Are you wondering, ‘Why won’t my Labrador eat?’ You’re not alone!
Your food-loving Labrador usually comes bounding into the kitchen when he hears the sound of his kibble pouring into his bowl. But recently, he doesn’t seem to be as interested in food.
Labradors might refuse food due to various factors: stress, dental problems causing discomfort, underlying illnesses, changes in their environment, or digestive troubles. Additionally, pain from injuries or internal obstructions can significantly reduce their appetite, making them reluctant to eat.
In this blog, we’ll explore the common reasons behind your Labrador’s loss of appetite, from health issues to environmental factors.
Understanding these can help you take the right steps to ensure your furry companion’s well-being and restore their love for mealtime.
Why Won’t My Labrador Eat?
Skipping the odd meal is not unusual for dogs. However, it can be uncommon for Labrador Retrievers are they are generally food-motivated.
Although Labs are known to love their food more than other breeds, don’t be too harsh on your dog, as this study found that a gene mutation associated with appetite is common in Labradors prone to obesity.
But, if your Labrador goes for two days without eating, then it’s time to call the vet, as typically, your Lab won’t stop eating for this length of time for no apparent reason.
As a responsible pet owner, it’s your job to establish why your Labrador won’t eat and make the necessary changes.
Let’s take a look at some reasons why your Labrador is not eating:
1. Bored with Current Food
Dogs only have a fraction of the taste buds that we have. In fact, their sense of taste is only about one-sixth of the strength of humans.
Instead, they use their powerful noses (up to a million times stronger than humans) to differentiate between flavors.
This recent pilot study showed that untrained dogs even used their sense of smell to choose their preferred food.
89% of the time, the dogs typically ate more of the food they initially chose, suggesting they did not need to taste each food when deciding.
But, just like humans, dogs can get tired of eating the same food every day!
If your Lab slowly loses interest in eating, try adding some wet food on top of his dry food to change the palatability and texture, soak his food in some warm water, or add unsalted chicken broth.
If this doesn’t work, try buying a different brand or type of food. Check out my top article, Best Diet for Labradors, for some other ideas. It has loads of info on nutrition, different types of diets, and exactly what your dog can and can’t eat.
You can also experiment to see if your Lab will eat some scraps of meat or treats, which can help you determine if the food is the issue.
If your Lab is happy to take “people food” from you, then you know that the loss of appetite is behavioral. It’s funny how dogs regain their appetite for human food or tasty treats!
2. Senior Dog with Reduced Appetite
With age, dogs tend to lose their appetite and ultimately might lose a little weight. This is quite normal, as aging can cause a decreased sense of smell and taste, changes in eating habits, and different nutritional needs.
As your dog’s exercise needs reduce, he is likely to be less hungry.
Your Lab may benefit from a dog food appropriate for seniors, which can significantly help with appetite issues. For example, older dogs require a lower-calorie diet due to lower energy requirements and reduced metabolism.
However, not all older dogs may benefit from this switch to a senior diet, but it’s certainly something you can try.
Make sure to choose a good quality brand with healthy ingredients and in their correct proportions, as contrary to common belief, a reduced protein diet is not beneficial for a healthy older dog.
In fact, it can contribute to even more muscle loss, so you mustn’t feed senior dogs a reduced protein diet.
Ensure you check the nutritional adequacy statement on the packaging, as per the Association of American Food Control Officials (AAFCO).
This statement determines the life stage of the dog for which the food is approved. However, there is no individual classification for “seniors,” so choose a food that’s labeled “adult maintenance” or “all life stages.”
3. Picky Eater
Dogs can become fussy eaters. They are pretty smart! But are Labradors really picky eaters?
Labradors are generally not picky eaters, but they can indeed become picky if you allow them to be!
There are so many different varieties and textures of dog food, and if you consistently feed him with variety, you may have inadvertently made your dog fussy.
You should be able to buy a large bag of kibble every month and feed it to your Labrador for years. Unfortunately, your dog might not be eating because you’ve turned him into a picky eater!
Also, don’t feed your Lab too many treats or “human foods,” especially between meals. If he’s used to getting treats or table scraps all day long, it’s no wonder he’s turning his nose up at his kibble.
