Our animal companions are generally quite hearty eaters, so it can be worrying when they go off their food. It could be a sign that they’re not well or they could just be feeling fussy. Whatever the cause, our vets have lots of helpful advice.
Illness: what to do if your pet’s feeling under the weather
If your pet isn’t eating because they’re unwell, you’ll probably notice some other symptoms too:
- Behaving differently
- Being very tired or sleeping a lot
- Not wanting to drink
- Throwing up or doing runny poos.
Going off their food can be a sign of lots of different illnesses. Some are minor and others are more serious. Whether your pet has been off their food for a while or it happens suddenly, speak to your vet for advice.
Being sick and having runny poo are both a sign that your pet has an upset stomach, but they could also be caused by a more serious infection. If your pet seems to have an upset stomach, it can help to feed them little and often instead of one big meal. Call your vet if your pet isn’t feeling better in 24 hours or if you notice any blood in their sick or poo.
Rabbits: not eating is an emergency
If a rabbit doesn’t eat for more than six hours it can result in a very serious condition called ‘Gut Stasis’. This can be fatal. If you notice that your rabbit isn’t eating or stopped producing any new droppings, then this should be treated as an emergency – call your vet immediately for advice.
Rabbits need constant access to hay or grass, plus a small amount of rabbit pellets and greens each day. Here’s our advice on the best diet for rabbits.
Dental disease is a common reason for pets to go off their food. If your pet’s teeth and gums are painful, then eating will be uncomfortable for them. Other signs of dental disease include drooling, smelly breath and rubbing their face. Speak to your vet if you think painful teeth could be causing your pet’s problems. Find out more about the causes of dental disease and how you can prevent it.
Not eating after a trip to the vet
Surgery and some vet treatments could put your pet off their food for a few days. The drugs used to give your pet an anaesthetic for an operation can also make them feel less hungry for a day or two. Vaccinations can also occasionally make your pets feel a bit less energetic and can put them off their food. They should get their appetite back quickly.
Try offering your pet food with a strong smell e.g. small pieces of fish for cats or your dog’s favourite treat. This should help perk up their appetite. Try warming the food up a little to bring out the smell, which can make them more interested.
Picky pets: what to do if your pet is a fussy eater
You can usually tell that your pet is just feeling fussy because they won’t show any of the other signs of illness, such as having no energy or being sick. If your pet refuses to eat anything at all it could be a sign that they’re unwell so it’s best to speak to your vet. However, if they turn their nose up at their dinner but happily wolf down a favourite treat, it’s likely you have a picky pet on your hands! Here are some tips to get your fussy pet eating again.
Try a different food
Your pet might simply not like the taste of their food. Most pets have their own likes and dislikes when it comes to dinner time. Try offering different types of food to see if that helps their appetite. Trying both wet and dry foods can help.
If they seem to prefer something different then slowly change your pet’s diet over to their new food. Sudden changes to their diet could upset their tummy. It’s best to do this over a week or so for cats and dogs. Take a bit longer to change your rabbit’s diet.
Be strict with treats
Do you worry that your pet isn’t eating and give them tasty treats instead? Or do you always give in to those begging eyes as you eat your tea? Your pet has probably learnt that if they don’t eat dinner, something much tastier will come along soon. If this has become a habit, try to:
- Cut back on all the treats so your pet isn’t filling up on them.
- Give your pet a different dinner time from you so they won’t be tempted to stare at what’s on your plate instead of eating their own food.
- Ignore your pet when they beg for what’s on your plate – human food can be really unhealthy, and some foods can be incredibly dangerous for them.
- Put their food down at a set time. If they don’t eat it after 15 minutes, take the bowl away. Try offering them a fresh bowl in a couple of hours.
- Give them lots of praise when they eat from their bowl.
Suss out if they’re getting sneaky second dinners
Many pets are experts at begging for treats or sniffing out extra snacks. Is your ‘fussy pet’ actually full from a second dinner?
Is your dog managing to snaffle a tasty treat while they’re out on a walk? Dogs can wolf down anything they find within seconds so keep a close eye on them and teach them a command like ‘drop’. It’s also worth considering if friendly neighbours are feeding your dog through the fence. If this could be the case, keep your dog within sight whenever they’re outdoors and see if this helps. You could also try putting a sign out or a tag on your dog’s collar asking people not to feed them.
If you have an outdoor cat then it’s possible that a well-meaning neighbour could be giving them extra food. Cats have even been known to go through cat flaps into other cat’s houses and steal their dinner! Speak to your neighbours to see if your cat visits them regularly, or if your cat wears a collar you can put a note or tag on asking people not to feed them.
Change their bowl
Our pets can be very sensitive to changes in their home and something as simple as the shape or position of their bowl could put them off their dinner:
- Keep food bowls away from water bowls and litter trays.
- Each of your pets should have their own bowls, placed away from other pet’s bowls. This is especially important for cats who like to eat in peace. Feeling bullied or being interrupted can really put them off their food.
- Try a ceramic bowl. Plastic and metal bowls can hold smells which might put your pet off using them.
- Cats prefer low, wide bowls so their whiskers don’t touch the sides and they can see over the rim while they’re eating.
- Large dogs might prefer a raised bowl so they don’t have bend down too far to eat.