How To Get A Sick Dog To Eat 

There is nothing scarier than having a sick dog. It is so worrying and when they don’t want to eat and it can be stressful as nobody wants their precious furbaby to be sick. 

I have had so many sleepless nights with rescued dogs that don’t want to eat and at times it has made me feel helpless, but there are things you can do and foods you can try to encourage your dog to eat.

Dogs are like us humans and they will have days when they are off their food.

Sometimes they just need a break from food and it may not be too serious, other times it could be due to mental and behavioral issues, they could be bored with eating the same food, it could be due to teething or a toothache, or it could be a serious medical issue.

I feel the need to mention Parvo and Distemper viruses. The region my dogs live in has a high probability of transmitting one, or both, of these viruses to a dog and in most cases here a sick dog that won’t eat usually has contracted it. 

Many dogs aren’t vaccinated, dumped as puppies, or just left free to roam wherever they like. I have found that with puppies it is best to take them to a vet and get tested for these viruses if they refuse to eat even one meal. 

If you live in an area that is prone to these viruses and your dog is unvaccinated, has not yet completed a full course of vaccinations, or you are unsure of its history, then don’t delay getting your dog to the vet as catching it early is often the difference between life or death.

Parasites often play a key role in why a dog may be sick and not want to eat. Parasites create a lot of damage to your dog and its intestine.

They make dogs anemic and basically suck the life right out of them. Regular deworming and treatment for ticks and fleas is a must to prevent this from happening. 

If your dog ingests fleas this can create tapeworm. Many people aren’t aware of this so it is essential to deworm your dog either at the same time as the flea and tick treatment, or a few days after when the fleas and ticks have died.

The first thing you need to do is assess your dog’s overall condition and determine what the issue may be. Yes, at times it is good for your dog to miss a meal especially if they have an upset stomach. Like us, it is often better to get everything out of our system before trying to add more. 

But if your dog has an ongoing diagnosed medical condition, is a puppy, is listless, lethargic, has diarrhea, is vomiting, or not behaving normally then taking your dog to a vet immediately is a must. 

Methods For Feeding A Sick Dog

When it comes to feeding a sick dog there are a few methods you can try to encourage them to eat. The main thing is to try to maintain their nutrition and hydration. 

Offering them small amounts of food in a variety of ways will hopefully appeal to their senses and see them turning a corner by beginning to eat again. The relief I feel when a sick dog eats is huge. If one of these methods doesn’t work, then try another, or try them all. 

I know as a dog lover that there is no greater feeling than watching our beloved dog start to behave normally again.

1. Wait A While And Try Again

If your dog doesn’t want to eat you could try making them wait until a later time. It could be that they just aren’t hungry at their usual feeding time. 

We humans don’t always eat on time, or even want to eat sometimes, yet we always end up eating at some stage during the day. It isn’t a huge concern if your dog misses a meal as long as it eats at some stage. 

It is suggested that it may be okay for a dog to go up to 48 hours without eating as long as they stay hydrated.

As a general rule it has been suggested that if a dog doesn’t eat its food within 10 minutes that they really aren’t that hungry, so it is best to take their food or any uneaten food away and then offer it again later. 

You could wait anywhere from 30 minutes to a few hours before retrying to feed them.

2. Apply A Food Topper

Only recently, one of my dogs didn’t want to eat. I was instantly filled with apprehension and also confused by this as the other dogs had no issues eating, so I added a food topper to her food. 

It was a nice tasty treat that I broke up and placed on top of her food. I also pushed it into her wet food a little to encourage her to eat all the food offered.  

She ate the entire bowl so fast that I believe she was just bored with her usual food. When dogs are sick sometimes all it takes is a new food, or a food you know they love to appeal to their hunger senses.

3. Change Their Food

Changing their food can make a difference. You could change the brand of food you buy or the type of food you give. 

If you only feed your dog dry food then offering wet food is more likely to stimulate their appetite and it aids in keeping them hydrated. 

If your dog only ever eats wet food then dry food may be like a treat to them. You can also try adding hot water to the dry food as this increases the smell and adds hydration.  

4. Move Their Food Bowls

Changing the location of where your dog eats can spark their interest. By placing their food bowls in a different area their curiosity may encourage them to eat.

5. Try To Feed Them By Hand

More often than not your dog will get comfort from being close to you. This comfort reassures them and offering them food by hand is a good way to try to get them to eat. 

Your dog may even think you have a treat which most dogs love to have. If your dog won’t accept the food by hand you could offer the food on a finger. Let your dog lick your finger so it can get the taste of the food. 

