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Why Is My Dog Not Eating But Drinking Water?

Has your dog suddenly stopped eating, but is still drinking water, leaving you baffled as to what is causing this lack of appetite?

If so, you are right to be concerned.

Most dogs jump at the chance to scarf their morning or nightly meal—they actually look forward to it eagerly.

Thus, when there is a sudden change in this pattern, it may be indicative of a serious problem.

To help you make sense of this abrupt turn of events, in this article we will list and explain just some of the many reasons why a dog may stop eating (and still drink water).

And for each of these reasons, we will suggest ways to handle or address the problem.

Why Would a Dog Stop Eating but Still Drink Water?

Before we get into the many reasons why a dog may stop eating, let us first address why he might continue to drink water.

First of all, there are a bevy of conditions and circumstances (as you will see in the next section) that can cause a loss of, or at least a precipitous drop in, your dog’s appetite.

At the same time, these same conditions will usually NOT lead to a drop in thirst.

While there are certainly some conditions that can cause your dog to refuse anything by mouth—food or water—those conditions, like serious mouth pain from dental issues, are fairly rare by comparison.

Just like humans, our pets instinctively know they need to consume water to survive, and they will thus continue to take it in, even when causes and conditions are present that lead to a loss of appetite.

Therefore, even if your dog is refusing food, you should continue to provide him with clean water every day—water he will (usually) continue to drink for survival.

My Dog Is Not Eating.  Why? And What Should I Do?

Now that we have covered the food vs. water question, let’s dig in deeper to some of the reasons why a dog may stop eating—and the steps you can take to address each potential cause.

Important to note here is that, while all dogs may occasionally demonstrate a loss of appetite, any extended period of non-eating can be very dangerous to the health of your pet, and thus necessitates a trip to the veterinarian.

Here are just some of the reasons, ranked in no particular order, that might explain your dog’s sudden loss of appetite:

Dental Problems

The broad term “dental problems” can comprise a myriad of different issues—issues that can either make it painful for your dog to eat or lead to a general loss of appetite.

Some of these dental problems may involve:

  • Tooth Decay.  Although we as owners rarely consider it, dogs can suffer from some of the many same dental issues as humans, including cavities.  Tooth decay, especially in the back molars or grinding teeth, can make it very painful for a dog to eat.  Moreover, drinking water will usually not cause the same type of pain in these instances, so you might not notice a change in this area.
  • Tooth disease.  Tooth disease can also lead to mouth pain or loss of appetite.  Also called endodontic disease, tooth disease describes any problem that damages the inner or outer part of the tooth, problems that can include injury, tooth fracture, enamel abnormality, and tooth decay.
  • Gingivitis and Periodontic disease.  Dogs suffering from gingivitis may begin to experience inflammation in their gums—inflammation caused by plaque and other bacteria—and the result can be a very painful eating experience.  In periodontitis, or periodontic disease, this inflammation and resultant damage can be even worse, perhaps even leading to infections, as well as damage to the ligaments and bones that form the foundation for the teeth.
  • Structural problems and deformities.  Whether because of innate genetical deformities, or yet unerupted teeth, sometimes a dog’s mouth and gums can become unbalanced and sore, therefore make eating more difficult and often painful.

Quite frankly, the best way to deal with dental problems in your dogs is to prevent them in the first place, as treating them is not only very expensive but can also be quite uncomfortable for your four-legged pal.

Regularly brushing your dog’s teeth with an approved formula, and taking him in for scheduled dental screenings with your vet, can both go a long way towards preserving the health of your dog’s teeth and gums.

If you feel a new dental problem of some kind is currently plaguing your pet, you can help ward off further damage through quick action—by getting him to a vet ASAP for treatment of the problem.

Non-Dental Health Concerns and Illnesses

While it’s true that there are a whole host of dental problems and issues that can dissuade dogs from eating as robustly as they normally might, it is yet truer that there are even more non-dental health issues and illnesses that can lead to a significant loss of appetite in canines.

