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Why Won’t My Golden Retriever Eat? Causes and Solutions

Last Updated: December 23, 2023

Golden Retrievers are known for their hearty appetite, so it’s concerning when your furry friend doesn’t dash into the kitchen at the sound of kibble hitting his dish. This change in behavior can leave many pet owners asking themselves, ‘Why won’t my Golden Retriever eat?’

If your Golden Retriever won’t eat and is refusing food, it could be due to boredom with their usual diet, selective eating habits, a preference for eating at certain times, or a decrease in appetite associated with aging. Additionally, discomfort, stress, anxiety, dental issues, illness, or adverse reactions to medications might also be contributing factors.

Understanding your Golden Retriever’s sudden disinterest in food can be distressing, especially when they’re typically such enthusiastic eaters.

In our comprehensive guide, we delve into the potential reasons behind your dog’s lack of appetite, equipping you with the knowledge to identify the root cause.

Moreover, we’ll provide you with practical strategies to reignite your furry friend’s love for mealtime, offering detailed advice on what actions to take before and during feeding to ensure their health and happiness.

Keep reading to discover how you can help your Golden Retriever rediscover the joy of eating!

A Golden Retriever staring at his food bowl uninterested.
“Huh! This does not look appetizing at all!”

Reasons Your Dog May Refuse Food

Skipping the odd meal is not uncommon for dogs. However, it can be rare for Golden Retrievers as they typically love their food!

In fact, the Golden Retriever is one of the breeds most likely to become obese. In the U.S., 62.7% of golden retrievers were overweight or obese, according to data collected by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention published in 2013. 

More recent data shows that 55.8% of dogs are overweight or obese in the US, classified by their veterinary healthcare provider. The latest statistics in the UK are not dissimilar, with 51% of dogs being overweight, as confirmed by vets.

But why is this?

The association blames owners for their dogs’ increasing “humanization” by feeding them too many unhealthy foods and treats and failing to exercise them sufficiently.

However, if your Golden Retriever doesn’t eat for two days, then it’s time to visit the vet, as typically, your dog won’t stop eating for this long unless something is wrong.

Your duty as a responsible pet owner is to establish why your Golden Retriever won’t eat and then make the appropriate changes.

Let’s take a look at the main reasons why your Golden Retriever could have lost his appetite:

1. Bored With His Current Food

To investigate whether your dog is bored with his current food, we must first understand how dogs taste and smell.

Your Retriever’s sense of taste is much less pronounced than that of humans. Indeed, while we have approximately 9,000 taste buds, dogs have only around 1,700. So, their sense of taste is about one-sixth of the power compared to ours.

Instead, they use their powerful noses to differentiate between various flavors. Dr. Michael T. Nappier, DVM, DABVP, of the Virginia Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine, explains:

“Dogs have up to 300 million olfactory receptors in their noses, versus only about 6 million for us. And the part of their brain dedicated to interpreting these is about 40 times larger than ours.” – PetMD Nose Facts

This latest pilot study demonstrated that untrained dogs also used their sense of smell to pick their favorite food. For 89% of the time, the dogs usually consumed more of the food they initially chose, indicating they didn’t need to savor each type of food when deciding.

A plate of food kept aside Golden Retriever

However, like humans, dogs can become bored of consuming the same food daily. If your Golden Retriever gradually loses interest in eating, endeavor to add some wet food on top of his dry food to alter the flavor and consistency, soak his food in warm water, or add unseasoned chicken stock.

If this doesn’t work, try to purchase an alternative type (e.g., wet, mixed, raw, freeze-dried, etc.) or food brand. You may also test to see if your Golden Retriever will consume some meat leftovers or treats, which may help you figure out if the food is genuinely the problem!

If your Golden Retriever is content to receive human food from you, you can deduce that his appetite loss is, in fact, behavioral. It’s amusing how dogs regain their appetite when offered “people food” or delicious treats! Check out my comprehensive guide, Best Diet for Golden Retrievers, for helpful tips and advice.

2. Senior Dog with Reduced Appetite

With age, dogs usually lose their appetite and eventually may lose a bit of weight. It’s reasonably normal as growing old can cause a reduction in taste and smell, shifts in eating habits, and different dietary needs. Also, as your Retriever’s exercise requirements reduce, he will likely be less hungry.

