Why Doesn't My Dog Eat When I'm Gone?

Adrienne is a certified dog trainer, behavior consultant, former veterinarian assistant, and author of "Brain Training for Dogs."

My Dog Won't Eat When Home Alone, What Gives?

Many dog owners are often baffled when they find out that their dog refuses to eat when left alone. What gives? These are the same dogs who, given the opportunity, would eat a truckload of food. It's not at all abnormal though, and if you ask many dog owners, you'll get several reporting the same problem. It could be your dog doesn't eat the bowl of kibble you have left out for him, or it could be he won't even look at the tasty bone he could chew to his heart's content. Yet, the moment you come through the door, Rover goes rushing to go enjoy his goodies. So what on earth goes on in Rover's mind to cause him to lose his hearty appetite? There are several explanations for this behavior.

Possibility 1: Separation Anxiety

While many dogs who suffer from separation anxiety won't eat when left alone, this isn't a general rule of thumb. Some dogs with separation anxiety may still eat, even if they are acting panicky and are unable to settle for the rest of their owner's absence. Dog trainer and author Nicole Wilde dispels this common myth by explaining that chewing can be a stress reliever and many distressed dogs will feel compelled to excavate Kongs, gnaw on bones, and empty food-dispensing toys.

So don't be too quick to assume that Rover must necessarily be suffering from this form of anxiety if he refuses to eat when you're not around. Consider also that, nowadays, separation anxiety is misdiagnosed with quite some frequency by laypersons, as explained by Pat Miller in her article on Separation Anxiety on the Whole Dog Journal. A real dog with separation anxiety will manifest distress, destructive behavior, house soiling, and excess vocalizations. If you record your dog's behavior when you leave the home and see any of these signs, consult with a behavior professional to determine if your pooch is really suffering from this serious problem.

Possibility 2: Territory-Related Tension

Some dogs are quite comfortable being left alone. They may perhaps alarm bark a couple of times when they hear some odd noise, but then they'll settle, perhaps eat a bit and then snooze for the rest of the day. Others may be much more apprehensive and will spend most of their time sounding the alarm for every slightest noise. Some of these dogs are unable to relax, but not because they miss their owners, but more because they aren't secure in their environment and not comfortable in the role of protecting their territory. Then, once the owners return, these dogs feel very relieved because they no longer must carry the burden of protecting the home and that's when they feel safe again to dive into their food, explains veterinarian and author Myrna Milani.

Possibility 3: History of Supervised Eating

Many dog owners unknowingly have established a history of supervised eating. Since early puppy hood, the puppy has learned the essence of community, social eating. Most likely, he was used to always eating in the kitchen with you standing by his side at all times. It may have happened that you got up to leave the room, you noticed your dog didn't eat but rather followed you, so you came back right away and made sure you would be always with him so he could hurry and finish his food.

How to Get Your Dog to Eat When Left Alone

The resolution of the problem will depend on what ultimately causes it. Dogs suffering from real separation anxiety will need days, weeks, months, and even years of behavior modification before they are comfortable being left alone. Dogs who are insecure in protecting their territory often improve if you work on rising their levels of confidence and making departures and arrivals as low key as possible.

An important role is played by making their environment feel safe. Cover up noises by leaving a radio or the TV on. Sound machines may be great in creating white noise so your dog doesn't feel threatened by the slightest outside noises. Visual barriers that cover windows may also help a dog "put his guard down." An alternative is limiting access to rooms where they are more exposed to outdoor sights and sounds.

Exercising your dog before leaving the home is a good way to drain energy that may be otherwise used to patrol the home all day. A comfy bed should be very inviting so your dog will choose to relax. Make sure no neighbors or mail carriers will ring the bell or knock on the door when you're away. If you have a gate, lock it, so nobody will get too close for comfort. The more you make your dog's environment feel safe and secure, the less your dog will feel stressed in your absence.

For dogs who have made eating a social habit, you'll need to gradually train them to even eat in your absence. Install a baby gate and teach him to eat at first with you right behind the baby gate, then practice being out of sight for a few seconds. Make it a habit of tossing some treats and then leaving, then coming back, tossing some more treats and leaving again. Great things happen when you leave! For more on reducing clingy behaviors read and instilling more independence read: "How to Stop a Dog from Following you Everywhere"

Questions & Answers

Question: My dog refuses to eat without me, but it's not like he is alone. There are my other families too who live together with us. But he won't eat even though he is hungry and wait for me to go home no matter how late. Why is this?

Answer: It sounds like your dog has developed a strong emotional attachment to you and seeks your presence to feel comfortable enough to eat. It could also be a matter of habit if you have always been the main person feeding him.

Question: Why does my dog not eat and sleep while I am not at home? When I am home, he will follow me into every room I go in, including the bathroom.

