We all want our pets to stay happy and healthy. But if your dog is ill, one of the first things you might notice is that he or she stops eating. And while going without food for a brief time should be ok, it makes sense that you would try to gently encourage your pet to eat before calling the vet. Here are some tips on how to get a sick dog to eat.
How to Get a Sick Dog to Eat: 10 Effective Ways
What Causes Loss of Appetite in Dogs?
Before you go about trying to help a dog that won’t eat, it’s a good idea to be aware of some of the common causes of loss of appetite in dogs. Any of the following issues may be responsible:
- Recent switch to a new food
- Recovery from a surgery or other medical procedure
- Mourning the death of a human or another dog
What to Do If Your Dog Won’t Eat
Before you jump into learning how to force feed a dog who won’t eat, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with some of the best ways to get a sick dog to eat:
1. Give It Time
Dogs are sometimes like people in that they may have days where they aren’t especially hungry. It’s relatively normal for a dog to occasionally skip a meal or two. If your dog is drinking water and doesn’t have any real symptoms of illness, you might want to wait a day or so and see if your dog will start eating normally again.
Be sure to leave out your dog’s food with this method. Your pet may become hungry later in the day or outside of routine mealtimes.
2. Offer Treats
As you probably know, it’s hard for a dog to resist a treat! If your pet isn’t wanting to eat, it’s worth seeing if they’ll go for a favorite treat. In some cases, eating a treat might stimulate your dog’s appetite for regular food, too.
3. Offer (Healthy) Human Food
Most veterinarians won’t tell you to routinely feed your dog human food. But when your pet is sick, bland yet healthy forms of table food can sometimes entice them to eat. In the next section, we’ll introduce you to some of the best foods for sick dogs.
You can even try offering your dog a small amount of peanut butter. Many dogs find it irresistible, so if your dog refuses it, that could be a sign that your pet is ill.
4. Give Your Dog Broth
Warm bone broth, chicken broth, or other kind of broth has an enticing smell for people and dogs alike. And when sick, a dog’s senses aren’t at their best, so food may not smell quite as good as it usually does. Mixing your dog’s food with broth will make it smell especially good, and your pet may decide they want a bite or two. Broth also can make your dog’s regular food have the consistency of wet food — something that gets most dogs excited.
5. Try Changing Food Brands
If your dog’s diet has remained the same for a good amount of time with no issues, your furry friend probably isn’t refusing food because they don’t like the brand. But if you’ve switched to a new food recently and your dog has stopped eating, another brand would be better.
Sometimes, switching your dry food is out of the question. For instance, your vet might prescribe a special food to help with a medical condition. If this is the case for your pet, try out some of the other tips on the list instead.
6. Stimulate Your Dog’s Appetite
If your dog starts refusing food for long periods of time (and your veterinarian has ruled out any chronic illness), an appetite stimulant may be helpful. Most of these are supplements that can be added to dog foods. Make sure to only do this long with veterinary care and supervision, though! Before recommending a supplement, your vet will probably want to make sure your dog doesn’t have an underlying illness causing the lack of appetite.
7. Let Your Dog Eat Grass
You might think that seeing a dog eating grass is strange. But if your dog eats grass, it may mean they have an upset stomach. Grass will make a dog vomit. Sometimes this is a good thing — vomiting can often relieve an upset stomach for dogs.
That said, if your dog is wanting to eat grass almost every day for an extended period of time, make sure to talk to your vet. Constantly eating grass may mean that your dog has a stomach issue.
8. Heat Up Your Dog’s Food
If your dog refuses to eat, simply heating up dry food or even mixing it with warm water will sometimes help. Just like normal food for humans, dog food smells stronger and more appetizing when warm.
Of course, if your dog is ill, their sense of smell may not be as sensitive as it usually is. The smell of heated food can sometimes be enough to get your dog interested in the food bowl again.
9. Hand-Feed Your Dog
A sick pet often wants to be talked to, comforted, and even hand fed. If your dog won’t eat and/or shows other signs of illness, try hand feeding. This method is more likely to work if both you and your pet have a strong bond. Sit by your dog and offer bits of dog food, a treat your dog likes, or even a little bit of cheese or peanut butter.
10. Check on Your Dog’s Medicine
Lots of older dogs in particular take some kind of oral medications. And as you may know from personal experience, medications can certainly cause upset stomachs! If your four-legged friend takes any medication, double-check the labels to make sure you’re giving them as directed. In particular, make sure you’re giving the medication with food if the label asks you to.
What to Feed a Sick Dog That Will Not Eat
It’s understandable to wonder “How long can my dog go without eating?” But as you probably already know, it’s best to not test your dog’s limits! As you try the methods mentioned above, you might want to introduce some of these bland yet nutritious foods that can help your dog get to feeling better again.
1. Chicken and Rice
This is one of the top recommendations the American Kennel Club (AKC) has for feeding a sick dog. Boiled chicken and rice is very bland food, so it will be especially easy on your dog’s stomach. Plus, most dogs love it! If you want the best chances of getting your dog to eat, go for white meat chicken and plain white rice.
2. Baby Food
Baby food is another option that’s easy on your dog’s stomach. Look for meat-based baby food for your pet. And if your dog starts to get better and needs to move back to a normal diet, you can mix baby food with dry food, too!
If you’re looking for baby food for your dog, check labels to make sure a given food doesn’t have onion or garlic. These ingredients can be toxic to dogs, but they are very common in meat-based baby food.
