Why Dog Won’t Eat His Food But Will Eat Treats? The Untold Reasons

dog ignoring food

Treats preference over food makes pet owners a bit worried about their fluffballs. Wondering what are the most common causes of not eating food but treats? Does every dog show such behavior? How to fix this issue? Find out full detail in this guide.

Being pet owners, it is our responsibility to look after our pets & how they eat. A healthy dog is what everyone desires. It is very frustrating when your dog stops eating or prefers treats or table food or snacks over the meal. Most pet owners don’t want to see such abnormal behavior from their partners. Because they are aware of the fact that only treats can’t fulfill their nutrition requirements. Human food is not good for them and soon they will get weak or sick.

If your dog is not eating for more than 24 hours, there might be some serious issues with your pet like:

Medical problems (such as stomach issues, liver or breathing problems, etc.)

  • Change of environment
  • Addition in family
  • Pregnancy or heat cycle
  • Food disliking, etc.

Try to resolve this issue as soon as possible before it gets worse. There can be multiple causes for this behavior in your dog.

Is It Common Behavior of the Dogs?

In my opinion, most dogs go through this phase. It is very common for the dogs not to eat the given food and they stick to table leftovers and treats. By spending most of the time with my dogs I am able to pinpoint some causes of this behavior. There can be any behavioral change or medical reason for them to act like this.

Before getting to the point let me explain some medical terms for this kind of behavior.


If your dog has completely stopped eating food (dogs don’t eat food for days), this condition is termed Anorexia.

Partial Anorexia

But if your dog prefers only treats over food, he has a partial anorexia condition (because a small amount of eating is involved).

Why Won’t the Dog Eat His Usual Food but Treats? 3 Main Reasons.

As per my experience with my pets, this condition can be due to stomach upset, severe medical conditions, or psychological issues. Many times pets don’t like the food brand you are using and they also avoid eating spoiled food.

I have categorized the causes of complete and partial anorexia into 3 types

  1. Psychological
  2. Issues with the food
  3. Medical

1. Psychological

Psychological conditions are only related to behavior, emotion (anxiety, depression, etc.), and cognition. Like humans, a dog’s environment and habitat, in which they have been living for many years are very important.

The majority of the psychological conditions of your dogs are related to their environment that is stressing them.

There is a variety of causes leading to psychological disorders and making dogs depend on treats and avoid eating usual food, important ones are:

Renovating or moving to a new house

Dogs are very sensitive, and any alteration in their surrounding can lead to inappetence. For example, if you have recently renovated your home or moved to a new home your dog will take time to go back to its usual routine & adjust to the new environment just like humans. Naturally, dogs are fond of their habitat.

New Animals, People, or Baby in The Home

Just like change in the environment, an addition to the family such as the arrival of a new pet, guests in the home, or the addition of a new family member (a baby) can also lead to psychological conditions.

Dogs are very possessive of their owner and family. An addition in the family will depress them or they will aggressive which may lead to partial anorexia.

Switching the Food

Switching food is the most common cause of loss of interest in meals. Most dogs like one kind of food brand, switching it will lead to psychological disorders, ultimately leading to a loss of interest in food.

Fireworks or Loud Thunderstorms

Dogs are very gentle souls and get easily afraid and depressed by a firework or loud thunderstorms.

Separation Anxiety

Most dogs have a strong bond with their owners and if their owner left them behind they suffer from separation anxiety. Dogs refuse to eat when their master isn’t home.

Getting Used for Treats

Dogs learn quickly. If your dog realizes that by refusing dinner it can get a treat it will show this behavior more often.

Pregnancy or Heat Cycle

During pregnancy or heat cycle dogs show abnormal behavior. During the last or middle part of the pregnancy, your dog eats less as her stomach doesn’t have enough room to expand (due to puppies).

During the heat cycle, dogs also show a decrease in appetite but if she hasn’t eaten for more than 48 hours go for a medical checkup.

2. Issues with the food

Besides medical and behavioral complications, there can be food-related issues, leading to a loss of interest in meals.

May Be the Food Is Spoiled

Sometimes by mistake, we buy expired or spoiled food and dogs avoid eating such food. Sometimes, dog food accidentally contains some bad ingredients which spoil the food and its taste becomes bitter.

Cheaper brands have low quality and sometimes food contains spoiled fish or chicken in the food which upsets the taste of the food. Such incidents occasionally occur with high-end food. It is recommended to offer your pets, food of good quality and before buying the food, must check the expiry date on the packet.

Dog Doesn’t Like the Food Brand

Many people try different brands and sometimes it becomes tough to find the brand which is compatible with your pet. It can be tricky and you have to do many experiments before finding the perfect food.

Compared to cats, dogs are less picky but sometimes they become very selective and don’t eat some brands. This is more common with healthy brands. Most dogs avoid nutritious food or healthier brand and prefer the brand with unhealthy ingredients and loaded corn. It will take some time for your dog to get adjusted to a healthier brand.

3. Medical

As with humans, dogs also suffer from any medical condition or illness, or severe disorder and they give up eating or only eat a little bit. We humans can share our pain and can go for a medical checkup to get well but for dogs, it is us (pet owners) to notice any changes they are going through.

