Adrienne is a certified dog trainer, former veterinary assistant, and author of the online dog training course “Brain Training for Dogs.”
Some dogs won’t eat food in the morning, and this can cause dog owners to be concerned, and sometimes even a bit frustrated. This is understandable. You buy your dog tasty kibble, pour it in a shiny and clean bowl and expect him to eagerly eat it as many dog food commercials show.
Instead, your dog gives it a quick sniff and then walks away. What’s up with that? Aren’t dogs supposed to eat with an appetite? Why is your neighbor’s Lab inhaling his dog food in seconds, while your dog just stares at it? Why can’t he be a chowhound as many other dogs you know?
Indeed, many dog owners have the total opposite problem: their dogs eat too fast. Of course, fast eating in dogs can turn problematic too, leading to digestive issues and even life-threatening conditions, therefore, such dog owners must find strategies to stop their dogs from eating too fast.
Dealing with a dog who turns up his nose to food in the morning though also has its problems. You may be wondering whether your dog is feeling sick, you may be concerned whether he is eating enough and getting enough calories. And of course, you may be wondering what you can do to persuade your dog to eat more in the morning.
Dogs won’t eat food in the morning due to various causes, it’s therefore important identifying the underlying cause so as to tackle the issue correctly. Below are several possible causes for dogs refusing food in the morning.
6 Reasons Dogs Won’t Eat Food in the Morning
There can be several reasons why dogs won’t eat their meals in the morning. As a starting point, you should discuss this with your veterinarian. considering that. there may be underlying medical conditions that may impact your dog’s appetite. Once medical causes are ruled out, you can consider other potential causes.
1. Feeling Under the Weather
If your dog has always eaten well in the morning, but now he’s turning his nose to his morning meals, there may be something going on in the health department.
In particular, bilious vomiting syndrome is a condition in which dogs may develop nausea (often manifested as dog lip-smacking, drooling, dog licking carpet, etc.) and vomiting which usually occurs in the early morning and consists of yellow bile.
This can happen when a dog’s stomach becomes intolerant to being empty overnight, and acid secretions cause irritation, which results in the dog vomiting bile, explains veterinarian Dr. Paul.
Other potential causes of loss of appetite in dogs include other types of digestive issues, pain and any underlying metabolic disorders.
Also, allergies and upper respiratory infections may put a dent in a dog’s appetite too, considering that loss of smell can trigger loss of appetite, and so can mouth and dental issues since dogs may come to associate the food with pain.
2. A History of Being Free-Fed
Free-feeding is the practice of leaving the dog’s bowl always full and available all day so that dogs can eat whenever they want.
Dogs who are free-fed therefore tend to learn to eat when they feel like it. Oftentimes, this means eating later on during the day when they start to really feel hungry.
This is because, when food is left out all day, it tends to lose its value. Dogs do not feel motivated to eat because it’s always readily available.
On top of this, when food is left out all day, it loses its enticing aroma, not to mention, bugs like ants may get into it which can put a dog’s appetite off.
3. Too Much Excitement Going On
When dogs are too overstimulated or excited, their appetite may go out of the window because they just can’t seem to relax enough to focus on eating.
I used to have a puppy over for boarding and training who was super happy to be let out of her crate overnight and all she wanted to do was greet us and play. When we offered her food, she would sniff it and then look for something else to do!
If we presented the food again, she would mouth it and then spit it. However, she would then eat in the late morning-early afternoon once she was calmer and more relaxed.
4. A Matter of Anxiety
Carefully evaluate what is happening in the morning when your dog is refusing food. Is there something going on that is making him feel anxious?
Perhaps, your kids are running back and forth as they are getting ready for school, or maybe your dog hears the garbage truck drive by as he is eating. If you feed your dog before going to work, it can be that your dog is too anxious about you leaving and can’t focus on eating.
You will therefore need to be your dog’s eyes and ears for a moment in the morning to carefully evaluate whether there may be something going on that may cause your dog to feel too antsy to sleep.
5. Waiting for Something Better
Some dogs may learn to skip their breakfast if they know that their owners have something better to offer.
It may start this way: you offer your dog his meal in the morning and he refuses it. Worried, you remove the bowl and offer him some of your leftover chicken instead. Your dog eagerly eats it.
The next morning, the same scenario happens. Your dog refuses the food, so you remove the bowl and offer your dog a piece from a loaf of bread.
Soon, your dog learns to hold off eating his meal because you have something better to offer. “Dogs are smart this way and will have you feeding them McDonald’s if you aren’t careful,” warns veterinarian Dr. Gregg.
On top of this, if you offer your dog peoples’ foods frequently, he is never feeling much hungry so she can choose to be picky.