Your Golden Retriever may benefit from dog food designed for seniors, which can notably help with a reduced appetite. For example, older dogs (like humans) don’t need as many calories due to lower energy needs and a slower metabolism.

However, not all senior Golden Retrievers may approve of this switch, as all dogs are different, but it’s unquestionably something you can try. But don’t presume that diets marketed as “senior” have lower protein, phosphorus, and calories, as the amounts vary by brand.

Contrary to common belief, a reduced protein diet is not beneficial for a healthy senior dog. It can contribute to even more muscle waste, so you shouldn’t feed an older dog a reduced protein diet. Make sure to choose a good quality brand with healthy ingredients in their correct nutritional proportions.

Always check the packaging’s nutritional adequacy statement as advised by the Association of American Food Control Officials (AAFCO).

This statement determines the life stage of the dog for which the product is approved. However, as there is no specific category for “senior dogs,” choose a food that’s labeled “adult maintenance” or “all life stages.”

A Golden Retriever looking away from his food.
“I’m really not that hungry!”

3. Picky Eater

Many dog breeds can become fussy eaters. Sometimes, they are trying to play you! They are, after all, pretty smart! But do Golden Retrievers fall into this category? Are they picky eaters?

Gold Retrievers are usually not picky eaters, but they can end up finicky if you let them. If you invariably feed your dog a wide variety and different textures of dog food or feed too many treats or table scraps, you may have unwittingly made your Golden Retriever picky.

You should be able to purchase a huge bag of kibble every month and feed it to your Golden Retriever without any problems for years. There’s no need to keep swapping and changing. Sadly, your pet may not eat as you’ve made him into a fussy eater!

Also, don’t feed your Golden Retriever too many treats or “people foods,” especially between meals.

If he’s used to receiving these regularly throughout the day, it’s no wonder he’s turning his nose up at his kibble! If you offer treats to encourage your Golden Retriever to eat, you are, in reality, transforming him into a fussy eater!

You may discover that your dog likes a certain kind of food, such as wet, semi-moist, freeze-dried, or raw. Once you’ve found what he prefers, stick to it!

4. Separation Anxiety

Your Golden Retriever affixes himself to you at the hip; you’ll know precisely how distressed and worried he becomes when you’re getting all set to go out. He might show signs and symptoms of whining, barking, howling, pacing, digging, trying to escape, urinating, defecating, drooling, and refusing to eat.

If your dog spends long periods alone, his distress and suffering will continue. It’s known as separation anxiety. It merely means that your Golden Retriever cannot cope with being on his own, and it’s one thing you might need to resolve.

Related: How Long Can Golden Retrievers Be Left Alone?

Golden Retriever presented with a plate of Kibble

5. Prefers Eating at Certain Times

Your Golden Retriever might prefer not to eat at certain times of the day – similar to you not wanting breakfast at 6.30 am! Although this may be initially worrying, it’s not unusual, especially as your canine moves toward mid-age.

You should monitor how much food your Golden Retriever consumes during the day. Don’t worry if he is eating about the same amount.

Take my dog, for example; she would always eat her first meal early in the morning and then her second late afternoon. But as an older dog, she prefers to eat in the afternoon and evening.

I won’t let her eat both meals in one sitting, as this helps to prevent GDV (Gastric Dilatation Volvulus), commonly known as bloat, but I’ll let her have both meals within a few hours. Bloat is a life-threatening situation that needs emergency treatment, and your dog should avoid one large meal.

On some days, my doggo will scarcely consume any food at all. However, she’ll make up for it the next day when she becomes an eating machine! But I always stay abreast of what she’s eaten.

6. Environmental or Routine Changes

Dogs are creatures of habit and become accustomed to their routine. Changes can make them feel anxious until they learn to adapt. If your Golden Retriever suffers from anxiety due to environmental or routine changes, he may lose his appetite. Here are some situations that can cause this:

  • Moving house
  • Vacation
  • Relationship breakup
  • Bereavement
  • Family member moving out
  • New partner moving in
  • A change in your routine, such as working nights
  • Moving his bowl to a different room

All these changes may trouble your Golden Retriever and cause him to lose interest in his food. If you have to adjust your dog’s routine, try to do it gradually if you can. Only make multiple changes one at a time.

