Why is My Dog Not Eating His Food But Will Eat Treats?

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Every pet owner does not want to get to this point – why is my dog not eating his food but will eat treats? This can cause many headaches as a pet owner since you are not sure feeding only treats is enough to enable your fur baby to get all the nutrients it requires.

Why is My Dog Not Eating His Food But Will Eat Treats?

But why do some pets refuse food but would only take treats? Is it a serious problem? Can it be resolved? What do you do? Take a minute and follow us along as we delve deeper into this issue.  

Is it Common For Dogs to Not Eat Their Food But Eat Treats?

It is fairly common for dogs not to eat the food given to them and to prefer eating treats or leftovers from the table. Usually, a dog presenting this sign suggests it is generally unwell, or there is something wrong somewhere. This condition is referred to as partial anorexia.

Anorexia is a medical condition that means that your dog has lost appetite for food. Anorexic animals tend to go days without food, no matter the type of food or special teats. 

For a dog who doesn’t eat its food but prefers only treats, that is partial anorexia since there is a small amount of eating. Partial anorexia can also mean that your dog will eat only when certain special foods like beef, chicken are included. Some also would prefer to eat fastidious foods like a hotdog hamburger or other table foods. 

Medical and Psychological Reasons Behind Dog Anorexia And How to Fix Them

There are a lot of reasons why a dog would refuse its food. Some of these may be as minor as a stomach upset or as severe as a medical condition. 

The reason behind dog anorexia can be grouped into two main categories – medical and psychological. 

Medical condition 

The medical reason behind dog anorexia can be any illness, condition, or any disorder that doesn’t make the dog eat. There could be so many conditions, diseases, or disorders to cause dog anorexia. 

Most of these medical-induced anorexia boils down to pain. Pain in any part of the body, usually internal, would prevent the dog from eating. 

If your dog is not eating, kindly see your veterinarian to run some tests to determine why your dog is not eating.

There are so many medical conditions that would prevent a dog from eating, but the most common ones are:

Gastrointestinal (GI) issues: We all know that an uncomfortable and upset stomach, a hurting tooth, etc., doesn’t entice us to eat, so the same can be said for animals. Gastrointestinal diseases don’t relate only to the stomach and intestines but anywhere from the mouth through the esophagus and the stomach to the small and large intestines.

Most of the diseases of GI are accompanied by vomiting and diarrhea aside from the pain. The most common GI diseases in dogs that can cause anorexia include; 

  • Dental issues
  • Ulcers and blisters in the mouth
  • Tumors anywhere along the GI tract
  • Inflammatory diseases
  • Food allergies
  • Worm infections such as tapeworm, whipworm, roundworms, and hookworm
  • Viral infections such as parvovirus and coronavirus infection
  • Protozoan infections such as gardia 
  • Ingestion of foreign bodies
  • Diarrhea from eating spoilt food

Respiratory disease: Imagine not breathing properly or struggling to get air in or out of your body. We are sure food would be the last thing on your mind since it is difficult to eat and breathe simultaneously. 

Any disease affecting the lungs and the airway tubes affects appetite, either by changing the taste or smell of food just like a stuffy nose does or simply losing the desire to eat. 

Liver disease: Diseases of the liver such as hepatitis, cirrhosis, congenital anomalies like the portosystemic shunts, liver cancer, etc., can significantly affect appetence adversely.

The liver is the organ responsible for filtering wastes and toxins from the blood. It also breaks down drugs so that they could be cleared from the body. 

If the liver is not functioning properly, there would be a build-up of waste and toxins in the blood. Such build-ups lead to nausea, lethargy, inappetence, vomiting, and diarrhea.

Kidney disease: Diseases of the kidneys such as acute or chronic renal (kidney) diseases can lead to inappetence. Your pet would be drinking more water through (polydipsia), thus urinating more (polyuria).