Answer: He is likely too concerned to be comfortable to eat or sleep. You may wish to record his behavior when you are away and have a dog trainer or behavior consultant take a look to determine whether he may have separation anxiety.

Question: I’m taking care of a friends dog and he refuses to drink or eat. What should I do?

Answer: Hopefully, the dog isn't feeling ill. I would inform your friend just to keep them updated. If this is the first day with you, the dog may be slightly anxious and when dogs are anxious their appetite is often the first to go. Try tossing some kibble and making it a fun game while you talk calmly to the dog. Ask the dog a behavior (sit, down) and see if he takes the kibble as a reward. Offer several opportunities to eat. Do all you can to keep the dog less stressed. Avoid loud noises, excess commotion, walk slowly and get up slowly from sitting. Most dogs start eating on the second day. To encourage drinking, try to take the dog on a walk or to play with you, get him to get a bit tired. Most dogs drink right afterward. Play and walks can also help the dog relax. Skipping a meal or two isn't unusual when dogs are in new environments. My Rotties didn't eat for three days when we boarded them when they were young. It's more important to get him to drink than to eat for now.

Question: When my dog goes to stay with my parents, he does not eat or drink for a few days. They have another dog now, who is still a puppy. My dog used to eat out of their old dog's bowl as they shared everything, why is he like this now?

Answer: It sounds like your dog misses you and is a bit anxious from this change in routine.

Question: My dog refuses to eat or leave her spot (the couch) even if I leave her with my sister. She also whimpers and howls while I’m gone and refuses to eat when I’m home. Is this anxiety?

Answer: If she whimpers and howls when you are out of the home this can be a sign of separation anxiety or stress. If she refuses to eat when you're home too though, this can be a sign of a medical problem that should be investigated by a vet.

Question: I left my dog with family while I am away on a trip, but now she isn't eating. Why?

Answer: Sorry to hear your dog isn't eating. Your dog may be missing you and the new routine may have caused her some stress. Fortunately, she'll soon understand that she's taken well care of, and will resume eating in no time.

© 2014 Adrienne Farricelli

Adrienne Farricelli (author) on February 17, 2020:

Vanessa, we had a similar issue. When we left our Rottweilers in a boarding facility as pups, they refused to eat for an entire 3 days. It made it very difficult for us to want to travel any longer. It may help to get him used to being fed by your daughter/boyfriend when you are around, and then when you are out of sight for a few seconds and then gradually work on some longer absences, mixing in some shorter ones as well.

Vanessa on February 17, 2020:

My English Bulldog,Diego, refuses to eat or drink when I am gone. I left for 5 days and he didn't eat or drink even though he was with my boyfriend and his daughter in our home. He will not leave his bed until he is coaxed to go outside. After 2 days he couldn't even pee or poop as he hadn't intaken anything. Very hard for me to go anywhere for more than 1 day. Even 1 day with me gone he will not eat it drink. My boyfriend tried to give him his favorite treat peanut butter and he wouldn't eat it.

Beth on September 04, 2019:

My 6 lb. Yorkie has a very interesting habit. Every morning when I say goodbye I have to go to work. He runs to his food bowl for a nugget and brings it pack to eat on the floor. He will do this every time he sees me go to the door. My husband is retired and stays with him during the day. Why does my dog do this?

Laura on March 30, 2019:

My dog whenever I leave my house to go out he will not eat, listen, or go to the bathroom outside. And he just stared doing this about 2 years ago he is now 8.

Adrienne Farricelli (author) on March 17, 2018:

Deborah, if it helps you, when I boarded my Rotties once in a kennel they refused to eat for 3 days straight but then on the fourth day they finally managed to eat.Of course, I was very upset as I was calling the kennel every day asking whether they ate. I doubt that she would starve herself. Maybe a few days prior your departure it may help somewhat if your son feeds her when you come home just to get her used to him feeding her.

Deborah on March 08, 2018:

I traveled to another state over the New Years holiday. I left my dog, who has bonded closely with me since I first held her when she was rescued, with my son to take care of. Her appetite was off, but she did eat some. Now, I leave every other day for several hours during her feeding time and no matter who she stays home with, she sleeps, but refuses to eat at all until she see me enter the house. I’m worried that if I go on another trip, she will refuse to eat at all now. Should I be worried that if we are separated again, she won’t eat at all?

Why Doesn't My Dog Eat When I'm Gone? - pets

I've wondered about this for a long time. Sometimes when I have to leave the house for a while, I'll give Lily a treat as I'm telling her goodbye. NEVER will she eat the treat until I come back home. It's kind of funny, when I return she greets me with excitement, then she runs to wherever the treat was left, and devours it.

Any other time I give her a treat (when I'm not leaving the house), she eats it right away.

Dogs are almost like humans at times. they sense things.