You might find that your Lab prefers a specific type of food, such as wet food, semi-moist food, or raw.
Once you have discovered what he likes, remain consistent with that type. Check out my top article for loads more info on this topic: Are Labradors Fussy Eaters? 14 Tips to Cure a Picky Dog!
4. Separation Anxiety
You and your Labrador are attached at the hip, but you know how anxious and nervous he gets when you’re getting ready to go out. He may show symptoms of whining, barking, pacing, and drooling.
If your Labrador spends long periods alone at home, his distress will continue. He may also suffer from other symptoms, such as destructive chewing and digging, peeing in the house, and not eating.
This is known as separation anxiety. It simply means that your dog cannot cope with being left alone, which you may need to address.
I have a great post on how long Labradors can be left alone, which offers helpful guidance and alternative suggestions if your dog suffers from this condition.
5. Prefers Eating at Certain Times
Just like you might not like to eat breakfast at 6 am, your Lab might also prefer not to eat at certain times of the day! Although this can be concerning at first, it’s not unusual, especially if your dog is approaching middle age.
You should, though, keep track of how much food your Labrador is eating throughout the day. If he still eats about the same amount, then don’t worry.
Here are some examples. My dog used to eat one meal in the morning and one late afternoon. However, now that she is older, she prefers to eat both of her meals from late afternoon onwards.
I won’t let her eat all her food in one go, as this is not recommended to prevent bloat, but she will eat them within a couple of hours.
Sometimes, she will hardly eat anything one day, but she’ll certainly make up for it the following day. I always stay abreast of what she’s eaten.
6. Environmental or Routine Changes
If your Lab is suffering from anxiety due to environmental changes or changes in his routine, he may lose his appetite.
Dogs are creatures of habit and get used to their routine. Changes can make them feel stressed until they learn to adapt. Here are some examples:
- Moving house
- Going on vacation
- A family member moving out
- Relationship breakup
- A new partner moving in
- A change in your routine, such as working shifts or nights
- Moving his bowl to a different area
All of these changes may upset your Labrador and cause him to be disinterested in food. If you need to change your Lab’s routine, try to do it gradually. Multiple changes should be done one at a time.
If the food isn’t the issue, your Labrador might be unwell or be suffering from pain, especially if he isn’t drinking or displaying additional symptoms.
A virus, infection, or severe conditions like cancer, liver problems, or kidney disease could directly impact your Labrador’s desire to eat. If your dog has a stomach upset, vomiting, and diarrhea, you may need to contact your vet sooner.
Your dog may have also eaten something toxic. Labs are known for eating anything that’s left lying around. Make sure your dog can’t get into the garbage and snaffle any moldy food!
Take care with foods like grapes or chocolate, and never leave these where your Lab can reach them, as even a tiny amount can be highly poisonous.
To learn what other foods your Lab mustn’t eat, check out this post, Foods Poisonous to Labradors: Including Hidden Dangers!
8. Medication or Vaccinations
Some medications may cause a reduced appetite or nausea. If your Lab is taking a new course of medication and this occurs, you should inform your vet as there may be a more suitable alternative.
If your Labrador Retriever has had his recent vaccinations, sometimes these can cause adverse reactions, including loss of appetite.
The good news is this should only be brief. Ensure your Lab is drinking plenty of fresh water and keeping himself hydrated.
If your Lab finds it difficult to stay hydrated, you can always try a pet water fountain such as the Petsafe Drinkwell from Amazon. The free-falling stream of water entices your dog to drink and keeps his water constantly clean.
I like this one as it’s specifically designed for big dogs and even includes carbon filters to remove odor and bad taste.
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
When your Labrador suddenly stops eating his kibble, it could be because the food is causing him some pain in his mouth. It might result from gum disease, an abscess, or a damaged tooth.
If that’s the case, try adding warm water to his food to make it soft, or temporarily switch over to some soft food and have his mouth checked over at the vet.
How to Get Your Labrador Eating Again
So, now that you have some ideas about why your Lab isn’t eating, it’s time to make some changes to see if you’re right!
