Regardless of appearance, weight, personality, and breed, one thing always comes to mind when we think of our canine friends, and that is an undying love for food. Whether it's their regular meals or a delicious snack, we can't imagine most of our dogs saying no to food. But what if your dog suddenly loses his appetite? Is your canine friend unexpectedly turning into a picky eater, or are medical conditions to blame? Today, we will turn our attention towards the reasons behind the loss of appetite in dogs and the ways you can increase your canine's appetite in a healthy, natural way.
What Causes a Loss of Appetite in Dogs?
Our discussion about the loss of appetite in dogs cannot commence without first understanding the multiple variables that determine canine appetites. Although involuntarily, our behavior as dog parents can turn our favorite pets into picky eaters (dogs who don't empty their food bowls after 20 minutes may be considered picky eaters). In other instances, it's not pickiness, but a hidden symptom that may be causing the loss of appetite.
Therefore, we will begin by analyzing each potential cause of appetite loss in dogs and determine which one applies to your canine. Once we've established the potential cause (or causes), we can go on to find out which appetite increase tips will likely work best for your dog.
#1: Appetite and Genetics
A ravenous appetite is not common in all dog breeds. While Pugs and Labradors will empty the food bowl in a heartbeat, some breeds, such as the Basenji, Siberian Husky, and Yorkies, exhibit inconsistent appetites right off the bat. For example, Huskies' bodies are more efficient at burning calories and using nutrients, and therefore they are used to eating less than other breeds of dogs. As a result, huskies will only eat until they are full, unlike other breeds, such as Labrador retrievers, who eat until they fall ill.
This may surprise you, right? Looking at Siberian Huskies and Malamutes, you would not think that these tough and hardy dogs would be prone to sensitive stomachs and easily upset digestive tracts. But these dogs do have special needs and requirements for feeding and diet.
All breeds of dogs require good nutrition that optimally supports their daily requirements for fuel production for their body. Huskies and Malamutes require good quality, high protein, moderately high fat, and low carbohydrate needs (sources not from wheat, corn, or soy).
Huskies are very active animals, so they must have the right amount of calories to keep up with their lifestyle. Despite their small size, they need high-energy foods to get them through the day.
Huskies were bred to be working dogs, such as for sledding, and these traits continue to thrive in the breed known to travel far distances on small amounts of food.
#2: Sudden Change in Food
Another cause of appetite loss in dogs is sudden dietary changes. Unlike humans, dogs do not ask for variety in their meals. For this reason, when a sudden change in his food occurs, your dog may resort to pickiness to signal his discontent with the new diet. If you intend to change your canine's diet, adopt a step-by-step approach that allows your dog to warm up to the new food at a slower pace or choose a diet that you can change the protein and create a variety that way versus a complete shift in ingredients.
So why does my dog devour some foods and turn his nose up at others?
As it happens, this addictive quality is carefully engineered. Big Pet Food is a multi-billion-dollar industry that invests heavily in research into "palatants" – ingredients that make our pets want to eat their products. And from potently smelly chemicals usually found in rotting meat to an additive commonly added to potatoes to stop them discoloring, the quest to make the most scrumptious pet food has led to some surprising insights.
"Big [pet food] companies have huge departments that make palatants," says Darren Logan, head of research at the Waltham Petcare Science Institute, part of the company Mars Petcare. "Just like we make them for humans, we make them for pets as well."
#3: Loss of Appetite and Treats
There's no better stimulus for good behavior in dogs than a delicious treat, but too many treats can backfire. Once they take to a particular snack, dogs frequently try to manipulate their parents into feeding them only their favorite treat. Other parents will fall into the trap of using treats to stimulate their dog's appetite. Unfortunately, such approaches teach our canines that, as long as they hold out long enough, something more scrumptious is on the horizon. Your dog must learn from an early age that treats are rewards, not his primary source of food, and that being picky will not bring his much-coveted treats any closer.
#4: Certain Foods Bring Back Unwanted Memories
How many times have you refused a meal based on an unpleasant past experience? Dogs are no different than humans and may refuse to eat foods linked to unhappy experiences (e.g., punishment before eating his food) or an upset stomach. In such cases, exchanging that particular food or diet with something that is devoid of bad memories should do the trick.
#5: Anxiety and Loss of Appetite
Akin to humans, dogs frequently manifest their emotions through their eating habits. Boredom, fear, and separation from the dog parents frequently cause a loss of appetite in our canine companions, signaling how anxious they are to feel our presence again. Once you spend more time in the company of your canine, his appetite is bound to improve.
The environment is another prominent factor in your dog's appetite. An unstable and unfamiliar environment, riddled with dangers and harassment from other pets, will affect his food intake. Ensure that your canine feels safe and comfortable if you want him to focus more on the food bowl and less on his safety in the room and ongoing stressors.