When in the Army there was this one guy that always ate his desert pie/cake/ice cream first and then rest of the meal.

Had one dog for 14 yrs that would eat all of his bowl clean before eating the extra treat that was inside.

His son on the other hand goes for the cookies (figure of speech) first and then eats his dry food last.

I always give my dog a treat of sorts after returning from shopping and he will sit and wait while I put thing away.

They sense things or recall a treat was given at a certain time. at times they are almost human.

I've wondered about this for a long time. Sometimes when I have to leave the house for a while, I'll give Lily a treat as I'm telling her goodbye. NEVER will she eat the treat until I come back home. It's kind of funny, when I return she greets me with excitement, then she runs to wherever the treat was left, and devours it.

Any other time I give her a treat (when I'm not leaving the house), she eats it right away.

Yes! Same thing with Lily and her water bowl.

What was particularly odd about what she did yesterday, was I tossed TWO biscuits (I guess I was feeling generous I normally give her only one) on the floor. They landed a few feet apart. When I came home they were smack-dab right next to each other, looking very organized and tidy! Haha!

Another thing she does: if I put her in her crate before I leave, and toss a treat in there, she not only doesn't eat it, but she "buries" it! She'll tug on her blanket with her teeth, nudge it with her nose, over and over, until the treat is well covered by that blanket. When we come home, we let her out of the crate, she greets us with licks and excitement, then runs back to her crate to "unbury" the treat and eat it. Amazing to me that she remembers that it's there.

Our theory (joking) is that maybe she thinks, just in case we don't ever come back, she'll have at least one morsel of food left for her survival until she is found!

8 Reasons Why Your Cat Is Not Eating

It's common for a cat to suddenly decide it doesn't want to eat a certain food or treat anymore. But sometimes a cat stops eating for a more serious reason. You should be aware of the potential causes and concerns for a cat's food aversion. There may be things you can do at home to help your cat regain its appetite, but sometimes veterinary intervention is necessary.


Dog Not Eating after Other Dog Died

My Border Collie had a similar reaction after the death of my husband. Try feeding him while you eat and close to you. He is very sad and lonely and needs to feel close to someone. Maybe even go as far as to sit on the ground to eat and then lots of love and relaxing after. Dogs get depressed too. As a last resort for my dog I had my vet prescribe Zanex for a couple of months as my dog also developed anxiety problems. This helped a lot to. Best of luck. (12/01/2008)

Dog Not Eating after Other Dog Died

I had a similar problem when my female Chow died. Her pal our younger Golden Retriever would not eat anything or drink water out of their communal water bowls both inside and out. I tried different foods, but nothing worked and he would eat very little if at all.

I went to Petco and asked one of the workers there if they had any ideas of what to do. The girl suggested that I buy all new water and food dishes which I did and it worked. Sounds crazy, but it worked. (12/02/2008)

Dog Not Eating after Other Dog Died

We had the same experience. I have been hand feeding my dog for 10 months now. She has never gotten over the lose of her life time buddy. I sit in the floor and she eats out of my hand. (12/02/2008)

Dog Not Eating after Other Dog Died

Hand feeding and sitting with the dog are good ideas. However, you may want to take her to the vet to rule out any medical problem that happens to be coincidental to the loss of her companion. (12/02/2008)

Dog Not Eating after Other Dog Died

We experienced this problem too. What worked for our surviving dog was to feed her small amounts of real meat for a while. Then, we mixed the cooked beef/chicken in her dog food, and continued to have more dog food, less meat, until she was back on her normal diet.

Be patient, it takes a while. Your dog is truly grieving and who knows how long it might take for them to come around. Please talk to your vet, too. As mentioned above, there are medications to help during this period of adjustment.

Dog Not Eating after Other Dog Died

So sorry to hear about your loss. We also are going through the same kind of sadness, our Lab mix, Suzie, was put to sleep on Dec. 6 and her "brother", Toby, has been grieving, too. He didn't eat for several days, but is back to his usual diet now.

We put all of Suzie's dishes away, they ate separately. It's important to keep them on the same routine, but just know that they grieve, too. Toby is not the same dog and I know from previous experience he never will be after losing his sister. Be patient, feed him broth, baby food, poached chicken, canned dog food, whatever you can tempt him with.

But also do check with the vet. Our girl, who died, also quit eating and she was very ill with a tumor in her chest, so check out that part first. So sorry for you, it hurts a lot, I cry every day over my lost Suzie. (01/26/2009)

My dog won’t eat, what should I do? Dog not eating causes

Has my dog got anorexia?

Animal eating disorders are more common than people think. Anorexia in animals simply means a loss of appetite (as opposed to not being hungry). There are two types of anorexia. True anorexia is a genuine refusal to eat and is strongly associated with serious illness, while dogs with pseudo-anorexia do want to eat but can’t because of difficulty chewing, picking up, or swallowing food.

