A common issue amongst pet parents is when a dog won’t eat his food but will eat treats. For pet parents, this can be a stressful and confusing time – seeing your pooch avoid their meals can raise many concerns about their health and wellbeing. However, many causes for a dog avoiding their food are fixable with a few changes.
There are several things to check for when a dog won’t eat dog food. These include learned behavior, illness, dental issues, emotional problems, poor quality food, and aging.
Why Won’t My Dog Eat His Food But Will Eat Treats?
There are many reasons your dog won’t eat their food but will eat treats. Some causes are very simple, and a change in your care can get them wolfing their meals down again. Others will involve a trip to your veterinarian to see what is going on with your pooch. If your dog has not eaten for two days, get them to your vet immediately. This is a sign that something may be urgently wrong. Otherwise, do not panic right away.
The leading issue with dogs only eating treats is learned behavior. If you frequently give your dogs treats when they don’t eat their food, you inadvertently reward them for it. They will learn to ignore their food in favor of higher-value treats, which often taste better and satisfy their desires more than plain kibble. Be sure to hold off on treats if your pup starts to ignore their meals in anticipation of something better.
Your Dog Is Sick
An extensive list of medical causes for your dog ignoring their food in favor of treats. For example, stomach upsets can cause them to avoid meals in favor of smaller, palatable treats. Intestinal parasites can also increase or decrease their appetite. If your dog feels nauseous, they may avoid full meals, especially if they know they will receive smaller treats later. You know your pooch best, so be sure to speak to your vet if your dog shows signs of ill health.
In dogs, oral pain can make eating hard kibble a difficult task. Some may slowly attempt to eat their food, dropping pieces here and there, and some may avoid it entirely. Frequently, treats are smaller, easier to chew, and taste better – your dog may prefer them if these traits apply. If your dog shows signs of dental disease, always talk to your vet about your concerns. Getting your pup dental care quickly is important to avoid more progressive issues such as periodontitis.
Does Not Like The Food
Not all dog foods go down a treat with all dogs. Often, your dog will just not enjoy their kibble. This could be due to the taste, texture, hardness, or smell. Many dogs on prescription diets will struggle with adjusting to the new flavor, which can be blander compared to their previous diet. Consider adding food toppers to your pet’s meal, or ask your vet about alternatives where applicable. When transitioning your dog to a new food, always do so gradually to avoid digestive upsets.
Behavioral and Emotional Problems
Much like in people, issues with anxiety and stress can dampen a dog’s appetite. Remember that what you find stressful is different from what your pooch will find stressful, and seemingly small changes can trigger anxiety, thereby decreasing their appetite. Changes in your dog’s environment and routines, such as new family members, moving house, and loud noises in the area, can cause them to become wary of eating. Instead of offering more treats to counter this, be sure to address the root cause of your dog’s stress. Otherwise, your dog will learn to ignore their food in favor of higher-value treats.
The Food Is Spoiled
If your dog avoids their food, consider if it’s old, stale, or expired. This is especially applicable if your dog has been on the same food for a long time and has always eaten it well in the past. Make sure to take a look at the expiration date of the food and make sure that you store it in an airtight container and in a cool, dry place. For open canned food, seal the can with plastic wrap and store it in the refrigerator for two to three days.
Full With Table Food or Treats
If your dog avoids their food but eagerly eats table scraps and treats, they may fill up on “junk food” rather than their complete and balanced meals. Your dog must have a complete meal to meet their nutritional requirements, so even if it’s tempting and your dog begs, be sure to hold off on the extras if they avoid their regular food. Dogs who only eat fatty foods risk pancreatitis, stomach upsets, and obesity.
Bored of The Dog Food
Many pet parents will assume that their dog is tired of their food when they stop eating it. While some dogs can be “picky,” healthy adult dogs should not stop eating their meals simply because they have eaten them for a long time. Studies show that dogs have fewer taste buds than we do – about 1,700 – this suggests that they have less urge to eat different things daily. Dogs are also creatures of habit and appreciate routine, so knowing what food they will receive daily can reduce stress.