Neurological disease: Neurological diseases are diseases that affect the brain, spinal cord, and nerves. Examples are brain tumor, epilepsy, intervertebral disc disease, vestibular disease, Wobbler syndrome, etc., usually present with incoordination, seizures, pain, and inability to walk. All these would lead to inappetence.

Pancreatic disease: The pancreas is an organ that secretes digestive enzymes (a substance that speeds up biological reactions) and insulin, which regulates the blood’s sugar (glucose) levels. These digestive enzymes break down food for the body to absorb. 

If there is a problem with the pancreas, such as pancreatic cancer or pancreatitis, it usually presents with a lack of appetite, lethargy, vomiting. 

A disease of the blood such as anemia or leukemia can cause a lack of appetite and lethargy.

Any other disease or medical condition that causes pain like fractures, eye problems, etc., can lead to lack of appetite and results in total or partial anorexia.

Psychological condition

Psychological conditions in dogs should be differentiated from neurological conditions. Neurological conditions are diseases or illnesses that affect the brain, spinal cord, and nerves, while psychological conditions deal with cognition, emotions, and behavior. 

It can be safely said that neurological conditions can lead to psychological disorders, but not all psychological conditions can lead to neurological conditions.

Most of the psychological conditions in dogs have to do with something in the dog’s environment that is causing stress. There are no underlying medical conditions. T

The most common types of psychological disorders that cause anorexia include:

  1. Moving to a new home
  2. Reconstructing or renovating a home
  3. New animals at home
  4. Loud thunderstorm or fireworks
  5. A new baby at home
  6. New people staying in the house, such as guests
  7. Someone leaving the house (e.g., leaving for college)
  8. Change in schedules
  9. A switch in foods

How Can I Stop My Dog From Displaying This Behavior?

We all know the stress that comes with dealing with a dog with anorexia. Of course, it hurts to see your dog refuse its food, and you would want to stop this behavior asap. But what do you do? And how do you go about it? You can also try out a few new strategies such as:

Changing your dog’s food

If your dog is not eating its meals, you might want to change its food and see if that would work. Sometimes, your dog is just tired of that flavor or type of food and wants something new.

If your dog is not eating its beef, you can try poultry. If your dog was fed on wet or canned food only, you could dry food and vice versa. You can make homemade food for your dog too. There are a lot of new food combinations to try out with your dog.

Visit your veterinarian

If you have tried switching foods and yet, your dog is still not eating, you would have to visit your vet to see if there is an underlying condition. Your vet will run some tests to see if anything is wrong with your furbaby. 

small grey dog visiting veterinarian

Figure out the change

After the visit to your vet, you find out there’s no underlying medical condition, then it is time to figure out what has changed at your home or your schedule with your dog. Sometimes, a dog might stop eating just to tell you something. 

Did you just have a new baby, moved to a new home or your dog’s best friend (i.e., your child moved to college), or any of the other psychological reasons for anorexia? Then it is time to take action.

No more treats

One thing that might hurt you, but you have to be stern is, to stop giving your dog treats or table food (leftovers from the table) when it doesn’t eat its food. 

This would compel your dog to stop this behavior, especially if it is a learned behavior. Once your dog knows that there aren’t any more treats, it would go back to its food bowl when hungry. 

But if we keep giving treats even they are not eating, they would exchange that to mean a positive reinforcement behavior and would never want to eat their food again since they would be rewarded for it. 

The key is patience and consistency

Getting mad and throwing a tantrum won’t save the situation. Your dog might not understand you, and it might get frightened as a result. So instead, learn to be calm and help your dog walk through this period of anorexia. 

Being consistent is going to help both you and your pet get through this period. Draw up a food schedule and make sure it is adhered to. Food schedules can include treats after dinner or a particular time you desire. Food schedules can consist of the time for meals and what food is to be eaten at what time. 

