As dog owners, we instinctively want to ensure our new puppy is not only surviving but also thriving. It is natural to pay close attention to their energy levels, toileting habits, and appetite. If we notice they are eating less than expected, we may soon start to worry.
Sometimes a dip in appetite is normal and not a concern, while other times it’s a red flag and can indicate a serious issue. Read on to discover when you should worry and for what reasons a puppy may go off their food.
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Feeding Your Puppy
Puppies are usually bouncy and cheeky; full of life. Their hyperactivity and boisterous nature mean that they need frequent naps as well as regular meals. Depending on their age, most pups will eat 3 to 4 times a day.
We may feed them dry kibble, wet food, or a combination of the two. Most owners will usually offer some ‘extras’ such as training treats, chews, and possibly a small amount of human food such as fresh meat, grains, and vegetables.
Their calorie requirements will depend on their age, size, breed, and activity levels. It is sensible to weigh your puppy regularly (at least once a week) to ensure they are gaining weight as they should.
We should also get used to assessing their Body Condition Score; a tool that can help us determine if they are over or under-weight. This scale works in puppies as well as in adult dogs and is universal for all breeds.
We should offer a complete food that is specifically marketed for puppies as it will contain more calories, protein, and calcium than adult dog foods. The kibble should not be too large for your pup’s jaw and the food should be highly palatable.
Ideally, offer your dog the same food they were being fed by the breeder to avoid stomach upset. However, if you wish to change their diet for whatever reason, this should be done gradually over the course of 5-7 days.
Main Reasons Why Your Puppy Won’t Eat Their Food
If your puppy turns their nose up at their food bowl, or eats a mouthful or two and then walks away, this is something we should pay attention to. Possible causes include:
- Fussiness. This is especially likely if your pup will happily chow down on treats and snacks and seems otherwise well. Small breeds are more likely to be fussy than larger dogs
- A medical issue such as an infection, nausea or a source of pain
- A gastrointestinal obstruction caused by e.g. a parasite burden, telescoped gut or foreign body
- Teething. Signs of teething can include red gums, drooling and an insatiable desire to chew on just about everything
- Warm weather. Heat will usually cause a dog to temporarily eat less and to be less active
- Dislike of their food (whether it be due to the texture, temperature or flavour)
- Stress due to e.g. recent rehoming or sharing their home with another pet who they feel intimidated by
- Feeling full due to a surplus of chews and training treats given throughout the day
- If the food on offer is spoiled due to being left out in the heat, your pup is likely to decline it
It is also worth discussing the fact that a puppy’s dietary needs and calorie requirements change dramatically over the course of the first year of their lives.
A young puppy requires about 3 times more calories than they will when fully grown. As they mature, their growth rate slows and they start to eat less. For many, at about 6 or 7 months of age, their calorie requirement takes a natural dip.
Most owners are unprepared for this and worry that their young dog is eating less than they used to. The fact is, that when a dog has completed the bulk of their growth, they simply do not need as much ‘fuel’ as they once did.
In these cases, dogs remain happy and healthy and continue to eat, albeit in smaller amounts or less often. Smaller breeds such as Chihuahuas and Maltese dogs tend to see the biggest dip in appetite.
How Long Can Puppies Go Without Eating?
This question is not easy to answer. How long a pup can go without food will depend on if they are healthy or not, what size they are, and on other things such as the ambient temperature and their hydration level.
Typically, puppies eat and drink a few times a day. As a rule of thumb, a pup will eat four times a day when first brought home. This reduces to three times a day at about 12 weeks.
Most dogs are down to 2 meals a day by the time they are 6 months old. Some owners keep feeding 2 meals daily for life while others will reduce down to one meal a day.
If a very young puppy (under 12 weeks) misses more than one meal, it is time to start to worry. Conversely, we are unlikely to become concerned for a healthy and active 6-month old until they have gone about 24 hours without food.
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Safe Tips To Encourage Your Puppy To Start Eating Again
Sometimes, a few tweaks to your pup’s diet will have them chowing down and licking up every last trace from the bottom of their bowl. Before panicking and fearing the worst, try these tips to see if you can encourage your puppy to get eating again:
- Add some warm water to their kibble. Not only will this create a yummy and meaty gravy, it also releases the natural aroma of the food which most pups find irresistible.
- Offer something other than kibble such as a sensitivity wet food or a few pieces of white chicken breast or turkey. Importantly, this isn’t something we should do every day, but can be useful when concerned. Doing this too regularly can create a fussy pup.
- Offer some food from your hand. Again, we don’t want this to become a bad habit however, if worried about your pup’s lack of appetite, see if they will accept some food from a spoon or your hand.
- Instead of feeding your pooch from a bowl, keep things interesting by offering their meal in a snaffle mat, lick tray or Kong. This way, they will see dinner time as a game rather than a chore.
- Cut right back on any treats, chews or dental sticks. It is important that these ‘extras’ only make up 10% or less of your dog’s diet. Your puppy’s food contains important nutrients for their development and it is essential that they eat it.
- If your pup is a bit of a lazy bones, try to encourage activity as much as you can. This may mean taking them on a new walking route, introducing a paddling pool or playing with some interactive toys. The more calories they burn, the more of an appetite they’ll have.
- Address any teething pain that may be present. Specialised chew toys may help, as can offering a rag that has been dipped in puppy-safe broth and frozen. If struggling with teething, your vet should be able to prescribe some anti-inflammatories and pain relief.
- Ensure there are no obvious causes of stress. For example, if your older dog is always nearby and watching your pup as they eat, remove them to give your younger dog some space. Similarly, you may think about keeping the kids out of the room in case your pup is intimidated by them (especially if they are noisy!).
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When To Be Concerned
While a puppy missing a meal isn’t always a concern, we do need to pay close attention to how they are acting.
If they seem to be lethargic, in pain or nauseous, it is always best to have them examined. Similarly, if refusing a meal is becoming a habit, this needs to be investigated. Let your vet know if your puppy is not growing as expected or is consistently eating below their calorie requirement.
Worrying signs would include:
- Vomiting or diarrhoea
- Lethargy or weakness
- A bloated abdomen
- Pale or dry gums
- Repeated refusal to eat
If your puppy is under 3 months and misses more than one meal, it’s worth calling your veterinarian for further advice. By 6 months old, if they don’t eat for 24 hours, it’s then time to speak to your veterinarian.
Additionally, if your puppy is ALSO refusing to drink, your veterinarian should be called right away regardless of age. Fluid refusal on top of food refusal needs to be looked at right away.
Take Home Message
Puppies need to eat regularly to ensure that they grow and develop as they are supposed to. They should be eating a puppy-specific diet that meets all of their needs and should not be getting more than 10% of their calories from treats.
Repeated refusal to eat meals should be looked into and may point towards a medical issue.
The eating habits that you establish now will last your puppy well into their adult years, so start as you mean to go on.
If you are keen to feed a dry diet, stick to your guns and don’t let your puppy’s fussiness be a reason for changing them on to wet food.
As a puppy can become unwell quickly, never hesitate to contact your vet if you are concerned about them and their eating habits.
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Additional Info: VetsNow (Dog not eating)