The Bowl Is Not Right
There are so many bowl shapes, sizes, and designs that it might seem like an afterthought when considering if the bowl is “right” for your dog. However, your dog’s bowl is important when getting them to eat their meals. For instance, a deeper bowl is best for dogs with longer noses, such as German Shepherds and Collies – this is so that they can reach in without the food spilling out of the bowl. A shallower bowl might be more suitable for smaller, flat-faced breeds like French Bulldogs to make the food easier to access.
If your dog is a senior, aging can play a part in them avoiding their meals in favor of treats. As your dog grows older, their appetite will likely decrease, favoring smaller snacks here and there. Cognitive decline, vision loss, and mobility issues can make it difficult for your pooch to find or access its food bowl. It’s important that your senior dog has a steady routine and that their bowl stays in the same place to know where to find it. For some older dogs, a mat under the bowl helps support them while they eat. Otherwise, your dog might slip or have difficulty standing on the hard floor. Overall, if your senior dog is still eating treats, they may do so because their food is too difficult to access or their appetite is low.
Many pregnant dogs and female dogs in heat will lose their appetite. However, your dam must eat well if she is to support both herself and her puppies. You can encourage your dam to eat her food by offering food toppings like unsalted chicken broth. Overall, it’s normal for a pregnant dog to suffer a loss of appetite for three to ten days around the third week of pregnancy. As long as she gets some food in her belly during this time, there is usually no cause for alarm. However, if your dog hasn’t eaten for over one or two days, be sure to notify your vet for an examination.
How to Make Your Dog Eat Its Food
When your dog goes off their kibble, don’t panic right away. Oftentimes there is a simple solution to the problem that you can implement. However, if your dog is also showing signs of illness, it’s crucial to speak to your vet about your concerns.
Make a Consistent Feeding Schedule
Your dog is a creature of habit and will appreciate a routine. Many dogs adjust well to set food times and will anticipate their dinner at specific times of the day. This can help to boost their appetite, too, as they learn to wait for these specific times to eat. A routine is also extremely beneficial for older dogs. Overall, your healthy adult dog should be eating two or three times a day with their caloric intake split between these times.
Try New Dog Food
If your dog simply doesn’t like their new food, consider swapping to a different one. For most healthy adult dogs, a good diet transition will begin with 25% of the new diet and 75% of the old diet mixed together. On day three, make this half and half. By day five you can increase the new diet to 75% and the old to 25%. By day seven, your dog should be comfortable eating its new diet at 100%. If your dog develops stomach upsets, be sure to take a step back and go slower.
Minimize the Treats and Table Food
Many dogs will ignore their food if they know that they will receive treats and table scraps instead. Be patient and hold off on the extras until your dog eats their meal. It’s tempting to give in to your dog’s begging, but it’s more important for them to receive a healthy, balanced diet to support their health.
Make Sure the Eating Area Is Safe
Your dog may avoid their food if their mealtime area feels unsafe. Be sure to reduce loud noises and distractions in their eating area. If you have children or other pets, do your best to teach them to leave your dog alone while they eat. Otherwise, your dog may develop anxiety and food aggression due to becoming defensive of their food.
Practice Dental Hygiene
It’s important to look after your dog’s dental health. Frequently, your dog will avoid eating a full meal if it hurts them to eat. Ensure your pooch gets regular dental checkups with your vet and brush your dog’s teeth where applicable. Offer them plenty of dental chews and chew toys to support their oral health.
Address Physical and Emotional Problems
Many dogs will go off their food when they are anxious and stressed. Rather than offering more treats, be sure to find and address the root cause where you can. This might involve reducing loud noises where you’re able to, setting a routine to combat anxiety, or offering a quiet and safe place for your dog to eat.
If your dog has not eaten in two days, always go straight to your vet. Do not wait, as this can be a sign of serious illness such as gastrointestinal blockages, intestinal parasitic infections, and cancer, among others. Otherwise, be patient and stick to your routine.