#6: Problems with the Dog's Feeding Area
The last item on our list concerns the dog's feeding area. Unlike humans, dogs do not enjoy company or loud noises during their feeding time, which is why placing your dog's food bowl in a busy hallway or a loud kitchen may deter him from his food. We recommend that you find a more suitable place for your canine to feed, preferably in a quiet, secluded area with no disturbances.
What about traveling and being in a new place? If your dog's appetite was fine until you went on a trip with them or moved to a new location, it might be that your dog won't eat because of traveling or the unfamiliar surroundings. In addition, some animals may get motion sickness, and others become nervous or uncomfortable in new places.
Medical Issues and Loss of Appetite
Aside from genetics or other circumstances, a loss of appetite can be a symptom of serious medical issues, such as cancer, kidney and liver diseases, pyometra (i.e., an infection of a female dog's reproductive tract), or gastrointestinal disorders. Therefore, you need to make sure that you identify the loss of appetite in your dog in enough time to treat its underlying disease. Fortunately, vaccinations are available for many severe and contagious dog diseases. Although these injections have saved the lives of millions of pets in the past 100 years, they do sometimes have adverse effects. However, most of these are minor and brief, including a temporary loss of appetite in dogs.
Oral health issues deserve special attention. Often, a loss of appetite indicates the presence of a hazard in your canine's mouth, so you need to regularly check his mouth for any signs of disease. Swollen, red gums, a clear mark of periodontal disease, might be behind your dog's loss of appetite. If that is the case, what's left for you to do is improve his oral health by putting a tooth brushing schedule in place, enhancing your canine's diet with foods that promote a healthy oral microbiome, and paying annual visits to your veterinarian for a professional dental cleaning. Don't forget to check out our blog on the best food and tips for natural dog teeth cleaning (link to the natural dog teeth cleaning blog)!
How to Increase Your Dog’s Appetite
Now that we've established the essential causes behind a loss of appetite in dogs, let's turn our attention towards improving that appetite by following a set of simple, DIY tips.
#1: Establish a Strict Feeding Schedule
Picky eaters must learn from the start that choosing when and what to eat is not an option. Establishing a strict feeding schedule and avoiding free-choice feeding are imperative when teaching our canine companions to respect well-defined feeding times. You can enforce this schedule by taking away any uneaten food after 10 minutes. This way, your dog will learn that he has a specific time window to eat his food before it gets taken away - at least until the next designated eating period.
#2: Minimize Treat Privileges
The next step towards improving your dog's appetite concerns his intake of treats. As we mentioned earlier, an overabundance of treats will deter your canine from actual food and upset his feeding patterns. For that reason, treats should be set aside only for training purposes or special occasions to reward exemplary behavior. Treats are known for their high caloric density, resulting in weight gain and a constant craving for treats instead of actual food. Thus, the fewer the treats, the bigger the chances to increase your dog's appetite and offset his pickiness.
#3: Refrain from Feeding from the Table
Our love for canine companions frequently encourages us to have them partake in our daily activities, including meals. We know how hard it is to resist the impulse of feeding your dog from the table. However, this behavior is more detrimental than beneficial since you create a begging dog and a dog that prefers eating from you than from their bowl. Instead, take appropriate food from the table and add it to their bowl so that the dog knows to go to the bowl for food.
#4: Finding the Right Food Texture
Finding the right food texture is another critical step in improving your dog's appetite. Given their limited sense of taste and a strong sense of smell, dogs prefer foods with a pungent, appealing aroma, a trait that depends considerably upon food sourcing and preparation. Older dogs who have always eaten kibble may prefer a cooked protein in a fresh, natural diet versus raw meat for this reason.
Aside from texture, you can improve the palatability and taste of your dog's food by including mouth-watering ingredients in his food bowl, such as sardines, canned food gravy, Liver Treats, and bone broth. With their distinctive, pleasant smell, these foods are sure to stimulate your canine's appetite and persuade him to indulge in more food.
A Parting Reminder
Help your dog be less fussy when they eat by feeding them in different places, maybe different bowls or on a plate, giving them just enough time to eat and be done, choose a fresh diet with food-grade ingredients that are nutritious and delicious to create good eating habits. Do not switch your brand every time your dog turns away from it. You are creating a picky dog who will attempt to wait you out until you give them something they want better. Your dog will not starve to death. With that said, make sure you are not feeding your dog the same thing day in and day out for the next 10 years. Remember that loss of appetite can also signify a hidden symptom or issue, so we advise our readers to inquire into this avoidance of food and discover its cause with some diligent effort and intentional habit changes.
We hope that today's blog on the causes of appetite loss and ways to rekindle your dog's interest in his food bowl will be helpful for all dog parents who struggle with picky eaters. For more advice on dog nutrition, health, and training, make sure that you contact us or check out our blog!