7. Illness

If you’ve established that food isn’t the issue with your Golden Retriever, he might be unwell or in pain, mainly if he isn’t drinking or has other symptoms. 

If your Retriever has an upset stomach, including vomiting and diarrhea, you may need to contact your veterinarian sooner. An infection, virus, or severe conditions such as cancer, liver, or kidney disease might directly affect your Golden Retriever’s motivation to eat. Other causes could be allergies or parasites.

Furthermore, your dog might have eaten something harmful. Golden Retrievers are renowned for eating things you may accidentally leave lying around. Secure the garbage to prevent your pup from snaffling any rotten food!

Never leave foods, such as grapes, raisins, or chocolate, lying around or where your Golden can reach them, as just a tiny amount can be poisonous, causing severe harm. Check out my article, What Foods are Toxic to Golden Retrievers? for tons more information.

Feeding a Golden Retriever with food

8. Medication

If your Golden Retriever has recently started taking some medication and is no longer interested in eating, he may be suffering from side effects, including nausea and loss of appetite. Ensure that you inform your vet, as there could be a more suitable alternative to switch to.

Occasionally, vaccinations can cause an unpleasant reaction. If your Golden Retriever has had his recent shots, this could be the short-term cause of his reduced appetite. The good news is this should only be temporary. In the meantime, ensure your Golden drinks lots of fresh water and remains hydrated.

PRO TIP! If your dog doesn’t feel like drinking and finds it tough to keep hydrated, try a pet water fountain like the Petsafe Drinkwell from Amazon.

The constant flow of water tempts your dog to drink and keeps his water fresh. I like this one due to its large size, and it includes replaceable carbon filters.

Note: Clicking the above link(s) will take you to Amazon or an online store where we have an affiliate relationship. If you make a purchase, we may earn a commission at no additional cost to you.

9. Dental Pain

If your Golden Retriever stops eating his kibble all at once, it could be because his food is causing pain or discomfort in his mouth. Some causes could be an abscess, a damaged tooth, a cut, gum disease, or teething in puppies.

In such an event, try adding warm water to his dinner to make it moist, or briefly switch over to a wet diet and have his mouth checked at the vet.

How Long Can a Golden Retriever Go Without Eating?

As we’ve discovered, there are many explanations as to why your dog may not be eating. So you might be wondering: when is it time to call the vet? How long can Golden Retrievers go without eating?

Golden Retrievers can go between 3-5 days without eating as long as they remain hydrated. However, you should call your vet if your dog has refused to eat for more than 48 hours, as he could be sick. In any case, unhealthy, underweight, young, elderly, or pregnant dogs will need medical attention sooner.

Sick dogs, like humans, need to eat sooner rather than later. Don’t worry if your dog doesn’t eat for a day or two, as he will be okay as long as he stays hydrated and does not suffer from sickness or diarrhea.

However, this study proved insufficient nutrition is undoubtedly detrimental to a sick dog’s recovery. Hospitalized dogs had a better chance of leaving the hospital when they ate enough food to fulfill their resting energy requirements.

The take-home message is simple for owners: If your Golden Retriever stops eating for a day or so but is otherwise alert and active, keep a close eye on him. Try feeding him bland home-cooked food such as plain white rice with cooked chicken.

If your dog is reserved, quiet, or showing other symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, or has not eaten for two days, you should seek veterinary care.

How Do I Get My Golden Retriever to Eat?

To encourage your Golden Retriever to eat, consider modifying his diet or feeding habits. Opt for a more fragrant dog food variety, or enhance his meals with warm water, chicken broth, or appetizing toppings like meat or fish.

Boost his appetite through ample exercise, maintain a consistent feeding schedule, minimize treats, and avoid giving table scraps.

Let’s look at these solutions in more detail.

1. Switch Your Dog’s Food

If your Golden Retriever has slowly lost interest in his food over a few days or weeks, he might just not like his food anymore. By switching to a new diet, flavor, or feeding style, you might need to see if your dog’s current food is the problem. 