I Love Veterinary’s Top Tips to Get Your Picky Dog to Eat Again

We know that no one likes picky dogs, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t give them the care and love they deserve. The secret to getting a picky dog to eat again lies in engagement, stimulation, and fun. So let’s look at a few tips from us:

  • The first and foremost tip is to see a vet when your dog is not eating. No matter how picky a dog is, a healthy dog will never go a day without food.
  • Try swapping your dog’s food from one food flavor to a different one. Sometimes, a dog would refuse to eat their food because they don’t like the taste, size, appearance, or smell. 

Note that, when swapping your dog’s food, do not swap from one food brand to another with the same flavor. Usually, this doesn’t work.

  • When switching to a new food, make the transition gradually and slowly. Never change it at once, as your dog might be hesitant to take it. You can start by giving 70% of the old food and 30% of the new food and increasing the ratio of the new food until it reaches the 100% mark.
  • You can also try a bland diet food by mixing the broth of chicken or beef with your dog’s dry food to make it more appealing and taste better. You can also try fish oil, boiled vegetables, or minced meat. These are called food toppers, and they can work the magic for you.
  • This might sound harsh, but you can try removing your dog’s food bowl until the following day. Usually, a dog should finish its meal within 15-30 mins time. So 30 mins after feeding your dog, you should remove the food bowl and wait until the next morning to feed your dog, whether it is eaten or not. 

After two to three attempts, your dog would know it will starve for a day if they don’t eat something.

  • Most dogs like to play, so you can turn mealtime into playtime. Start by throwing a few dry kibbles in front of your dog and watch them pick them up. Then, throw another set a bit further, throw some in the sky and watch it try to catch it. Your dog might think this is a game, but you would end up feeding it, even though this might take a lot of time.
  • You can also make your dog work for its food, either by responding to tricks and commands or through exercising. For example, your dog might stop being picky when they see they have to earn their food.
  • Try warming up your dog’s food to enhance the flavor. You can microwave wet food or pass dry food through a little bit of hot water. Sometimes, an aroma is all you need to do the magic.
  • You can also pretend to eat your dog’s food to get them to eat it. Your dog might think you are offering it human food when you pretend to eat its food. 
  • Other tips include; using a feeding toy, feeding the right amount of food, and elevating the food bowl, especially for senior dogs.

Why Your Dog is ONLY Eating Treats

It is pretty unusual if your dog turns away from its regular food and wants to eat only treats. This is usually an indication that something is changing, and you might want to check it out immediately.

One of the most common reasons a dog will refuse to eat but would want only to treat is ill-health. No matter the condition, from dental disease to tumors, the presence of pain usually detests most dogs from eating. 

Also, you might want to check the expiry date of your pet’s food. Most people think animals would eat anything as long as they are hungry and will never stop to check if the food being given is spoilt. Most animals would reject spoilt food, though, so you should double-check every time. 

Sometimes dogs do not bluntly like the food they are being given and will tend to reject it. Some animals are picky and fussy, and this can be frustrating and annoying, but just like you wouldn’t want to eat something you don’t like, animals tend to be the same. Find food that your dog readily likes and stick to it. 

Conclusion

Picky eating is not something any pet owner wants to deal it, but picky dogs could be telling us something. Figuring out why your dog is not eating is the first step to solving this problem. After that, you just have to do the necessary things to help your dog regain its appetite. 

Feeding time doesn’t have to be set in stone like the old traditional ways. You can spice things up, add varieties and make it fun for your dog. You can get your dog eating in a short time with patience and consistency.  

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Currently a Veterinary House Officer at the University of Ghana, Akosua plays a pivotal role in disease diagnosis, treatment, and student supervision. Akosua's educational journey in veterinary medicine has been instrumental in shaping her commitment to public education and awareness. Her veterinary training equips her to communicate complex topics for public understanding. Her online presence on Instagram reaches a wider audience. She actively engages in public speaking, inspiring a deeper understanding of responsible pet care and the role of veterinary professionals in fostering a healthier coexistence between humans and animals.