Decoding Your Dog’s Puzzling Behaviour of Eating Treats but Not Food

Have you started noticing your dog refusing regular food while devouring treats? This perplexing behavior may leave you scratching your head, wondering, “Why is my dog not eating his food but eating treats?” 

It’s not just a trivial quirk; understanding the reasons behind such behavior is crucial. It reveals insights into your dog’s overall health and well-being. Addressing these underlying causes not only ensures a happy, healthy pup but also fosters a deeper bond between you and your pet. 

Dive into our comprehensive guide as we unravel this mystery, offering insights and actionable steps to help you decode and address your canine companion’s change in dietary habits.

How Treats Impact Your Dog’s Diet

It’s a joy seeing our dogs’ tails wag with excitement when we’re giving them treats. Yet, it’s crucial to recognize how these treats can influence their overall diet.

Consider this: a single dog biscuit might contain roughly 10 calories. Though minimal, giving 10 biscuits daily adds 100 calories to your dog’s diet. These numbers can significantly add up over weeks or even just several days, especially for less active dogs.

While it brings them much joy, indulging pups with excessive dog treats might lead to unexpected weight gain. With this added weight, they can become susceptible to various health conditions such as:

  • Joint discomfort
  • Diabetes risks
  • Heart-related issues
  • Potential liver complications
  • Respiratory challenges

Why is My Dog Refusing His Meals but Eating Treats?

It’s crucial for dogs to have their regular meals as it provides them with the proteins, vitamins, and essential nutrients they need for a balanced diet. When they only want treats but reject their meals, this balance can be disrupted. So, why does this happen?

Disclaimer: The following sections provide general information that should not be used as a substitute for professional advice from a veterinarian. If your dog consistently avoids meals but happily accepts treats, it’s best to consult with a veterinarian to address any potential underlying issues.

Health Issues

If your dog is refusing his meal but eating treats, it could be a sign of a medical problem. Some possible health issues include:

Gastrointestinal diseases

Like humans, dogs can suffer stomach issues that deter them from regular food. Conditions such as upset stomach, diarrhea, or even vomiting can significantly decrease their appetite. Yet, they might still be inclined to nibble on treats, finding them more tempting and perhaps less taxing on their troubled tummies.

Liver diseases

A dog’s liver plays a pivotal role in digestion and detoxification. If they’re suffering from liver problems, symptoms like nausea can significantly impact their appetite.

Pancreatic diseases

The pancreas is crucial for digestion and regulating blood sugar. Diseases like pancreatitis (an inflamed pancreas) or diabetes (where insulin production is compromised) can dampen a dog’s desire for their standard food.

Respiratory problems

Imagine trying to enjoy a meal while struggling to breathe. Dogs facing respiratory problems, be it due to asthma or pneumonia, might find it difficult to muster the energy to eat their regular meals.

Other conditions (e.g. eye pain, fracture, arthritis)

From eye discomfort to broken bones or the persistent pain of conditions like arthritis, various health issues can make eating a less than enjoyable experience for our pets. While they might avoid their usual meals due to discomfort, the allure of a tasty treat might momentarily distract them from their ailment.

Dental Issues

Dog with tooth decay

Dental troubles, often overlooked, can significantly influence a dog’s eating behavior. A painful mouth can make the simple act of eating an ordeal. However, because treats are smaller and softer, they might be easier for dogs to consume when dealing with dental discomfort.


Humans aren’t the only ones who dread the throbbing pain of a toothache; dogs feel the discomfort too. Issues like tooth decay, chipped teeth, or abscesses at the root can turn each bite into a painful ordeal, leading many dogs to sidestep their meals, regardless of their hunger.

Oral infections

Bacteria, viruses, and fungi can wreak havoc inside a dog’s mouth. The resulting infections can cause considerable discomfort, often preventing them from indulging in their meals.


Imagine painful sores on the tongue or gums. Ulcers, caused by infections, physical trauma, or even allergies, can be exceptionally agonizing, making mealtime a challenge.