The most common medical conditions which cause partial/total anorexia are:

a. Liver or Kidney Disease

The liver is a vital organ of the dog’s body, involved in filtering toxins and wastes from the blood and breaking down the drugs to clear them from the body. The kidney is another vital organ of the body, involved in blood filtration to remove them from the body.

If due for any reason they lost their functionality, then the blood will be full of toxins and waste leading to partial anorexia. As the situation gets worse dogs completely stop eating.


Look for given signs, if your dog has any & go for a medical checkup.

  • Nausea
  • Lethargy
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Sudden weight loss
  • Blood in urine
  • Frequent urination
  • Change in volume of urine
  • Drinking less or more water than normal

b. Respiratory Disease

Let’s put it this way if you are suffering from any respiratory disease and are not able to breathe properly. Would you be thinking of food at that time? Obviously No, since it is tough to breathe, eating anything would be difficult.

The same goes for dogs, anything affecting airway tubes and lungs harms appetite either by changing the smell or taste of the food.

  • Dry cough or cough with blood or mucous
  • Shallow breathing
  • Shortness of breath or difficult breathing
  • Grunting noise with breathing
  • Mucus, blood or pus discharge from the nose
  • Exercise intolerance

c. Gastrointestinal Issues

Like humans, a hurting tooth, upset stomach, or any other gastrointestinal (GI) issue don’t let dogs eat in peace.

The GI system starts from the mouth and ends at the anus and besides these, it entails the throat, digestive tract, small & large intestine, and rectum. An issue in any of these parts can lead to loss of appetite.

Important GI disorders in dogs leading to anorexia include:

  • Blisters and ulcers in the mouth
  • Dental issue (it is one the most common reason why dog avoids eating)
  • Food allergies
  • Viral infection (such as parvovirus infection) etc.
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Dehydration
  • Vomiting
  • Weight loss
  • Straining to defecate
  • Excessive drooling

d. Neurological Diseases

Diseases that affect the spinal cord, brain, and nerves are termed neurological diseases. For instance, epilepsy, brain tumor, intervertebral disc disease, etc., and these diseases can also cause your dog eating problem.

  • Paralysis or unexplained weakness
  • Abnormal gait
  • Foot dragging
  • Loss of balance
  • Seizures of different types
  • Jerky or unusual eye movements
  • Scratching at air (without making contact with the body)

E. Any Other Medical Complication

Besides these medical complications, many other diseases cause pain such as eye problems, fractures, etc., and all of these can lead to partial or complete anorexia.

How to Fix This Behavior?

Sometimes it becomes difficult to fix this behavior and I am aware of the stress that comes while tackling this behavior. It is very hurtful to see your dog refusing food and getting weak with time and it will be your top priority to fix this behavior as soon as possible.

But how and what will you do? Here are a few strategies, which I think can help you out.

Stop Giving Treats

First of all, stop giving treats or table food to your dog when it avoids eating a meal, this may hurt you but you’ve to be persistent with it. Once your dog realizes that there are no more treats, it will probably eat its food from the food bowl when hungry.

If you don’t stop treats while they are denying their food they would think it to be a positive reinforcement behavior and will never drop it. So you must stop the treats of your pet.

Change Food

The 2nd thing to do is change your dog’s food if it’s still not eating a meal. Sometimes dogs get tired of the same food & flavor (like wet food) and want something unique and new.

  • If your pet is not eating beef, try poultry.
  • If you were only feeding him canned food or wet dog food, try dry food & vice versa.

Try Blend of Different Foods

For your dog, you can also make homemade food by combing different dog foods. But make sure to consult with your dog’s vet before doing any experiment.

Medical Checkup

If the above-mentioned strategies don’t work you will have to clear your doubts (whether your dog is ill) through a medical checkup.

Your vet will diagnose your furbaby and perform some tests to see if your dog is suffering from medical complications. Then he will be able to properly tell you about the reason for this behavior.

Find Out the Change

If you find out no medical complications after a medical checkup now try the 3rd strategy. It’s time for you to figure out the change. Find out any changes at your home or change in your timetable with your dog or any other psychological cause. It is very common behavior of dogs to stop eating to let you know something.

After finding out, it’s time to do some changes to help your pet feel better.

Patience and Consistency

Getting mad and frustrated won’t change the situation. Your dog might get scared as a result and will not understand you. Try to tackle the situation with patience. Take your dog on a regular walk during this period.

Consistency will help you and your dog to get past this period. Make a food schedule and ensure to adhere to it. You can also include treats in it after a specific time.

Final Thought

If a dog is only eating treats, it’s the worst-case scenario any dog owner has to deal with. It will not only make you worry but at the same time, it is lethal for your partner. If your pet is on treats for 2 to 3 days or not eating for more than 24 hours you need to go to the vet before it gets worse.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this guide, and it has enabled you to take the right decision while dealing with partial or complete anorexia. If you’ve enjoyed this article, must share it with your dog lover friends and let us know your experiences in the comments below. Good luck!

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