Your dog will be diagnosed with anorexia if they change their eating habits and consistently refuse to eat. You should be particularly concerned if your dog has always been a good eater but suddenly goes off food.

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Causes of my dog or puppy not eating or drinking

Dogs may go off their food because of changes in their environment, stress, an adverse reaction to drugs, and nausea. Dental problems, pain and internal obstructions can also cause dogs to lose their appetite. There is also the possibility your dog is just fussy and turning their nose up at the food you’re offering them, but it’s important you establish this is the case with your vet and rule out other causes.

In some cases, however, there may be another reason your dog won’t eat. As is the case with humans, loss of appetite in dogs is a common symptom for lots of serious diseases and conditions. There are many causes that can lead to your dog or puppy not eating or drinking. For example, pyometra, cancer and kidney or liver problems can cause an animal to eat less or stop eating altogether.

It's important to get your dog eating again as soon as possible

More on this topic

What to do if your dog is not eating?

Anorexia in dogs is a life-threatening condition. Untreated for several days, it can lead to malnourishment and dehydration. You should contact your vet straight away if your dog or puppy is refusing to eat, even if they’re acting normally.

How about baby food for dogs who won't eat?

Stage two baby food, especially meat flavours like beef or turkey, is a good option for dogs who refuse to eat (as long as they’re not on a special or restricted diet). Just make sure there are no harmful foods such as onion or garlic powder in the ingredients. You might also want to warm the food up a little first.

My dog isn't eating but acting normal, what should I do?

Loss of appetite should never be ignored, even if your dog’s behaviour hasn’t changed. As has been noted above, it often signals a more serious underlying problem and should be investigated by a vet.

Old dog losing weight, is this normal?

As older dogs begin to slow down, they take less exercise and often gain weight. So if your old dog is losing weight there is almost certainly an underlying cause. Bear in mind weight loss is a symptom of several illnesses including diabetes, heart, liver or kidney disease and cancer. It can also be a sign of poor digestion, dental disease, or an inability to swallow. Weight loss in older dogs is not normal so always consult your vet if your old dog is losing weight.

Why is my dog not eating but drinking water?

A dog is drinking excessive amounts of water (a condition referred to as polydipsia) but refusing to eat could be a symptom of many things, including diabetes, liver disease or an infection, among others. If your dog is drinking lots but not eating, contact your vet who will be able to discuss diagnosis and treatment with you.

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Diagnosing loss of appetite in dogs

Your vet will ask you about your dog’s recent medical history and whether you have noticed any other signs, such as weight loss or vomiting. It is important to try to work out if they have no interest in food or if your dog is hungry but not managing to eat for some reason — in these cases, they will show interest in food and sometimes attempt to eat, but then give up or sometimes run backwards. It’s likely your vet will give your dog a thorough examination and check their teeth to make sure that’s not the source of their problems. They may also run some tests, such as X-rays, ultrasound, taking blood, urine and faecal samples, to check for illness and disease.

Treating dogs for eating disorders

Your vet will be able to advise on treatment after determining the underlying reason your dog has lost their appetite. If they have dental disease and sore teeth, they may need some teeth extracted under general anaesthetic. If your pet is anorexic due to disease, treatment will depend on the diagnosis.

It’s important to get your dog eating again as soon as possible. If your vet has advised you to tempt your dog to eat, here are some tips:

  • warm the food up
  • offer strong-smelling foods
  • try different brands of pet food
  • try hand feeding
  • check your dog’s nose is clean (the smell of food may help stimulate their appetite)

If it turns out your dog is just being fussy about food, you should avoid repeating bad habits such as giving them treats during the day and feeding them scraps from the table. Stick to a strict routine and always make sure their food is not spoiled or out of date.

How can I prevent my dog not eating?

Given the numerous possible causes, it is impossible to completely prevent the risk of your dog losing their appetite, but there are some things you can do to minimise some of the risks, such as keeping objects out of reach that if eaten, could potentially cause an internal obstruction.

About the Author

Ashleigh Wilson

Ashleigh is one of Vets Now’s emergency vets. She is also available on our video vet service, where owners can speak to a vet online between 8am and 11pm every day. She graduated from the University of Liverpool Vet School in 2008 and lives in the North West of England. Ashleigh is from Northern Ireland and worked in small animal practice until she joined Vets Now in 2014. She is currently studying for her certificate in emergency and critical care.

About the Article

Vets Now assumes no liability for the content of this page. This advice is not a substitute for a proper consultation with a vet and is only intended as a guide. Please contact your local veterinary practice for advice or treatment immediately if you are worried about your pet’s health — even if they are closed, they will always have an out-of-hours service available. Find out more about what to do in an emergency.

Watch the video: Leaving My Husky Alone with a Huge Beef Steak. (July 2021).