Here are some ideas to target your Golden Retriever’s diet to boost his appetite.

  • Choose a more fragrant food. If you take a quick sniff of your Retriever’s food and think it to be revolting, your doggo might too! Change to better quality food with a powerful meaty aroma.
  • Add warm water or unsalted chicken or beef broth. Both ways will transform the texture, smell, and taste of your Golden Retriever’s dinner, making it far more appealing.
  • Add a topping. Add wet dog food or other toppings such as plain Greek yogurt, chicken, or tuna. I frequently take this approach as I find it works with my dog.
Golden Retriever sitting With a Ceramic Bowl

2. Change Your Dog’s Feeding Behavior

Below are some suggestions on how to change your Golden Retriever’s feeding behavior:

  • Keep to a specific feeding schedule.
  • Exercise your dog before feeding to work up an appetite. However, please wait at least an hour before putting his bowl down to prevent bloat (GDV).
  • If your Retriever refuses his meal, don’t try to force it. Remove his bowl after 15 minutes and return it a few hours later.
  • Try hand-feeding for a while to see if your doggo just wants some TLC!
  • Limit treats to training times only.
  • Don’t feed your Golden Retriever your leftovers from the table.
  • Try keeping his mealtimes separate from yours or keep him in another room at your meals.
  • If you’ve been hand-feeding your dog, try stopping for a while, as he may want to go it alone! Give him lots of praise and encouragement when he eats from his bowl.
  • Make feeding time fun – put a lid on his food so he has to remove it first. Make it into a game.
  • Change your dog’s bowl to ceramic, as some dogs don’t like to see their reflection in stainless steel or glass bowls.
  • Always ensure your Golden Retriever’s bowl is clean.

Always remain calm and patient while changing your Golden Retriever’s feeding style. You won’t see an improvement overnight. It takes time and is something you’ll need to keep working on. If your dog perceives you are stressed and anxious about his loss of appetite, he may become more stressed and refuse to eat!

PRO TIP! Try an interactive dog feeder to make mealtimes more enjoyable. They are effective, especially if your dog is easily distracted by his surroundings. Check out the Outward Hound Fun Feeder on Amazon. This crazy bestseller has over 115,000 positive reviews!

3. Take Your Dog to the Vet for a Check-up

If you have tried all the suggestions above, and your Golden Retriever still isn’t interested in eating, it’s time to take him to the vet for a check-up.

Your Retriever’s lack of appetite and subsequent weight loss will undoubtedly harm his health long-term, but if it results from an underlying health issue, you will need to tackle those issues first.

After a full assessment of your Golden Retriever’s shift in eating habits, your veterinarian will no doubt be able to determine what the problem is. Don’t worry, though, as you’ll soon have a treatment plan ready to go, and hopefully, your dog will be back to eating like normal very soon.


Are there any medical conditions that could be affecting my dog’s appetite?

Dental disease, gastrointestinal illness, cancer, and liver or kidney problems can decrease appetite. Take your pup to the vet for an examination if they refuse food for over 24 hours to rule out any underlying medical conditions affecting their eating.

What are some home remedies or tricks to encourage my Golden Retriever to eat?

Some options include mixing broth or canned food or hand-feeding meals, adding healthy toppers like cheese or peanut butter, or trying new food. You can also try warming their food slightly or dividing meals into smaller, more frequent portions.

However, if they continue refusing food, consulting your vet is important.

Final Thoughts

It’s not uncommon for Golden Retrievers to lose their appetite at some stage. However, if your dog is persistently not eating, you must figure out the root of the problem and solve it. Hopefully, these suggestions will resolve the situation and return your beloved doggo to his everyday eating habits.

Good luck!

Sharon Waddington
Sharon Waddington is the founder of World of Dogz. With over 30 years of experience working with dogs, this former Police Officer has seen it all. But it’s her trusty German Shepherd, Willow, who steals the show as the inspiration behind this website. As Sharon’s constant companion Willow has played a pivotal role in shaping her passion for dogs. Recently, Sharon has become deeply passionate about the plight of rescue dogs and is an active advocate for dog rescue, striving to make a difference in the lives of dogs in need.

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