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Why is My Dog Not Eating Their Food But Will Eat Their Treats?

A person holding silver dog bowl with dog food in it as dog smells food

One morning, you suddenly notice your dog isn't eating breakfast. You offer them two or three different dishes, but they turn away from all of them. At first, you think it's a one-off occurrence and don't worry about it too much… until it keeps happening. 

But the thing is, your pet happily devours treats. They won't even think twice about grabbing them from your hand (or the floor). So why aren’t they showing the same enthusiasm for their meals?

There could be several reasons why your dog is not eating their food but will eat their treats:

It could be a health issue

If your dog's appetite has changed, it's best to take them to the vet to rule out any underlying health issues. They could be feeling unwell or have dental problems that make it difficult for them to eat some types of food. Dental issues come in many forms, some of which aren't easy to spot with the naked eye.

For example, toothache in dogs can cause them to become picky about their food, but they can never tell you where it hurts. They manage to munch on the treats because they're usually softer and easier to eat. The only way to figure it out is by visiting the vet for a thorough check-up.

Another would-be culprit is an infection or ulcer, which can cause a loss of appetite. Certain medications (even if prescribed by the vet) may alter your pup's digestive system and make them less willing to eat. So, if your pet happens to be taking some medications, it might be time to see if there's a connection between their meds and their appetite.

Stress or anxiety

Stress and anxiety in dogs are the leading cause of decreased appetite. If your dog is going through a particularly stressful period, they may not feel like eating, even if their favourite meal is right before them. If you think this might be the case with your pup, try to figure out what's causing the stress. It could be something as simple as a change in routine or environment, or it might be more serious, like a traumatic experience. Emotional problems can be more common in dogs than in cats. 

Even the slightest changes in their environment, i.e., loud noises, a change of address, or a new pet coming into the home, can cause stress and anxiety. The little things like taking them to the park and spending more time playing with them can help ease their anxiety. A dog's emotional vulnerability can sometimes be addressed to help healthy eating habits.

Nutritional deficiencies or imbalances

If your pup is not getting all the essential nutrients from their food, they might turn away from it and search for something more suited to their needs. Nutritional deficiencies happen when a dog doesn't receive the right balance of vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, and proteins. A dog's diet should be tailored to their age, activity level, and breed.

Your pup can become nutritionally deficient over time if they’re not getting the right balance of food. The best way to avoid this is to provide them with a balanced meal at each mealtime and ensure it meets all their nutritional needs. In the meantime, you can provide healthy treats with a nutritional profile similar to their regular meals.

It could be as simple as spoiled or boring food

Many times, dogs will reject food because it's gone bad. If the food is left out too long, it might spoil and lose its flavour. You'll have to keep your pup's food fresh and flavourful, or they won't be interested. 

You can also try mixing up the ingredients of their meal every now and then. If you serve them the same dish daily, it might get boring, and they will turn away from it. 

Filling up on treats and table food

white dog licking ice cream cone

You may not realize it, but it’s possible you're giving your furry buddy treats more than they need. If you feed them too many treats between meals, they may fill up on them and not have room for their regular food at mealtime. Watch out for this, and don't overdo the treats. Just like humans, snacking a lot can make meal times more difficult. 

Similarly, table scraps contribute to why your pup isn't eating their doggy food. Human foods can be more flavourful and appealing for dogs, so it's no wonder they choose to indulge in them when given a choice. 

If you want your pup to eat regular meals, don't give them table scraps or too many treats outside of mealtime. 

Intestinal parasites 

Intestinal parasites like roundworms, hookworms, and whipworms can cause various health issues and a loss of appetite in dogs. Parasites are another common issue with appetite. If your dog isn't feeling well, it will make sense that they wouldn't be interested in eating. They may still be interested in treats, but they won't show the same enthusiasm for their meals because they associate it with feeling unwell.

You should keep an eye on your dog's stools and consult a veterinarian to rule out parasites or other underlying health issues if you have concerns. A deworming medication might be prescribed by your veterinarian if there is any suspicion of intestinal parasites. 

Final Thoughts 

If you can't find an obvious answer or your pup's appetite doesn't come back within a day or two, it’s wise to consult a veterinary professional. Any underlying health issues should be investigated to get them back into a healthy eating routine. Likewise, psychological issues like stress and separation anxiety should be tackled so your dog is comfortable with their eating routine. 

If you are at all concerned, please book an appointment with your veterinarian. Catching health issues early is helpful in ensuring your dog lives a long and happy life.  

For more information and advice on pet ownership, check out our blog today. To get a pet insurance quote from PHI Direct for your pet please click here.