Want to spare your furry friend from dental distress? Here are some proactive measures:
  • Make a routine out of brushing your dog’s teeth. Regular dental care can ward off many potential oral problems.
  • Consider investing in dental chews and chew toys. Not only do they entertain your dog, but they also act as natural toothbrushes, helping to keep dental issues at bay.

Psychological Factors

Did you know that dogs can also experience emotional and psychological hurdles? These internal feelings can negatively affect their eating patterns. 

Yet, even when stressed, dogs might still be inclined towards treats due to their taste and aroma, size and texture, and the positive memories associated with them (e.g. successful training sessions, playful moments, or signs of affection).

When in this distressed state, regular meals might take a backseat, but the allure of treats can provide a momentary solace. Read on to learn about some psychological factors that might sway a dog’s desire to eat.

Separation anxiety

Separation anxiety in dogs manifests when they become overly attached or dependent on their family members. The thought of being left alone, even for short durations, can trigger anxiety in them. This overwhelming sense of stress may sometimes reduce their appetite for food.  

The presence of a new pet in the household

Introducing another pet into your household can create a ripple in dynamics. This might make some dogs feel uneasy or overshadowed, leading to a reduced appetite.

A new environment/home renovations

Relocating or significant changes at home can be disorienting for dogs. Being in unfamiliar or shifting surroundings can make them feel out of their element, impacting their willingness to eat.

Temporary stressors

Certain situations, like thunderstorms or unfamiliar guests, can unsettle dogs. Their sensitivity to abrupt environmental shifts can result in a momentary loss of appetite.

Recent Vaccination or Medication

Sometimes, after getting a vaccine or taking certain medications, dogs might show reduced interest in their regular meals, yet remain enticed by treats.

Recent vaccinations

When dogs are vaccinated, their immune system gets a gentle nudge to produce antibodies against specific illnesses. It’s like a mock drill for the body, preparing it to fight off real threats in the future. However, this practice session can sometimes leave dogs feeling a little unwell. 

They might exhibit symptoms like a slight fever, tiredness, or even diminished appetite. Fortunately, these are typically short-lived reactions and tend to resolve themselves in a couple of days.


Medications, while beneficial, can sometimes come with strings attached in the form of side effects. One common side effect, especially in dogs, is a reduced appetite. Here are a few medicines that might cause this reaction:

  • Antibiotics
  • Pain relievers
  • Chemotherapy drugs

Dietary Preferences

Shih Tzu laying on the ground beside a bowl of food

Dogs can develop unique tastes and preferences, influencing their choices between regular meals and treats. Here’s why your furry friend might be leaning more towards those tempting treats:

Superior taste of treats

Manufacturers formulate treats to capture a dog’s attention. Using high-quality ingredients and an alluring aroma, these dog treats often become a favorite, sometimes overshadowing their regular meals.

Routine vs variety

While dogs thrive on routine and can become accustomed to a specific food, they can also get bored if they eat the same thing every day. On the other hand, abrupt changes in their diet might be met with some hesitation. It’s all about striking a balance: introducing new flavors gradually or rotating their meals occasionally can keep their interest without overwhelming them.

What to Do If Your Dog Is Not Eating His Food?

Infographic with tips on what to do if your dog is not eating his food

Noticing your pup turning his nose up at his food? Here are some tips on what you can do: 

Check for Signs of Dental or Health Issues

The most important step is to ensure that no health issues are causing your dog’s lack of interest in meals. Dental issues or other health complications can often dampen their appetite. A visit to the vet is recommended to help determine if there’s an underlying problem.

The vet might suggest changing the food type, utilizing appetite enhancers, or exploring other solutions.

Maintain a Feeding Routine

Consistency is key with dogs. Thus, it’s important to ensure they’re fed at the same time daily. 

If your dog hasn’t finished his meal in about 15 – 30 minutes, remove the food. This teaches him not to be overly fussy and keeps him on a routine.

