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Why Is My Dog Not Eating His Food But Will Eat Treats? Asked & Answered


If your dog is eating their treats but refusing to eat their food, it may be time to worry. This is called partial anorexia and it can mean there is an underlying health condition, but it can also mean that your dog is a picky eater. But even if it does not mean a medical emergency, your dog can’t have a healthy diet on treats alone, so we must find the reason and deal with the issues.

One of the ways to deal with a fussy eater is to carry their food on you instead of treats. This way, if you’re tempted to give them treats, you present them with their food instead. You can even clip a collapsible dog food bowl to your belt so you can feed them anywhere. And if your dog is refusing to eat, they may also be refusing to drink, so keep a portable doggy water bottle on hand to keep them hydrated.

But if your dog is refusing to eat his food no matter what you do, but they’re still licking tasty treats from a lick mat then we’ve consulted expert behavioral and medical sources Common Clinical Presentation in Dogs and Cats so that you know what to do.

Most common reasons that dogs refuse their regular food but still take treats

One of the more serious symptoms of a sick dog is refusing to eat. So if one of my dogs doesn’t eat as much as usual or has partial anorexia, I usually pay attention because it is typically a serious issue. But there are a few reasons that a dog will eat treats but not their regular dog food. Let’s have a look.

1. Dog Has a Reduced Appetite Due to Underlying Health Conditions

A decreased appetite can be a sign of an underlying health issue. Dogs may experience digestive problems, dental pain, infections, or other medical conditions that affect their appetite. If your dog consistently refuses to eat and displays other signs of illness, such as throwing up after eating, soft poop, or dry heaving.

Sick dogs may have lost their regular appetite for their food, but they can often still be bribed to eat with a yummy bit of chicken or juicy steak. If their condition gets worse, it could be something serious, so this could be an early warning sign of a health problem.

Puppies who are refusing to eat should go straight to the vet even if they will still nibble on a treat. A sudden drop in appetite in puppies can be an early sign of something serious, like Parvo, so don’t ignore loss of interest in food.

It’s essential to consult with a veterinarian to rule out any health concerns and develop an appropriate treatment plan.

2. Dog is a Fussy Eater

Some dogs are simply picky eaters. They may have particular preferences for certain textures, flavors, or brands of food. Treats often have stronger smells and more enticing flavors, making them more appealing to finicky eaters. It’s important to ensure that your dog’s regular food is nutritionally balanced and suitable for their age and size, while also experimenting with different options to find a meal that satisfies their palate.

3. They Are Getting Too Many Treats

If you are in the habit of feeding your dog a lot of treats and human food, they may just be too full from the treats to bother eating their regular food. 

4. Dog Does Not Like Their Food

Just like humans, dogs can have preferences for certain types of food. If your dog consistently refuses to eat their regular meals, it could be because they genuinely dislike the taste or texture. It may be worth trying different brands or formulations to find a food that your dog finds more appealing. Mixing in a small amount of wet food or adding low-sodium broth as a topper can also enhance the flavor and make the meal more enticing.

5. Dog Has Learned That Ignoring Food Yields Better Options

Dogs are intelligent creatures and can quickly learn behaviors that yield rewards. If your dog has received treats or “human food” when they ignore their regular meals, they may associate this behavior with a more desirable outcome. 

This learned behavior can create a cycle where they hold out for better food options. It’s pretty common in dogs with anxious owners to turn their nose up at their food, only to have their owners immediately cook them a steak to prevent them starving. If this happens enough times, you can be sure your dog will learn to ignore boring, dry food until you offer them something better.

It’s important to establish consistent feeding routines and avoid reinforcing this behavior by rewarding their refusal with treats.

6. Dog is Stressed, Depressed, or Fearful:

Studies show that stress, anxiety, or fear can impact a dog’s appetite. Changes in the environment, separation anxiety, or traumatic experiences can lead to a decreased interest in food. Creating a calm and safe feeding environment, providing routine and stability, and using positive reinforcement techniques can help reduce stress and improve their appetite.

