Feeding and Nutritional Problems in Dogs
All dog owners understand the distress and feeling of helplessness that comes with noticing your usually healthy dog is suddenly refusing to eat or is experiencing problems like vomiting, diarrhea, and itchy skin.
Here, we try to unpick for you some of the most common food and nutrition related problems that our pups can experience (loss of appetite, weight gain, diabetes, vomiting, diarrhea, and food allergies) and the things you can do about them.
Remember, this is general advice only. To really work out what is going on with your pup, and the best treatment plan, you should always seek the advice of a qualified veterinarian.
Loss of Appetite
Here are some of the main reasons why your dog won’t eat, and what you can do about them:
|Things that can cause a loss of appetite||What to do|
|Illness. This could be as simple as eating something that has given them an uncomfortable tummy for a short period to a sign of significant illness, including cancer, various systemic infections, pain, liver problems, and kidney failure.||Try replacing their food with plain boiled rice and chicken mince for a couple of days.
Check for other symptoms like diarrhea and vomiting.
If your pup is still refusing to eat after 48 hours and/or other symptoms continue, seek vet advice as soon as possible.
|Dental problems. If your dog has a broken or loose tooth, sore gums, or other dental disease they may not want to eat because it causes them pain.||Check your dog’s mouth for red gums, or signs of dental disease like bad breath or decayed teeth.
Switch their diet to soft food like boiled human grade mince until you can organize a professional dental check-up with your vet.
|Recent vaccination. Sometimes dogs who have recently been vaccinated can experience minor adverse effects such as a temporary loss of appetite.||Monitor the situation, which should pass in a day or so. If the problem persists, investigate other possibilities, and seek your vet’s advice.|
|Stress, travel, or unfamiliar surroundings. Dogs may stop eating if they:
· are feeling uncomfortable in new and unfamiliar surroundings
· have been on a car or plane trip – some dogs get travel sickness
· have experienced other stressful events – such as storms, fireworks, change in patterns at home, or a bad encounter with another dog at the park.
|If your dog is stressed or has moved to a new environment, try to make them feel as comfortable as possible by re-establishing exercise routines. Ensure they have access to things that are comforting to them (like their bed or a favorite toy). And give them lots of love and attention!
For motion sickness, this should pass in 24 hours.
Monitor the situation and if the problems persist for 2 days, see a vet.
|Pickiness. Some dogs can simply be picky eaters. Others may not want to eat if they don’t like the taste of their food or are fed from a bowl that is at an uncomfortable height.||Don’t assume that your dog is picky without investigating other possibilities first.
Try small portions of other foods to see if it is a taste issue (see our separate advice on how to gradually transition to a new dog food).
Try slightly elevating their bowl on a platform to reduce stress on their neck or the other feeding methods outlined in our separate article “What food should I give my dog”.
Just like humans, many of our pups are becoming overweight or obese.
In the US, obesity is the most common preventable disease in dogs. Approximately 25-30% of American dogs are obese, with 40-45% of dogs aged 5-11 years old weighing more than the ideal weight for their breed and size.
What Causes Obesity in Dogs
Some breeds of dog are more prone to becoming overweight than others (e.g. Labrador Retrievers and Beagles). But with every breed and individual dog, weight gain is generally a result of poor feeding choices, not enough exercise, or a combination of both.
Weight gain can result from feeding low quality, nutrient poor food or by accidentally feeding your dog too much. It can be difficult to keep track of how much food we are actually giving our pups each day between their normal meals, a few treats, sneaky food theft, children giving them extras off their plates, training rewards or simply because you can’t say no to those big, brown puppy dog eyes!
Why Is Excessive Weight in Dogs a Problem?
Overweight pups are more prone to musculoskeletal illness, cardiovascular disease, and the build-up of fat around vital organs, which can place unnecessary stress on the liver and the kidneys.
On average, obesity reduces the life expectancy of a dog by two years.
What Can You Do about It?
Plan for moderate weight loss, approximately 0.5–1.0 % of your pup’s total weight per week until they reach their ideal weight. Keep track of their weight and weigh them every 1–2 weeks.
Think about where your dog is getting its calories. There could be an opportunity to simply start by cutting out treats and reducing opportunities for them to steal food from other pets in the house or from food dropped under the table.
Check out our article on “What food should I give my dog” for some helpful advice on how to work out your dog’s ideal weight and the number of calories they should be consuming each day.
Take them for extra walks each day or longer walks and a play in the park to bump up their energy usage.
If their weight does not come down with any of these options, seek the advice of your vet who might recommend a special formula of dog food specifically designed for dogs that are overweight or obese.
It is estimated that around one in 300 dogs will develop diabetes mellitus. This chronic disease can affect puppies but is most often seen in middle-aged dogs of five years and older.
If your dog gets diabetes, they will probably need to be on insulin for the rest of their lives. But fortunately, recent advances in treatments means that dogs with diabetes are now living longer, healthier lives.
Causes And Signs of Diabetes in Dogs
As in humans, canine diabetes is classified as Type 1 or Type 2.
- Type 1 diabetes occurs when the dog’s pancreas fails to produce sufficient insulin, the hormone that regulates blood sugar levels. It is not caused by diet. This is the most common type of diabetes in dogs.
- Type 2 diabetes occurs when a dog’s body is producing enough insulin, but its body has become resistant to it because there is too much sugar coming in from other sources (such as through their food).