6. Enjoying the Extra Attention
Some dogs really love their owners’ attention, so much so, they’ll do anything for it. Some dogs will bark when you sit down and watch TV, others may start chewing your shoes, and some others will play the “I don’t feel like eating game.”
What happens with these dogs is that they enjoy the extra attention when they make a miserable face and stare at their food bowl and you try to coax them to eat.
These dogs simply start associating feeding time with interaction with you, so they’ll do what they can do to prolong things and get as much attention they can before eating.
Of course, it’s important to grant these dogs the benefit of the doubt and rule out the possibility of medical problems before making any assumptions.
How to Get Your Dog to Eat Food in the Morning
As seen, there are several possible causes for dogs refusing to eat food in the morning. With different causes, there will obviously be different solutions. Following are several tips to help your dog eat better in the morning.
See Your Veterinarian
As mentioned, sometimes a dog refusing to eat food in the morning may suffer from some underlying medical condition. Pain, digestive issues and metabolic disorders come to mind among various possibilities. Treatment varies of course based on the underlying cause.
For instance, dogs who tend to have nausea or vomit due to acid reflux/ bilious vomiting syndrome may respond to symptomatic treatment.
A late-evening meal and/ or the addition of some gastric mucosal protectant like sucralfate or an antacid may help out, while some dogs may benefit from a prokinetic agent such as metoclopramide, explains Dr. David Twedt, a board-certified veterinarian specializing in internal medicine.
Wean From Being Free-Fed
If your dog has been free-fed and now you want your dog to start eating his meals at scheduled times, consider that it may take some time to adjust, but you will need to be strong to increase your dog’s motivation.
Basically, put the food bowl down and give your dog 15 minutes to eat. If she doesn’t eat, that a sign that she isn’t motivated to eat. By removing the bowl, you can be assured that she’ll be much more motivated to eat at the next meal, explains Dr. Christine Zink, a board-certified veterinary pathologist in her book Healthcare and Nutrition For Dummies.
Usually, most dogs grasp the idea after skipping two to three feedings and feeling hungry enough. Important is to not feed any people foods or treats or the dog will come to learn to hold off the food in hopes of these getting these goodies and the extra attention. Some dogs may get more hungry if they are walked first thing in the morning.
However, if your dog doesn’t seem to build an appetite after repeated offerings, it’s best to consult again with your vet to ensure there’s an underlying problem.
Offer a Calm Environment
Dogs who are overly excited or anxious certainly benefit from a calmer environment. Give your dog a quiet place away from the hustle and bustle of kids getting ready for school or outdoor noises.
Avoid petting your dog, interacting with him and giving too much attention in the morning as this can get him excited and thinking about play more than eating. Keep toys away and out of reach and other dogs separated if your dog only thinks about starting to play.
You want to therefore pick a spot that is near people, but not in a high-traffic area. A corner of the kitchen, a specific spot in the family room or a designated area in the laundry room with the door open may work well depending on your family’s normal activities, suggests Liz Palika, in her book The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Natural Health for Dogs and Cats, A Holistic Approach to Caring for Your Four-Legged Friends.
If your dog is anxious because you are leaving for work, you may find these tips helpful.
Watch for Extra Feedings
Sometimes, dog owners aren’t always aware of what may be going on in their household. You may need to put your investigative hat on to rule out these possibilities.
A dog who skips breakfast may be holding off because toddlers are dropping foods under the table when the owners aren’t watching or Rover is sneaking off and starts eating the cat’s breakfast. Or maybe he’s raiding the trashcan when everybody has fallen asleep.
Ensure the Food Is Okay
Sometimes, dogs may be telling us something we aren’t aware of. That reluctance to eat in the morning may be due to something amiss about his food. The dog will eat it though in the evening and force himself when he’s super hungry.
So make sure that bag of kibble is OK. Check the expiration date and check online whether there were any recent ingredient changes or recalls. Inspect it visually for signs of mold and take a whiff to see if there are any rancid or odd smells.
“With all of the commercial pet food recalls, if your pet walks away from a previously liked food, it may be bad. It may be contaminated or perhaps the fatty acids have turned rancid,” points out Dr. Narda Robinson in the book The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Natural Health for Dogs and Cats.
So always give your dog the benefit of doubt. I remember getting an influx of calls from dog and cat owners making appointments for their pets not eating as well as they used to when working for a vet somewhere around spring of 2007. This sadly coincided with the infamous melamine food recall that year.
If she doesn’t eat, she waits until the next meal. Believe me, she won’t starve herself. Do not let her have any table food or treats while you do this. If you need to reward her, use pieces of kibble only. You just need to be more stubborn than the dog, that is all.
— Dr. Karen Purcell, veterinarian for JustAnswer
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
© 2021 Adrienne Farricelli