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Help! My Dog Won’t Eat Her Food But Will Eat Treats!

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Dog Care By Kelsey Snyder 10 min read November 13, 2021

dog won't eat food

Many dogs go through stages where they ignore their kibble yet still inhale treats and human food. In fact, for some dogs, this is a relatively common occurrence.

This kind of food apathy is frustrating to owners, but you can do a few things to address the issue. We’ll discuss a few reasons why your dog may not want her food and share tips for encouraging her to eat more than treats below.

My Dog Won’t Eat Her Food But Will Eat Treats: Key Takeaways

  • From time to time, some dogs will begin refusing their food, while still greedily eating treats or people food when offered. This isn’t always a huge issue, but it is definitely a problem you’ll need to address.
  • While this kind of food refusal rarely represents a medical emergency, it can cause long-term health problems. Additionally, some of the medical causes of food refusal can be serious and require veterinary attention.
  • You’ll want to schedule a vet visit anytime your dog refuses food for longer than a day or two. But once your vet gives your pooch a clean bill of health, you can move on to the management tips and tricks discussed below.

11 Reasons Your Dog May Refuse to Eat Food But Will Eat Treats 

feeding dogs

Unfortunately, not every pooch is a hoover of a hound, though you can usually pinpoint why your dog is fussy about her food with some investigation. 

Here are the top reasons your dog could be avoiding her food bowl:

#1 She Is Sick

sick dogs

When you feel crummy, you might not want to eat, and dogs are no different. 

Many illnesses can reduce your dog’s appetite, making her seem reluctant to eat kibble yet willing to gobble down the tastiest of morsels, like people’s food. These ailments can range from something minor like an upset stomach to more serious underlying conditions. 

If you notice your dog is disinterested in eating, you’ll always want to start by bringing her to the vet for a complete examination. This will allow you to rule out any illnesses before investigating further.

#2 She Doesn’t Like Her Food

dog doesn't like food

Dogs can be a lot like toddlers, especially when it comes to food. You may think your pup’s kibble is tasty, but she may disagree and start a hunger strike aside from treats and other goodies. 

This is a likely explanation if you’ve recently changed her food or stopped adding flavor boosters, like wet dog food or bone broths. Fortunately, this is one of the easier causes of food refusal to fix. You may just need to try a more enticing food for picky eaters that’s meat-focused or start using a delicious meal topper.

#3 She Has Tooth Pain or Other Dental Issues

dog teeth

Dental problems make eating a real pain, particularly if your dog has a kibble-based diet that’s crunchy. 

Sadly, dental disease is common in dogs, especially  in seniors and small breeds. Cracked, decayed, or loose teeth are uncomfortable and — aside from causing her to refuse food — they put her at risk of serious infections.   

Checking your dog’s mouth regularly and performing routine teeth brushing can help detect and prevent dental issues. So, if your dog isn’t eating, check her mouth for signs of injury or infection and make a vet appointment if necessary.

#4 She’s Filling Up on Treats or People Food

dog treats

We all love giving our pooches treats, but those goodies add up. Eventually, they can curb your canine’s appetite at dinnertime.  

This is a common issue in households where several owners give the pup treats throughout the day. One or two small snacks are fine, but when given multiple cookies over time, your dog will likely be less interested in her supper. 

An easy way to avoid this in busy households is to set up a pad and paper next to the treat jar for people to mark off when your dog gets a treat. It may seem tedious, but it can also help you avoid long-term issues like obesity.

#5 Her Food Has Gone Bad

moldy dog food

Dog food has a shelf life, and old, stale food is rarely as tasty (or safe) as your pup would like. And this can lead to your pooch refusing her dinner. 

Most dry dog foods last for around a year, but always check expiration dates (or “best by” dates) before purchase to be safe. This information is usually located toward the bottom of the bag, but you might need to play a bit of I-Spy to find it on a busy backdrop.  

Also, be sure to watch for signs of spoilage, including foul smells or noticeable color changes on the kibblets.

Spoiled food should always be thrown out, and if your dog has ingested any, call your vet. A watch and wait approach works just fine most of the time, but checking in with your vet doesn’t hurt, especially if you have a puppy or senior.

#6 She’s Stressed or Anxious

dog fear and anxiety

Canine anxiety robs more than joy — it can also steal your dog’s appetite. 

There are obvious triggers of stress and anxiety in dogs like fireworks and storms, but there are also everyday causes like separation anxiety or changes in routine. Some dogs are so sensitive that strange noises,like the furnace kicking on, can frighten them enough to cause food refusal.

Signs of canine anxiety include pacing, excessive grooming, and whining. This affliction isn’t just a source of mental anguish either; untreated anxiety can lead to additional health issues. You can combat canine anxiety with a few changes in your routine, but for stubborn cases, a vet visit may be necessary.

#7 She’s Depressed

depressed dog

Just like us, dogs can suffer from bouts of the blues. These stints of depression are most common in older canines but can be triggered in any dog by changes in routine or a lack of canine enrichment or attention. 

If your dog is depressed, she may only pick at her meals and seem disinterested in playing or doing much besides sleeping. In these cases, you should always have your pup examined by a vet to rule out medical causes. 

If all is found to be okay, you can try to combat doggy depression by spending more time with your furkid, hiring a dog walker to get her out and about while you’re stuck at work, or providing other forms of stimulation and enrichment. 