Many of these illnesses and conditions directly affect the stomach, intestines and other parts of the gastrointestinal system.

Others, while not primarily linked to this system, can also cause appetite loss.

A brief sample of these diseases includes:

  • Gastrointestinal blockage.  A gastrointestinal blockage describes any type of blockage in the stomach or intestines that hinders food digestion and the elimination of waste product.  Slow food transport (caused by pain medication or certain health conditions) and the consumption of non-food products, such as sticks, rocks, dirt or even children’s toys, are two of the most common reasons for gastrointestinal blockage.
  • Infections.  Bacterial and viral infections can also cause a loss of appetite in your pooch.  These infections do not have to be based in the gastrointestinal system, either.  Upper respiratory infections, for example, can sometimes lead to a loss of appetite—a loss experienced as your dog’s immune system fights hard to ward off the infection.
  • Hormonal problems.  Problems with your dog’s endocrine system, which is responsible for producing and regulating hormones in the body, can also lead to a loss of appetite.  Hyperthyroidism, for example, is a major reason for this problem.
  • Cancer. Cancer, regardless of where it originally forms in the body, is known to decrease a dog’s appetite and can lead to dramatic weight loss.
  • Anxiety and depression.  Problems with a dog’s appetite are not always limited to its physical body.  Sometimes, these problems originate in the brain in the form of mental/emotional disorders.  Both anxiety and depression fall into this category, and both can result in a loss of appetite.

Of course, these are only a few of the many conditions that can lead to appetite loss in dogs.

Other diseases, such as those affecting the kidneys, cardiovascular system, liver, pancreas, and neurological system, can also cause this symptom.

Fortunately, health issues that cause a loss of appetite are not very common in dogs.

Unfortunate, however, is the fact that your dog cannot always tell you when he is suffering from a condition that is having this effect.

That’s why it is so important that you keep a close eye on your dog so you can notice any changes to his usual patterns.

Look for other symptoms that may also be indicative of a health problem—fatigue, listlessness, tenderness—and get your pet to the vet for treatment.

Vaccinations and Medications

Many of the most common vaccinations given to dogs, along with some of the medications used to treat certain diseases, can cause stomach upset and a general loss of appetite.

Vaccines, for example, especially those that help prevent Parvo and distemper in dogs, can have this effect, as can antibiotics that are used to treat bacterial infections.

While this is certainly not a favorable side effect to vaccines and medications, you need to weigh these drugs’ effectiveness against their risk.

Each year, vaccinations prevent millions of dogs from contracting potentially deadly diseases; and medications used to treat diseases can also have these life-saving effects.

Moreover, the loss of appetite your dog may experience from taking these drugs is almost always temporary, while certain diseases can be severely life-altering (or life-ending).

Remember that your vet has recommended these drugs because they view their benefit outweighs the risk.

Therefore, you should continue to give your dogs vaccinations and meds as prescribed, while coping as best you can with the side effects, including a loss of appetite.

Schedule and Routine Disruptions

Finally, let’s address schedule and routine disruptions as causes for a dog’s loss of appetite.

Most dogs, as you know, get into a nice routine.

They eat at certain times of the day and at a certain location, sometimes using the same bowl over and over again for years.

This routine is very good for your dog.

It adds to the overall health and stability of your pet, making him not only well-nourished, but also calmer, more confident and less anxious.

Given this information, it only makes sense that any changes to this routine could also result in negative changes within your dog, most notably a loss of appetite.

For example, when you travel with your dog—or if you have recently moved—you may notice a decrease in his usually hearty appetite.

These changes can be stressful for your pooch, and stress can cause these types of physiological changes.

If you do plan to make any significant changes to your dog’s routine, we recommend doing so gradually if you can, or at least try to mitigate them.

For example, if you are traveling with your dog, be sure to maintain the normal feeding time, and bring your dog’s bowl along on the trip.

Even modest changes and disruptions can throw your pet’s system for a loop, so be mindful of these changes as much as possible.

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National Canine Research Association of America