You fill your dog’s bowl and then wait. And wait. And wait. Your dog isn’t eating. Is your dog unhealthy? Does it hate its food? What’s going on when you find that your dog just doesn’t eat?

Why does my dog take so long to eat?

There are a lot of things that could incline a dog not to eat. Because dogs can’t really communicate, you may need to explore a few options:

Your dog may hate its food.

This does happen. Dogs can get bored of food just like people or may find some food unpalatable. You can try a different food, but remember that you need to transition dogs to new food slowly; you should start adding more and more of the new food over the course of a few weeks.

Your dog may be a “free eater”

Free eaters tend to graze on their food all day long rather than eating entire meals. This is probably true if you see your dog picking at their food bowl throughout the day. If your dog is a healthy weight, this isn’t necessarily bad; in fact, it means you don’t have to manage your dog’s diet as rigorously and just need to keep the bowl cleaned and topped up.

Your dog may be allergic to the food

Dog allergies do happen. If your dog experiences itching, throwing up, or unusual amounts of water drinking after eating, it could be some form of allergy or intolerance. In this event, a smart dog is going to start avoiding its food even if it’s hungry.

Your dog may be dehydrated

If your dog hasn’t been drinking a lot of water lately, or isn’t peeing often, consider dehydration. Dehydrated dogs will stop eating because they don’t want their dehydration to worsen and they can tell that they aren’t feeling well.

Your dog may have tooth pain

Tooth pain isn’t always obvious to anyone but a vet, though it can include not eating and pawing at their mouth. You can talk to your vet about the potential for dental issues.

Your dog may be feeling otherwise sick

Not eating is one of the major signs that something is wrong with your pet. So, if your dog usually eats fast and has recently stopped, it’s a sign something could be wrong.

Your dog might not need this much food

Work with your vet to calculate exactly how much your dog should eat. As your dog gets older, it needs fewer calories. It’s possible that it’s stopped eating its food as voraciously because it’s already eating too much and isn’t hungry anymore.

Some of these issues are mild and behavioral; others are more serious. Because of that, you should consider asking your vet if you can’t narrow down what’s happening. In general, if your dog shows a sudden change in behavior, it’s probably a medical issue. Sometimes it’s temporary (an upset stomach) but other times it’s more serious.

How can I get my dog to eat faster?

If your dog has always eaten slowly and there isn’t likely to be a medical issue, there are a few ways you can get them to eat faster:

  • Use toppers or gravies to make their food more appealing. If your dog is simply lackluster about dry food, for instance, you can mix in wet food to make it more palatable while still being healthy.
  • Take the food bowl away. Schedule food times, give them half an hour to eat, and then take the bowl. Your dog will learn food is only available at those times.
  • Change their food. Frequently, dogs do start getting bored with their food. Consider a different flavor in the same food line, as it’s less likely to upset their stomach than another brand altogether.
  • Eat beside them. Dogs are social eaters and sometimes they aren’t really interested in touching their food unless someone else is eating with them. If you had another dog, for instance, which recently moved to a new household, your dog may be waiting politely to eat.

But there’s a caveat. Actually, eating faster isn’t better for your dog, even if it may be convenient for you. Eating fast can actually be very dangerous for dogs, especially big dogs which can get “bloat.”

Consider whether you actually need your dog to eat faster. If eating slowly is something your dog has always done, it may not be an important behavior to break. There’s nothing wrong with measuring out your dog’s food each day and leaving it for your dog to eat at will. In fact, it’s often much healthier to let your dog meter out its food each day.

By and large, the concern with a dog eating slowly is that there could be another issue with your dog’s health. If your dog is otherwise healthy, there’s really no advantage to them quickly “cleaning their plate,” and it can even be dangerous if you get them to eat too quickly.

Why does my dog wait a long time to eat?

What’s happening if your dog is waiting a long time to eat, rather than eating slowly?

It’s possible that your dog just isn’t hungry. Like people, dogs have different levels of natural hunger. Some dogs are hungry quite frequently. Other dogs want to eat all the time, even when they should stop.

If your dog has never done this before, there’s a real possibility your dog is sick. But your dog could also be distracted or uncomfortable. If your dog is in a new location, such as traveling, it may feel too vulnerable to sit down and eat. It may be waiting for cues from you that it’s safe, such as you sitting down to eat, too.

Finally, your dog might just dislike its food. If it’s started to dislike its food, it may wait until it can’t wait anymore to eat, in hopes that it might get something else. This is especially true if you often offer treats.

If your dog hesitates to eat once or twice, it’s possible that it’s just a one-off issue. It’s very likely that a change in environment can cause this. If you have visitors over, for instance, your dog might not feel comfortable eating or may just be excited, happy, and distracted. It’s when it becomes a recurring problem that you should look into it more.

Why is my dog hesitant to eat?

If your dog isn’t just asking a long time to eat, but is actively hesitating to eat, it can be either a behavioral issue or a medical issue.

Behaviorally, it’s possible that your dog is worried or anxious. Your dog doesn’t want to eat unless it feels safe. And if you’ve been trying to encourage your dog to eat, it may be getting stressed. In fact, the best thing you can do is leave your dog alone in a separate room if you want your dog to eat peacefully. If you’re continually urging your dog to eat, your dog is going to become more anxious because it may not know exactly what you are doing or why.

Your dog could, however, also not want to eat alone. So, sometimes it may be better to sit still in a chair and ignore your dog to see if that will help.

Medically, your dog could feel ill. Most people when they are ill don’t want to eat because they are nauseated; dogs are similar. If your dog throws up, retches, or coughs while eating, this could be an issue. Also watch for your dog drinking unusual amounts of water. The best way to diagnose a dog is to take it to a professional.

If your dog has suddenly become hesitant to eat, it’s most likely a medical issue and something that you should address with the vet.

How long should it take a dog to eat?

Dogs vary.

Some dogs inhale their food. This isn’t healthy. In general, the longer a dog takes to eat, the healthier. If your dog is suddenly eating slowly or hesitating to eat when it didn’t before, that’s a bad sign of a medical issue. But if your dog has always been a slow, picky eater, that’s actually good for both their weight and their digestion.

A dog shouldn’t eat too quickly because they can make themselves sick. Bloat can become fatal. In the wild, animals like dogs tend to forage a lot and don’t eat a lot of big meals. They will scavenge smaller things unless they are hunting, at which time they’ll eat a lot of a meal at once and then potentially go days without eating. So, a regular, daily meal schedule is quite unusual for a dog and not all dogs are interested in it.

Realistically, how long a dog should take to eat is based on your particular dog. What you need to keep an eye on is sudden changes. If your dog is suddenly eating either much faster or slower, it’s a sign something could be wrong that needs to be looked into further.

Another thing you can look at when you assess your dog is whether your dog is gaining or losing weight, which can be another indication of overall health. If your dog is gaining weight, it’s possible you are overfeeding your dog and your dog isn’t eating because it’s just not hungry. If your dog is losing weight, it’s more likely that something physical is preventing your dog from eating.

Usually, your vet records will show your dog’s weight fluctuations over time so you can determine whether your dog is losing or gaining a healthy amount of weight. Many people assume that dogs should be heavier than they actually should be; a healthy weight can look “thin” in an athletic dog. 

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I created and currently manage Pet Dog Owner, the website you can go to when you have questions about your dog's behavior. It is my hope that you find Pet Dog Owner to be a helpful resource. It is also my hope that it will help you to improve your relationship with your dog. You can read more about me and my website here.