#8 She Has Become Tired of Her Food

dog doesn't like food

While it isn’t very common, dogs can get sick of eating the same food day in and day out. 

So, if you’ve exhausted other avenues and your pooch still isn’t interested in her food, changing to another protein or brand might spark her appetite. Be mindful of any food sensitivities before making any changes, and always double-check the entire ingredient list before purchase to avoid issues. 

Also, note that food changes should always be made gradually, over the course of about 7 to 10 days, rather than suddenly to prevent digestive upset.

#9 She’s Aging

old dog

As our pups age, things slow down, including their appetites. This often happens because your dog likely isn’t burning as much energy running around, so her body doesn’t require as many calories. 

While eating less can be a harmless part of aging, it should always be investigated by your vet to rule out underlying health conditions. It’s also a good idea to make sure you’re adjusting your senior dog’s care routine to suit her advanced age.

There aren’t many great ways to boost an aging dog’s appetite, but your vet may have some suggestions. You may also find that simply adding a tasty topper works wonders.  

#10 There’s Something Wrong with Her Bowl 

problem with dog's bowl

The problem may not be your pooch or her food at all: It could be her bowl. Dogs can be finicky creatures, and it can be surprising how sensitive some pooches are to the bowls we try to use.

For example, K9 of Mine Editor Ben’s dog J.B. is petrified of the noises metal stainless steel dog bowls make, while my pooch Maya requires plastic or ceramic dog bowls because of a nickel allergy.

Auto-feeders, which cause a bit of a commotion when filling up the bowl, can also be a source of anxiety at times. Hygiene is also important for your hound’s appetite. If your dog’s bowl is grimy, she may refuse to eat out of it. So, be sure to clean your dog’s bowl regularly to avoid bacterial growth. 

Washing your dog’s bowl in warm water with dish soap will suffice (though a trip through the dishwasher is even better), but remember to rinse thoroughly and let it dry before the next feeding.

#11 She’s Pregnant or in Heat

pregnant dog

Hormones affect your dog from nose to tail, and intact females ride a rollercoaster of changes during a heat cycle or pregnancy. 

In addition to eating less, your female may demonstrate other symptoms of her ready-to-go reproductive status, such as urinating more frequently or being restless . Pregnant dogs typically eat more than usual as pregnancy progresses, but they can exhibit food aversion or vomiting early on. Similarly, intact males can be overly restless if an in-season female is near, impacting their appetite.

A dog in heat will have a bloody discharge or “period” that makes it obvious, whereas a pregnant dog may not show symptoms for a few weeks after mating. If you suspect that your dog is pregnant, take her to the vet as soon as you can. Providing proper prenatal care is essential to avoid complications. The only way to prevent either is by spaying your dog

General Tips for Instilling Proper Eating Habits

feeding dog

Picky eating in dogs is a headache to handle, but it’s possible to avoid the problem in many cases. Preventing feeding issues with your dog starts with a healthy routine, including:

  • Consistent feed times: Establish a feeding schedule for your dog and stick to it. This eating window teaches your dog when to eat and can help with timing potty breaks too.
  • Multiple feedings: Feeding two to three small meals can be more helpful in stoking your dog’s appetite than providing one large meal a day or allowing your pooch to graze all day long.
  • Skip the table scraps: While there are a number of people foods you can share with your dog, you must limit them to reasonable quantities. Not only are table scraps an appetite buster, but they can also teach your dog to prefer human food over her own. They’re also a major risk for tummy trouble.
  • Limit treats: Every doggo deserves treats, but too much of a good thing can wreak havoc at mealtime. Stick to one to two treats a day or switch to smaller snacks that aren’t as filling, such as green beans.
  • Practice doggy dental hygiene: Brush your dog’s teeth regularly to prevent dental disease and discomfort. It can take some practice, but maintaining an upbeat attitude and using tasty toothpaste will help your dog adjust.
  • Provide plenty of exercise: Beat woofer weight gain and depression with daily exercise. For most dogs, a fun walk around the neighborhood or a romp in the backyard will suffice, but a long walk, jog, or day at doggy daycare is needed for others. And don’t forget to provide plenty of exercise in the winter too — a time when many dogs pack on a few extra pounds.
  • Address emotional issues: Make sure your dog is happy and engaged in day-to-day life. It can be hard with life’s craziness, but an extra play session with you or a new, exciting toy go a long way in lifting your pup’s mood. 
  • Make gradual food change: Never make abrupt changes in your dog’s diet. Switching foods suddenly can lead to stomach issues or pickiness. You typically want to slowly introduce the food over a 10 to 14 day period by mixing it with your dog’s existing diet.
  • Spay or neuter your dog: If you don’t intend to breed your pooch, these procedures can curb spikes in hormones that may cause appetite disturbances.

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Has your dog gone through a picky period with her food? Any tips for owners looking to entice their pups to chow down? Let us know in the comments! 

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Written by

Kelsey Snyder

Kelsey is a K9 of Mine contributor who has worked with dogs as a shift runner and office manager of a boarding kennel. When she’s not writing, she can be found throwing a ball or losing at tug of war. An animal lover to the max, she lives in South Jersey with her husband, her five dogs Boomer, Taj, Batman, Maya, and Moxie, some kitties, and two grumpy turtles.

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