It can be quite worrying if your new puppy is not eating as well as you think he should be. After all, puppies are so small, they don’t have a lot of spare reserves if they go on hunger strike! In this article we look at a few tricks you could try to encourage your pup to eat, other signs to look out for, and when to take them to the veterinarian.
Reasons why your puppy may not be eating
Your puppy is fussy
Some dogs are fussy with their food. This tends to be more typically seen in toy and small breeds, who are well renowned for their picky nature. It is important not to give in to this too much, as some dogs will eat treats and meat scraps as opposed to their actual kibbles if they are given half a chance. This won’t make for a nutritionally complete diet, however.
Double-check the packet guidelines for the food you are giving your pup. You may be overestimating how much he needs. Also bear in mind that the packet guidelines are just that, a guideline. Some puppies will need a little bit less than this, just as some will need a little bit more. As long as your veterinarian thinks your puppy is growing as he should be and is playful and active then he is probably getting enough. Always seek help if you aren’t sure.
Your puppy doesn’t know he his hungry
Young puppies aren’t very good at recognizing hunger yet. Part of this is because they are so easily distracted – there are just so many other exciting things to be doing at this age!
As he grows and does more exercise, he should start to feel hunger and be more ready for his meals when the time comes.
Your puppy may be feeling a little bit stressed, which could be putting him off his food. When pups leave their mum and siblings to come to a new home it can naturally be a stressful time for them. Some dogs will take it in their stride whereas others will need a few days to get used to their new surroundings.
You can help your puppy by asking the breeder what type of food he normally eats so that you can continue to offer this while he settles in. Perhaps giving your puppy a soft toy to snuggle up with in bed might help him feel more secure if he’s missing his brothers and sisters. Calming pheromones for dogs can also help with stressful events such as this, so think about plugging a diffuser in before your new puppy arrives at your home.
Above all, don’t overwhelm your puppy. Let him come to you in his own time and try not to have too many visitors popping round to see him straight away.
Possible health condition
Your pup may not be eating because he is unwell. Many different conditions could cause your puppy to be off their food – inappetence (lack of appetite) is not a very specific sign. However, keep a lookout for other symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, and lethargy. Discharge from the eyes or mouth, coughing, or episodes of weakness would be other signs that your pup is not well.
Make sure you take your puppy to the veterinarian sooner rather than later if they are showing any signs of ill health. They can go downhill very quickly, so always get them checked over if you are worried.
How to get a new puppy to eat
1. Don’t eat at the same time as your new puppy
Your puppy may get side-tracked from their own meal by wondering what’s on your plate! Consider feeding your puppy at a different time so that he isn’t distracted by human food. Make sure you don’t feed him table scraps that could curb his appetite.
2. Try adding water
Some puppies prefer a moist texture to their food. If you are feeding a complete dry kibble then you could simply try adding some water to their biscuits. Adding enough warm water to soak their biscuits and make them a bit softer could encourage your puppy to eat their food.
3. Reduce dog treats between meals
Make sure you aren’t giving too many treats and tidbits in between meals. While training your puppy you will likely be giving him rewards when he does things correctly. Just remember to keep these treats very small and only give them when rewarding good behavior (and not just because he looks cute!).
Similarly, it can be very easy to fall into the habit of giving your dog table scraps or leftovers. All of these bits can add up, possibly making your pup feel too full for his meals. His diet could then become unbalanced if he isn’t getting all of the essential nutrients he needs. A complete diet that has been formulated for his age and size is more appropriate than table scraps.
4. Increase feeding times
Some puppies can feel overwhelmed by having large meals. It is best to split his daily rations into smaller portions spread across the course of the day. Puppies only have small tummies, so it is easier for them to eat little and often.
Most young puppies do well on 3 or 4 meals a day, but don’t feel afraid to go to 5 or even 6 meals if that works better for your pup. If they are receiving the same amount of food overall it doesn’t matter if that’s in several small meals.
5. Get your puppy moving
Just as in people, exercise can help to increase appetite. Different breeds vary in terms of their natural activity levels – some will always be on the go whereas others may need a bit more encouragement. Make sure you build some playtime into your day such as playing chase and fetch and tug of war with a rope toy.
When your puppy has had all his vaccinations he can start going for walks. Don’t expect to take a puppy on hikes or marathon training, but start taking him out gradually, building things up as he grows and becomes more active.
6. Consider spaying/neutering your puppy
This isn’t usually recommended as a specific way of encouraging your dog’s appetite, but it can be a useful side benefit. When dogs are no longer producing sex hormones, they become less focused on mating and may become more interested in other pleasures like food. Some dogs can therefore gain weight once they have been neutered.
There are many good reasons for neutering your dog, including preventing unwanted pregnancies, making training a bit easier, reducing scent-marking, reducing the risk of certain cancers and also infections (like pyometra, a serious infection of the womb that is commonly seen in older entire female dogs). Speak to your veterinarian to discuss the optimum timing for your pet.
7. Keep mealtimes peaceful & relaxing
Make sure that your puppy is not going to be disturbed while having his meals. Having lots of noise or other animals and people around can make it quite hard to focus. Give your puppy his food in a quiet area of the house where he can eat in peace.
8. Try a different brand of food
If all else fails, you could consider trying a different brand of food. However, any time you make a change in diet, do it gradually. Mix the new food in with the old food over several days to transition them over. You could also try wet food mixed in with dry kibble to help improve palatability.
Whichever diet you choose make sure it is appropriate for your puppy’s age and size. A good quality diet will usually have a protein source like meat or meat meal at the top of the ingredients list and should be approved by The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO).
When to take your puppy to the vet
If your puppy has gone off of their food altogether or if they are showing other signs of ill health then you must seek advice from your veterinarian. Puppies can deteriorate quickly if they are unwell, so it is always best to get things checked out if you are worried.
Many puppies will be visiting their vet regularly for vaccination courses or weight checks for parasite treatment. These appointments can be useful to check any general concerns you might have with your puppy’s eating habits, but don’t be afraid to bring him in sooner than your next scheduled appointment if you have concerns.
It is not uncommon for puppies to be poor eaters and to need a little bit of encouragement. Trying things like offering smaller meals, adding water to the food, and providing a calm environment to eat in can all help. Keep an eye out for any other symptoms too, just in case your puppy is poorly. Don’t hesitate to contact your veterinarian for advice – it is best to identify any problems sooner rather than later in young puppies.