Why won’t my dog eat from his bowl?

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I was asked by one of my clients about their puppy Ruben, who suddenly refused to eat from his bowl about two weeks ago.

If your dog was happy eating from their bowl and then suddenly stops it could be for a number of reasons. This might be discomfort from illness or injury, or if you have changed their food. Some dogs do not like the sound of their tags clanging on a metal bowl, or being watched whilst they eat.

After chatting with Ruben’s owner I discovered that the problem started 3 days after he came out of animal hospital. Ruben was there overnight and had x-rays and was out on a drip to rehydrate. Unfortunately he’d swallowed something which caused a slow-moving blockage that he eventually passed in his faeces.

Have you changed their food?

As a result of his experience he was extremely ill. He changed from kibble to bland wet food at the hospital and continued on this food for 3-4 days when he got home, slowly switching back to his puppy kibble.

Before his stay in hospital he was eating from a dedicated ceramic bowl, on a plastic mat, on the kitchen floor. When he returned home he was reluctant to get close to his usual bowl and refuses to eat from it.

His owner tried reducing the kibble slightly and replacing it with a little wet puppy food to tempt him. Initially Ruben ate this from the bowl but then stopped and avoided it altogether. His owner noticed that when the food was presented as a mass, Ruben recoiled from it. However, served in smaller portions he was more eager to approach and eat the food.

Ruben would eat from the hand but not the bowl

To get him to eat his owner was filling a ‘kong toy’ with the kibble. Ruben was very happy to play and eat from this. Reluctantly he’d eat small quantities from their hand or very small quantities from the floor.  Three refills of the toy amount to the 40g which he had 3 times a day, so he was at least eating the right amount of food for his age and size.

How to help your dog eat out of their bowl again

Buy a new bowl

Buy brand new metal, creamic or plastic non slip bowls in three sizes, so a very small one, a medium one and then a normal sized one.

Remove the puppy mat

And if possible change the place you put the bowl down so you break all the connections with previous eating routine and place as your dog may have a negative association with the space.

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Spread out your dog’s meals

Spread his meals out into lots of small ones (6) in the small bowl to start so that the bowl and the portion size are not daunting.

Make food available for a limited time

Only leave the bowl down for 15 minutes and take it away if he doesn’t eat. Put it back down again at the next scheduled mealtime. You could try wetting his kibble with a little chicken gravy as that might make it more appealing to start with. Or you can use a ‘gravy topper‘ if you prefer something to sprinkle on.

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Size up the bowl and reduce the number of meals a day

Once he’s eating from that, change the bowl up for the next size. and reduce the amount of times you feed him a day to four.

Back to normal

When he’s okay with that change up to the normal size and back to three meals a day.

Make mealtime fun again

You can also try making mealtimes more fun by using a Ruffle Snuffle mat  with the kibble, spreading the meals out into smaller portions. This will make it fun again for Ruben to hunt for food.

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Why does my dog prefer the floor to the bowl?

If your dog previously ate from their bowl then it could be that they have made a negative association with the bowl and that’s putting them off.

You need to rule out pain and discomfort, so check his teeth are in good condition and that he isn’t having difficulty bending or leaning into the bowl.

If you have an older dog who won’t eat from their bowl, check our post here for tips on helping an ageing dog.

Finding out why your dog has stopped eating from their bowl

Ask yourself these questions to see if you can identity the cause of the problem.

  1. When did this first start?
  2. Did anything significant happen before your dog stopped eating from the bowl that you can think of? (illness, new baby, new house, new room, new person in the room, new bowl, loud noise at mealtime etc)
  3. What do you feed your dog?
  4. How much?
  5. How often?
  6. Does your dog usually clean their bowl or leave some food?
  7. Have you changed their food recently?
  8. Where do you feed them? If it’s suddenly got noisy in the room ( eg. a new baby crying) then try moving them to a quieter place
  9. What is the bowl made of that your dog has? If it’s metal, try ceramic or plastic.
  10. Is it raised or on the floor? It could be too high, or too low making it uncomfortable for them to eat.
  11. Does your dog’s collar jangle against a metal bowl when they are eating?
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The answer to these questions will help you to diagnose why your dog may have taken a dislike to mealtimes. In all cases I would recommend you contact your vet if your dog’s feeding habits change suddenly and provide them with the information above to help them understand the circumstances.

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Alternative dog bowls to try

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