Dog refuses to eat unless fed by hand – What to do?

Some dogs may refuse to eat unless you hand-feed them. If you want to stop hand-feeding your dog, you have to take some important steps.

Teach your dog patience and control by establishing mealtimes. You have to be consistent and avoid hand-feeding your dog. Most dogs will refuse to eat for a day or two but will eventually come around. You can also try changing their bowl location and adding delicious dog food toppers to encourage them to eat from the bowl.

Here’s a helpful video:

In this guide, we will explain why dogs prefer being hand-fed and how to stop this behavior. Let’s get started!

Why Does My Dog Want To Be Hand-Fed?

Your dog wants to be hand-fed for the following reasons:

Your Dog Is Scared

Submissive dogs are often scared to eat in households with other pets. Your dog may show signs of canine anorexia. It’s a condition where dogs stop eating unless they are starving.

If you start hand-feeding a scared dog, they will develop a bad habit. Many dogs refuse to eat from their bowls because they assume it’s not a safe place. They want to be hand-fed because owners protect them from other dominant dogs.

Some dogs may also get scared of their environment. Is their food bowl near a vacuum cleaner or a washing machine? The chances are that the machines frighten your dogs, so they avoid eating from the food bowl. Dogs prefer eating in a noise-free and safe environment.

Your Dog Has Separation Anxiety

Many pet parents offer meals right before they are going out, so dogs associate food with being alone. Dogs develop separation anxiety and refuse to eat unless hand-fed by their owner. Pet parents complain about their dog’s showing anxiety and drooling when they leave for work. Anxious dogs are hyper-attached to their owners and prefer being hand-fed.

Your Dog Is Busy Guarding

Many dogs want to guard everything, including their owners, other pets, birds, and even butterflies. Your dog may be too busy protecting the house and refuse to eat.

Your dog needs to be sure that you are safe and everything is under control. Hand-feeding gives them peace of mind.

Many pet parents also hand-feed their dogs when they’re busy barking at butterflies. We bring the snacks up to their nose and reinforce this behavior. Now your dog gets to indulge in barking at butterflies while being hand-fed. Why should it eat from a bowl?

Your Dog Wants To Socialize

It’s not always fun being a dog, spending hours waiting for you to come back home and feed them. They want to socialize and eat with you. This behavior is similar to their wild ancestors. Wolves always hunt in packs, and weaker wolves expect the pack leader to offer them any remaining food.  

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Timid mid dogs with low self-esteem behave like this. They want to be hand-fed because it’s their way of asking for more time with you.   

The best way to get rid of this bad habit is to boost their confidence. Increase the playtime with your dog so they don’t crave your company.

Your Dog Is Bored

Your dog can also be a picky eater. If you feed them the same formula every day, they might dislike their food. These dogs only respond to being hand-fed by their owners. It’s good to mix things up and entertain your pet by adding something extra.  

Your dog will enjoy gravy or a topping of wet food. Additionally, a mix of canned wet food and freeze-dried food can get your dog to start eating again.

Your Dog Isn’t Hungry

Sometimes dogs get a lot of snacks during the day. They ask for table scraps, and we oblige. All these snacks and no playtime make your dog lose hunger. They only eat when you are there to encourage and hand-feed.

Your Dog Is Sick

Sickness can be anything from internal inflammation to toothaches. Dental problems are common in senior dogs. As they grow, their teeth start to decay, and eating becomes painful. Their food may be appetizing, but their teeth hurt too much. When you come and feed them, you crush the food in your fingers, making it easier for them to eat.

You’ve reinforced the behavior

Dogs love to please their human. When you fawn over and hand-feed your dogs, they associate it as a good thing. The next thing you know is your dog stops eating unless you hand-feed them. They want your attention and for you to call them a ‘good boy’ or a ‘good girl.’

How To Make A Dog Eat On Their Own?

You can stop this habit and make them independent eaters. Here are some tips to help you get started:

Change The Location

Changing the location where they eat can work for dogs that lack confidence. You can change their usual spot and keep them away from big dogs and noisy machines. Dogs need to feel safe in their environment. Once dogs feel comfortable, they will begin eating in no time.  

If you have multiple dogs, you can feed them in their respective crates. Add a dark-colored blanket on top of the crate to create a sense of security.

Change The Time

Feed dogs an hour before you leave for work. Don’t let your associate mealtime with you leaving the house.

Add Delicious Topper

This method works like a charm for picky eaters. If you can add delicious gravy or wet food to their meal, they will dive right into their food! Use toppings sparingly to prevent them from gaining weight. You can also use different food toppings on different days.

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Establish Meal Times

Dogs lose interest if they don’t have a real sense of their mealtime. Establishing mealtimes will help give them a routine and structure. Begin by not giving them any treats or snacks throughout the day. Let them wait for set mealtime and keep food out for up to twenty minutes. Take the food away after mealtime is over and serve the next day. Dogs can stay two days without food, and when they’re hungry, they won’t care about being hand-fed.

Consult a Vet

Your dog may be avoiding food due to poor oral hygiene, internal injury, or obstruction in the food pipe. If your dog avoids eating for more than two days, you must take them to the local vet.

Frequently Asked Questions

What causes loss of appetite in dogs?

Here are the three main reasons:

Age: As dogs grow older, their food intake may change. Their sense of smell and taste reduces, which may change their food preferences or reduce their excitement at mealtime. Plus, older dogs may not spend as much energy since they move around less.

Routine Change: Any big or small change in routine can affect your dog’s appetite. Big changes such as moving homes or traveling can stress your pup. Stress is one of the biggest reasons pets lose their appetite. Your dogs may feel uncomfortable because of the frequent routine changes. Additionally, dogs require adjustment time to accept smaller changes like a different feeding location or a new bowl.

Medical reasons: If your dog is injured or sick, it may lose its appetite. Medical conditions like infections or cardiovascular diseases can also cause a lack of appetite. If your dog has a tooth or gum infection, it may be painful for them to eat their meal.

How long can dogs go without eating?

Dogs can survive three to five days without food, but it is not ideal. If your dog has gone three days without food, we recommend consulting your veterinarian. You should also monitor their water intake.

What helps a dog with loss of appetite?

You can try adding canned food or low-sodium chicken broth to kibble. If the pet refuses to eat after two-days, veterinary treatment will be necessary.

What times should I feed the dog?

Dogs should eat two meals each day, about 10 hours apart. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner routine is an equally great option. If more than 10 hours elapse between meals, the stomach can become acidic, causing nausea.

Can I feed my dog after the daily walk?

Yes. We recommend feeding your dog after the daily walk. But you should let your dog rest for thirty minutes and offer food.

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Nadine Oraby

My name is Nadine; I am a passionate writer and a pet lover. People usually call me by the nickname “Joy” because they think that I am a positive and joyful person who is a child at heart. My love for animals triggered me to create this blog. Articles are written by vets, pet experts, and me. Thanks for visiting. Your friend, Nadine!

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