A common reason research shows dogs may lose interest in their food is also depression. This usually happens when dogs are extremely attached to their owners. They may le

7. Dog is Older and Experiencing a Reduced Sense of Smell and Taste

As dogs age, their sense of smell and taste can diminish. Research shows that this can result in a decreased appetite and reduced interest in food. Older dogs may benefit from specially formulated senior dog food with enhanced flavors or aromas to stimulate their appetite. Softening dry kibble with warm water or providing smaller, more frequent meals may also help.

Can A Dog Survive On Just Treats?

No, a dog cannot survive on just treats. Treats are not nutritionally balanced to provide all the necessary nutrients for a dog’s overall health. They are meant to be occasional rewards and should not replace a well-balanced diet.

What To Do When A Dog Refuses To Eat Their Food But Is Eating Treats?

1. Consult a Veterinarian

Take your dog to the vet first to rule out any underlying medical conditions. Thorough medical tests are important as reduced appetite can be a concerning sign in dogs of almost every possible health condition.

2. Reduce or Cut Out Treats

Once medical issues are ruled out, reduce or eliminate treats altogether. This helps ensure that your dog becomes hungry enough to eat their regular food and breaks the learned behavior of holding out for treats.

3. Be Patient and Resist the Temptation

It’s essential not to give in and feed your dog junk food when they refuse to eat their regular meals. Wait out the hunger strike, as missing a few meals will not harm a healthy dog (just make sure your dog really is healthy though).

4. Consider Different Food Options

If your dog continues to refuse food or loses weight, try different foods. Look for balanced options with strong smells and flavors. However, if your dog is on a prescription diet for a health condition, it is very important that you don’t accidentally unbalance the diet. For example, a special diet for a dog with a heart condition is typically low in sodium. But if you give a dog human treats, you may undermine the special diet by adding salt to their diet.

So, consult your vet about adding safe and appetizing additions to their diet, such as meaty, low-sodium broth, raw food toppings, or mixing their regular food with ground beef, fish, or turkey.

5. Increase Activity

Increasing your dog’s activity levels can help stimulate their appetite. Regular exercise and mental stimulation can work wonders in encouraging them to eat.

6. Create a Calm Eating Environment

Ensure your dog has a quiet place to eat alone, free from distractions. This helps reduce anxiety and allows them to focus on their meal without any disruptions.

7. Address Anxiety and Separation Issues

If your dog experiences anxiety or separation issues, work on reducing their stress levels. Gradual desensitization techniques, comforting routines, and providing engaging toys or puzzles can help alleviate anxiety and create a more relaxed eating experience.

Remember, it’s crucial to consult with your veterinarian throughout this process for personalized guidance. They can provide specific recommendations based on your dog’s health, age, and individual needs. Maintaining a nutritious and balanced diet is vital for your dog’s well-being, and finding the right approach to encourage them to eat their regular food is essential.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why is my dog not eating but still active? 

There are many reasons a dog may refuse to eat but still act normal, including picky eating habits, a change in routine, stress, or underlying medical issues. Consulting with a veterinarian is recommended to determine the cause.

Why is my old dog not eating but still taking treats? 

Older dogs may experience a reduced appetite due to age-related factors like decreased sense of smell, cognitive decline or dental issues. Treats may have a more enticing aroma or softer texture that is easier to consume.

Why is my dog sniffing food but not eating? 

Sniffing food without eating can indicate a lack of interest, a dislike for the food, or a potential medical issue affecting their appetite. Consulting with a vet can help identify the cause.

Why does my dog refuse to eat kibble but still eats everything else? 

If a dog refuses to eat kibble, they may have developed a preference for other food textures or flavors. Trying different types of kibble, adding toppers, or consulting with a vet can help find a suitable option.

Why will my dog eat from my hand but not from a bowl? 

Eating from your hand may offer a sense of security or novelty for your dog. It could also be related to bowl aversion or discomfort with the bowl itself. Experimenting with different bowl types or feeding methods may help.

Final thoughts

 when a dog refuses to eat their food but still eats treats, it can be a puzzling situation. By considering factors such as picky eating habits, health issues, preferences, and behavior, you can address the underlying causes and work towards finding a solution. Consulting with a veterinarian is always recommended to ensure your dog’s overall health and well-being. With patience, understanding, and the right approach, you can help your furry friend develop healthy eating habits and enjoy their meals. Remember, each dog is unique, and finding the right balance may require some trial and error.


Tamsin De La Harpe


Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions.

Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.

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