If your dog starts to lick your finger try going back to the hand. You could also try rubbing some of the food on your dog’s gums. Sometimes all it takes is your dog getting the taste of something and knowing it is okay to start them eating again. 

If you are not keen on hand feeding you could always offer the food on a spoon.

6. Use A Syringe To Feed Them

You could add some wet food mixed with a little water to a syringe and feed them. Personally, I am not keen on this method as it can be highly dangerous if you don’t know the correct way to syringe feed a dog. 

There is a risk of aspirating your dog which can be fatal. This method should only be used as a last resort and after training provided by a vet.

Foods To Feed Your Dog When They Are Sick

Making sure your dog gets the nutrition it needs is vital when they are sick. Your dog needs food that adds nutrition and electrolytes to stay healthy which will play a key role in your dog getting better.  

1. Give Them Something Smelly

This is one thing I often try first to get my dogs to eat. The smellier the food, the better. It could be something as simple as cooked chicken liver, fish, oil from a tuna can, bacon, or even cat food. 

Now, giving them fats and salty food may not be the best thing if their stomach is upset, but at least you will know if they are tempted. If a dog has a cold or allergies and it can’t smell it won’t want to eat as that is one of its primary senses. 

It isn’t recommended to give them anything too harsh for a stomach upset, but a little of something is better than nothing.

2. Give Them Chicken Or Turkey

Chicken and turkey are the best meats to give your dog when they are feeling unwell. White meat is lighter on the stomach than red meat. 

Chicken and turkey are easy to digest and also have a low fat content. Fat isn’t good for an upset stomach or gastrointestinal issues and the best foods to eat are usually bland. 

3. Give Them Chicken and Rice

As previously mentioned chicken is a great choice of meat to offer a sick dog. Rice is also a good way to add some nutrition. White rice is usually best as it is blander than brown rice and easier on the stomach.

I usually add the water from the cooked chicken as this adds more nutritional value and encourages a dog to drink ensuring hydration. Chicken, rice, and chicken broth are my go to when the smelly foods don’t work, or when I know my dog has an upset stomach. 

Don’t give the skin of the chicken to your dog as that is too rich and fatty which can cause more stomach upsets. It is a little like us after we have been sick, we are always advised to eat bland foods.

4. Give Them Broth

Offer your dog broth. Broth is highly nutritious, has sodium which is good for maintaining electrolytes, and the warmth increases its smell potential. 

Remember smell is good for your dog as it tantalizes the taste buds. Bone broth is usually best. You can make a bone broth from beef or pork bones. 

Making bone broth from chicken, and including the bones from the beef or the pork,  is the best option as this way you can save money and give the chicken meat also.

Please remove the bones before giving the broth to your dog. Cooked bones should never be given to dogs as they can splinter and cause internal damage.

5. Give Them Baby Food

Baby food is another good option for getting a sick dog to eat. Baby food is designed for small people learning to accept new food so it is gentle on the stomach and has great nutritional value. The best baby foods to buy are those that have meat in them. 

The problem with baby food is you run the risk that your dog will like it so much that they refuse to eat anything else. Only use baby food in small amounts and for a short period of time.

6. Give Them Fish

Fish, another white meat, is smelly. Strong smells are great for getting sick dogs to eat. Fish is known to strengthen the immune system and is full of good healthy fats known as Omega-3. 

When giving fish make sure you have removed all the bones. The bones in the fish can be dangerous and the last thing you need is another problem when your dog is already not feeling well.

7. Give Them Pumpkin

Pumpkin is so useful in a dog’s daily life. It adds fiber, is light on the stomach, is good for diarrhea, and easy to digest. I use pumpkin a lot in the foods I offer to my dogs and my dogs love it. Mash the pumpkin and add a few spoons to their food.

8. Give Them Yogurt

Yogurt contains bacteria that is helpful to good gut flora. Yoghurt aids in digestion and is high in calcium and protein. I often use yogurt when my dog has an upset stomach. A small spoon mixed in the food is usually enough.


When your dog is sick it will require extra attention. Giving your dog comfort and cuddles will reduce their stress and help them feel better when eating. 

Your dog knows you are there and it knows you care so don’t give up trying to get your dog to eat, but try to remain calm as your dog will feel your apprehension and this may make your dog even less likely to eat.

Maintaining nutrition and hydration are key to your dog’s wellbeing. If your dog has continued vomiting, diarrhea, is behaving abnormally, or you feel that something isn’t right then get your dog to a vet immediately.  

Written by Michelle Sinkinson
Michelle runs a small dog rescue facility. She loves helping, teaching about, and writing on dogs. She loves seeing dogs happy and doing well.

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