You may have decided to see if your dog’s current food is the problem by switching to a new diet or feeding style. But first;
Check Out This Cool Animated Video on 7 Ways to Get Your Dog to Eat…
Switch His Food
If your Labrador slowly loses interest in food over a couple of weeks, he might not like his current food anymore.
Here are some ideas to target your dog’s diet to boost his appetite.
- Choose a more fragrant food. If you take a smell of your dog’s current food and find it unappetizing – your Lab might as well! Try choosing a better quality food that has a powerful meaty smell.
- Add some warm water or unsalted chicken or beef broth. These methods will change the texture, smell, and taste of your dog’s food, making it more appealing.
- Add a topping. You can add wet food or other toppings such as plain yogurt, egg, chicken, other meats, or fish. I often do this to mix things up for my dog.
Change His Feeding Behavior
Here are some ideas for changing your Labradors’ feeding behavior:
- Stick to a specific feeding schedule.
- Try hand-feeding, as your Lab might need a little TLC!
- Exercise your dog before feeding so that he works up an appetite. However, wait an hour before putting his bowl down, which helps prevent bloat (GDV).
- If you have been hand-feeding your Lab, try stopping for a while.
- If your Lab refuses his meal, don’t try to force it. Remove his bowl after 15 minutes, and then only put it down again a few hours later.
- Limit treats to training times only.
- Try keeping his mealtimes separate from yours.
- Put him in another room at your mealtimes.
- Do not feed your dog table scraps.
- Change your Lab’s bowl, as some dogs don’t like to see their reflection in stainless steel or glass bowls. Try switching to a ceramic bowl instead.
- Always ensure your Labrador’s bowl is clean.
- Give him lots of praise when he eats from his bowl.
- Make feeding time fun – try putting a lid on his food, so he must remove it first.
- Try an interactive dog feeder that can make your Lab’s mealtimes fun. They are good, especially if your dog is easily distracted by his environment. Check out the Outward Hound Fun Feeder. This bestseller has over 115,000 positive reviews!
It’s also essential for you to remain calm and patient while changing your Labrador’s feeding behavior. You aren’t going to see an improvement overnight.
It’s something you will need to work on. If your dog senses that you are stressed and anxious about his loss of appetite, he may also become stressed and not eat at all.
Take Him to the Vet for a Check-up
If your Labrador still isn’t interested in eating and has tried other feeding behaviors, you should take him to the vet for a check-up.
Your dog’s appetite and subsequent weight loss will harm his health, but if they result from an underlying issue, you will need to tackle those issues first.
After a complete evaluation and a discussion about your Labradors’ change in eating habits, your veterinarian will hopefully be able to determine what the problem is.
Don’t worry, though, as you should have a treatment method ready to go, and your Lab will be back to eating like normal very soon.
I know initial vet visits can be costly, but so are treatment methods if your Lab is diagnosed with a condition or disease! I would recommend having a decent pet insurance policy in place. This will always give you peace of mind and avoid unexpected vet costs.
How long can a Labrador go without eating?
Every Labrador is different, and there isn’t a set number of days that is “safe” for dogs who have stopped eating. However, most healthy Labs can go for 3 days without eating food as long they’re drinking water. But if your dog has gone more than two days without eating, you should call your vet.
How many times should a Lab eat daily?
Labradors should eat at least twice a day at 8-12 hour intervals to prevent bloat (GDV). Puppies under 6 months of age should be fed more often as they need small meals throughout the day. Check your Lab’s food packaging for the recommended guidelines.
How can I stimulate my Labrador’s appetite?
You can try warming their food, adding tasty toppers like broth or canned food, changing up their food type, feeding smaller portions more often, and playing with them before meals. Regular exercise and mental stimulation will also keep their appetite strong.
Should I change my Labrador’s diet if they won’t eat?
If your Labrador refuses their usual food for over a day, it may help to switch up proteins or brands temporarily to reintroduce variety. Monitor that any new diet agrees with them. Don’t change too much at once, or their stomach could be upset. Consult your vet if refusing food lasts more than a day or two.
It’s not uncommon for dogs to lose their appetite at some point. However, if your Lab won’t eat, you need to figure out the source of the problem and how to address it.
Hopefully, these suggestions will fix the situation and return your Labrador to his everyday eating habits.