3. Wet Food
Wet dog food is great for picky eaters and dogs who are refusing food. Canned food often has a stronger smell, so your dog’s nose might encourage them to eat. Wet food has a somewhat surprising additional bonus, too — since it contains a good bit of water, it can also keep your dog hydrated if they’re not drinking water. It has a smooth, blended texture, so it’s pretty easy on your pet’s stomach, too.
4. Bone Broth or Chicken Broth
We mentioned above that broth is a good additive to try if your dog refuses food. Bone broth in particular has the advantage of being very nutritious yet mild, so it can help your canine patient start feeling better soon.
5. Pumpkin or Sweet Potato
Mashed pumpkin and sweet potatoes can help to aid digestion, but they’ll be easy on your dog’s stomach. They are also packed with health-supporting vitamins! Avoid feeding pumpkin pie filling, though, as the sugar and spices can be hard on the stomach. A few tablespoons of canned pumpkin will usually help.
6. Plain Shredded Chicken
Though rice will often get a dog to eat, plain boiled chicken is another great option. Just make sure it isn’t seasoned. Seasonings can irritate your dog’s mouth and stomach. Shred or break boiled chicken into manageable pieces, and you just might be able to coax your dog to eat!
What to NOT Feed Your Dog
As we saw above, a lot of what to give a dog that won’t eat includes food for people. But as you probably know, many food items that are perfectly safe for us can cause serious illness or death in dogs. Here are some foods you should never give your dog, especially if he or she is already ill!
- Grapes and/or Raisins
- Xylitol (a type of artificial sweetener)
- Chocolate or anything containing cocoa powder
- Anything containing caffeine
- Raw meat, fish, or eggs
- Bones (except those specifically made as chew toys)
- Garlic and/or onions
- Milk or dairy
- Uncooked dough containing yeast
- Any medication intended for humans
- Macadamia nuts
- Any fruits containing pits or seeds
- Black walnuts
- Green tomatoes
***Please note that this list may not contain every single thing that could be harmful to dogs! When in doubt, always ask your veterinarian.
What About Hydration?
Understandably, if you’re concerned with how to get a sick dog to eat, you might overlook the importance of water at first. But dogs can’t go as long without water as they can without food. Most vets will tell you that a healthy dog can go maybe three days without water.
Even if your dog isn’t eating, make sure they always have fresh water available. There are also a few things you can do to encourage your dog to drink water. Giving your dog an ice cube to lick can help prevent dehydration, and adding some ice cubes to the water bowl can encourage them to drink water, too.
If your dog has vomiting and/or diarrhea, Pedialyte or a similar supplement can be a way to help replace lost electrolytes. It’s a good idea to do this with the guidance of your veterinarian, though – in some dogs, electrolyte supplements can even make vomiting worse.
In the case of a dog not eating for a week or even for a few days, it’s important to be on the lookout for signs of dehydration:
- Dry nose
- Dry mouth with sticky gums
- Dry eyes
- Poor skin elasticity (if you pinch up the skin on the top of your dog’s neck and it takes a while to move back down, that’s a good sign that your dog may be dehydrated)
Loss of appetite can be a sign of dehydration in itself as well. So if you’re worried about how long can a dog go without food, make sure to offer water before you panic!
If you observe any of these signs and you still can’t get your dog to drink water, let your vet know as soon as possible. Your veterinarian can give your dog subcutaneous fluids to restore hydration to normal levels. And of course, they can identify and treat your dog’s underlying illness.
When to Call Your Veterinarian
If you’re like most pet owners, you probably want to see how you can help your pet at home before you subject your dog to the stress of a vet visit. But how many days can a dog go without eating?
Most vets will tell you that healthy dogs can generally go about three to five days without food. But if it’s been one or two days, it’s a good idea to call your vet to ask for advice or schedule an appointment.
Call your vet even sooner if your dog is refusing to drink any water. Just like humans, dogs can become ill or worsen existing illnesses if they become dehydrated. Make sure to call your vet sooner if you notice any of these additional and potentially serious symptoms too:
- Vomiting (especially if your dog vomits more than once)
- Coughing or wheezing
- Sudden weight loss
- General lethargy
Your vet can tell you how to force feed a dog if it’s necessary. Luckily, this isn’t nearly as unpleasant as it sounds. “Force feeding” usually means coaxing your dog to eat blended food from a syringe. Never attempt to force feed your dog without guidance from a vet. If you try to force feed a dog improperly, your pet may accidentally aspirate (breathe in) some of the liquid. That can cause further health problems.
Doing Right By Your Pet
Good pet owners do their best to stay in tune with their pets’ illnesses and work to get them feeling better as soon as possible. If you’ve tried everything on the list and your dog still isn’t feeling well, be sure to reach out to your vet!
Ultimately, you know your pet best. If your dog’s behavior seems off or if you suspect something is wrong, it’s best to err on the side of caution and call your vet. Just like with people, it’s smart to deal with an illness early on before it gets worse.
Still worried about the sick dog in your life? Here are some quick answers:
The answer to this question depends on the individual dog. Generally speaking, the average house pet can go three to five days without eating before negative health effects start to set in. But in most cases, veterinarians recommend bringing your dog to the vet if they refuse food for one to two days.
So how long can a dog survive without food? Just like humans, many dogs can live a surprisingly long time without food. However, doing so is dangerous and can have very serious health consequences.
It’s usually harmless to try out home remedies for sick dogs not eating. But force feeding a dog can make the illness worse if you don’t know what you’re doing. Don’t force feed your dog without advice and guidance from your vet!