The most common signs and problems associated with diabetes are:
- frequent urination – diabetic dogs drink and pee a lot
- hunger – your dog will be extra hungry because their cells are looking for more glucose
- weight loss – particularly over the back
- vomiting – this is common if your dog also has pancreatitis
- flaky skin or an excessively dry or oily skin coat
- abnormally sweet breath
- weakness or fatigue.
What Can You Do about It?
If you see these signs in your dog, make sure you ask your vet to test him or her for diabetes so you can develop a treatment plan early and before their condition worsens.
Move your dog onto a commercial dog food that:
- is enhanced with vitamins, minerals, natural prebiotics, and amino acids
- uses premium ingredients that are not genetically modified
- is free from artificial flavors, colors, and preservatives.
Consider adding some of these items to your dog’s diet:
- digestive enzymes.
Look at reducing their weight and increasing exercise levels.
There are many reasons why your dog may experience a sudden, or acute episode of vomiting.
While an occasional, isolated bout of vomiting may not be too much of a concern, it can also be a sign of something serious such as swallowing a poison or toxic substance that requires emergency treatment. And frequent or chronic vomiting can be a sign of a more serious condition.
Vomiting that occurs irregularly over a longer period can be due to stomach or intestinal inflammation, severe constipation, or systemic illness like cancer, kidney dysfunction or liver disease.
What Causes Vomiting in Dogs
- food-related causes (a change in diet, development of a food intolerance, or ingestion of moldy, rotten food such as garbage or roadkill)
- foreign bodies (such as toys, bones that have been swallowed and become lodged in the gastrointestinal tract
- ingestion of toxic substances
- intestinal parasites
- bacterial or viral infection
- acute kidney failure
- acute liver failure or gall bladder inflammation
- travel sickness
- certain medications.
What Can You Do about It?
There are so many potential causes of vomiting that it can be difficult to work out a diagnosis.
If your dog vomits once and proceeds to eat regularly and do a normal poop, it is most likely that the vomiting was an isolated incident.
But you should take your pup to your vet if you notice any of the following symptoms or if their vomiting goes for longer than one day.
- blood in their vomit
- weight loss
- change in appetite
- increase or decrease in thirst or urination.
Depending on the cause, you may need to shift your dog onto a plain, homemade food diet for a few days (boiled rice and well-cooked, skinless chicken), or they may also require fluid therapy, antibiotics, or specific drugs to help control vomiting.
Most dogs will experience diarrhea at some point in their lives, but sometimes the issue is acute and can affect healthy dogs.
As with vomiting, there are many causes of diarrhea in dogs.
In most cases, your dog is likely to quickly improve, while in others they can become seriously unwell. If diarrhoea continues for long time, your pup can experience weight loss, dehydration, and electrolyte depletion.
What Causes Diarrhea in Dogs
- food-related causes (a change in diet – see our guide on how to transition to a new dog in a way that will reduce the risk of gastrointestinal upsets; or ingestion of rotten food such as garbage)
- parasite infections
- food sensitivities and intolerances
- bacterial or viral infections
- pancreatic issues, liver disease, tumours
- blockages in parts of the gastrointestinal tract.
What Can You Do about It?
Check that your pup’s worming treatment is up to date.
Try shifting to a high-quality food designed specifically for sensitive stomachs.
Take your pooch to the vet if he or she is a puppy, or you notice any of the following signs:
- loose stools that have persisted for more than 2 days
- stools that are watery
- blood or mucus in the stool
- your dog is lethargic, off their food, or vomiting.
Food Intolerance or Allergies
Dogs can have an allergic reaction to certain foods or ingredients in their food. An allergy is a response by your dog’s immune system that generally shows up as inflammation on their skin.
Allergic responses to a food can develop over many months or even years. But once allergic, your pup will almost always have a negative reaction to that food.
Dogs can also develop food intolerance. This means that they are not able to properly digest an ingredient in their food, which usually results in gastrointestinal upsets like vomiting, increased gas, and diarrhea.
Around 1 in 3 dogs suffer from some form of food intolerances and while it is not a serious condition, it can cause your dog discomfort. So, it is good to work out a treatment plan.
What Causes Allergies in Dogs
Most allergic reactions and food intolerance in dogs are associated with protein sources such as beef and milk products or with wheat and wheat products in your dog’s food.
Common signs of allergies or food intolerance include:
- vomiting or diarrhea
- excessive gassiness
- frequent scratching or hair loss
- red, inflamed skin
- chronic ear problems
- poor growth in young dogs
- coughing, wheezing, and sneezing
What Can You Do about It?
Because some symptoms of food allergies and food intolerance mimic those of more serious conditions, you should consult your vet if you notice any of the signs listed above.
To manage allergies and food intolerances you first need to find out which food ingredient is responsible.
The best way to do this is to run some “dietary elimination trials.” This means removing one ingredient from the food your dog eats and monitoring the effect to see whether their allergy or intolerance stays the same or improves. If nothing changes, try removing a different ingredient and keep repeating the experiment until you can isolate the allergen.
Running these sorts of trials may mean you need to try out different formulations of dog food, including recipes with different protein sources to their standard diet (such as venison, salmon, lamb, or turkey) or formulations that are grain-free.
As always, you should make sure you are feeding your dog human-grade meat and high-quality commercial dog food that uses premium ingredients that are not genetically modified and is free from artificial flavors, colors, and preservatives.
While running these trials, you should remove access to all other food sources including treats and snacks.
And your vet can also help with diagnosis and working out the best food to try and manage your pup’s allergy or food intolerance.