphere such as having strong fencing, being vigilant when dog walking and other such arrangements to protect their dog from unfamiliar external influences.
It is possible that dogs can lose their appetite as they get older. This can be due to their decreased physical activity as compared to when they were younger. As their body matures to its full extent, it may no longer require to absorb as much energy from its food as before. If the dog is choosing not to eat at all, it is possible that they are aware of their near ending of time.
At times like these, it is important for the vet and the owner to work together in order to provide the best possible ambiance to ensure that their last days are as good as can be.
What to do when your dog is not eating?
As mentioned before, the first call of action for a dog skipping his meals would be to take him to the vet. As seen, there several reasons as to why they may have lost their appetite. Standard medical indicators performed by the vet such as temperature check, pupil check and body scans would be useful making a more informed assessment on the dog’s condition.
Nonetheless, there are few things that you as a pet owner can do during this uncertain time...
If your dog is not eating, allow some time for their system to self-correct themselves into regular eating patterns. Similar to a human, the dog may be ‘fasting’ in order to cleanse itself from within. Make sure, however that they are drinking sufficient water during this period of time.
Although dogs can go a few days without eating, consuming enough water on a regular bases is very essential for them. If the dog shows no signs of weakness or change in physical activity, giving them the necessary time and space during such periods can be quite effective.
Changing Kibble/Dry Foods:
As it is common in almost any packaged goods, it is possible that the kibble/dry foods may have aged poorly or even expired. Some dogs tend to get bored of the same dry food over a long period of time. You could choose to select multiple sample packs across different brands to figure the most suitable for your dog.
Additionally, playing with different proportions of wet food, dry food and adding dog treats (such as chicken, baby food) can be a stimulating eating experience for the dog. You can make the necessary shifts in a phase manner, as to not overwhelm the dog’s alimentary cannel with new foods all at once.
In the case that the dog has not eaten for a long period of time, one can choose to provide an appetite stimulant. Please note that these stimulants must only be provided after a vet’s prescribed instruction. Depending on the dog’s age, weight and other medical conditions, the vet would provide an accurate estimation of the type of appetite stimulant and quantity to be provided.
The stimulant is a potent medicine that reduces nausea and mimic’s other hormonal triggers that make a dog hungry. The stimulant itself is offered as a medicine, and isn’t expected to become a natural course added to a dog’s regular meal.
Dog’s skipping their meal and consuming grass is a common. A ‘natural deworming’ of sorts, dogs tend to finely chew and swallow fresh grass in order to vomit. As odd as this may seem, they are instinctively cleansing their stomach bag due to certain uneasiness.
It is important that the dog is consuming large amounts of water during this period in time as to helps assist with the internal cleansing process. Grass eating shouldn’t be a frequent occurrence. If it is, its time for the vet!
Feeding by hand:
If your dog is going through a particularly dull phase, feeding by hand can help pull up their spirits and enthusiasm. As a means of encouragement, you can sit by their bowl and hand their first couple of pieces by hand. The aim is to not feed the entire food, but to entice them enough to finish the rest of the meal.
This process may take a while, however can help reestablish the bond that the dog and the owner during a particularly difficult time for the dog.
Natural food stimulants to help your dog’s appetite!
As mentioned before, medical appetite stimulants must be directed by the Vet - however you may choose to provide natural foods at your own whim. Below is a compiled list of dog-delicious items that could add a pep to your dog’s step as they approach their bowl –
- Chicken Broth
- Squash (like pumpkin)
- Bone Broth
- Shredded Chicken
- Meat based Baby food
- Hard boiled eggs into pieces
- Chicken Liver
- Peanut butter
I understand the deep bond you develop with your dog. When their health isn't the best, it's important we as pet owners take the responsible action steps. I hope this article gave you the necessary information for you to help your dog get their appetite back.
Please feel free to share your thoughts and comments below!