Limit their Treat Intake

While treats can be a delightful indulgence for your dog, it’s vital not to let them dominate your pet’s diet. Ensure treats don’t make up more than 10% of their daily caloric needs. Moreover, treats should ideally be given as positive reinforcement:

  • During training sessions
  • As a reward for good behavior
  • During socializing activities
  • To keep them engaged for short durations

Tips to Encourage Your Dog to Eat Proper Meals Again

Person giving a bowl of kibble to his pet dog

Every dog owner wants their furry friend to enjoy their meals and receive proper nutrition. If your pup has become a bit picky or is showing reluctance towards their regular food, don’t fret. Here are some tried-and-true strategies to help reignite their appetite and get them excited about mealtime once more:

Change the Way You Prepare Your Dog’s Food

Changing the preparation of your dog’s meal can make a significant difference in their eagerness to eat. Here’s how and why these adjustments can work:

  • Warming the food

Dogs possess a heightened sense of smell which plays a pivotal role in their appetite. By warming their food, you amplify its aroma, drawing them in. Whether you use a microwave or the stovetop, ensure the food reaches a palatable warmth, but always allow it to cool to a safe temperature before serving.

  • Hydrate their meal

Adding a splash of water or broth not only makes the food moist but also boosts its flavor profile. The added moisture can be especially appealing for dogs who prefer a wetter consistency. 

Read our step-by-step recipe for making your own chicken broth for dogs at home. 

Mix Treats or Add Toppings into Your Dog’s Food

Sometimes, all your dog needs is a bit of an extra push toward their meal. Sprinkling treats or savory toppings into their usual fare might just do the trick. These additions not only bring in a burst of flavor but also break the monotony of their regular meal. 

Especially for those dogs who’ve shown signs of being finicky or weary of the same taste day in and out, this can reignite their enthusiasm for mealtime.

Use a Puzzle Feeder or a Toy

Dog eating from a puzzle feeder

When it comes to reluctant eaters, presenting their meal in an interactive puzzle feeder or a treat-dispensing toy can make all the difference. These tools aren’t just fun; they tap into your dog’s natural instincts to forage and problem-solve. 

So, not only are you encouraging them to eat, but you’re also providing mental stimulation. This can make the act of eating from a regular dog bowl far more appealing.

Offer Positive Reinforcement

Dogs thrive on positive interactions and associations. When they associate eating their food with receiving your affection or praise, they’re more likely to eat enthusiastically. 

Simply put, when they realize that finishing their meal leads to a cheerful “Good job!” or some quality playtime with you, it makes the act of eating a more rewarding experience for them. This positive reinforcement can be instrumental in building consistent, healthy eating habits.

Consider Other Food Options

If your dog’s reluctance to eat remains a consistent issue, it’s worthwhile exploring alternative dietary choices that might better cater to their taste and nutritional needs:

Raw Food Diets

These consist of uncooked meats, bones, and sometimes fruits and vegetables. It mimics a natural ancestral diet and could pique your dog’s interest due to its freshness and texture. 

Standard Kibble

If you haven’t been using this staple, it might be worth a shot. The dry texture and varied flavors of dog kibbles can sometimes appeal to picky eaters.

Freeze-dried Options

These foods maintain most of the nutrients from their raw form and provide a different texture and taste experience. Freeze-dried dog foods are convenient and can be a middle-ground between raw and cooked diets.

FAQs About Dogs Refusing Food and Eating Treats

Dogs can sometimes show periods of indifference to their regular meals while still eagerly devouring treats. Before concluding that your canine companion has become picky with food, ensure they're not experiencing health issues.

If your dog doesn't touch his food, it might be better to take it away rather than leave it out all day. Leaving it out can make it seem less special and can also lead to the food turning bad.

To work out the calories in dog treats, look at the amounts of protein, fat, and carbohydrates they contain. You can calculate the carbohydrates by looking at what's left when you subtract everything else (like protein, fat, and moisture) from 100%. 

Once you have these numbers, just remember that both protein and carbohydrates have about the same calories, but fat has more than double. So, count up the calories for each and then add them all together to get the grand total.


  • Wai Ling


    Foodie at heart and (almost) always with a camera in hand. When she's not busy with work, you'll find her munching around Singapore or snapping pics in some cool new spot.

  • Emilia Wong


    Bubble tea and sleeping are two of Emilia's favourite things. She also enjoys cooking and loves to experiment with new recipes for different cuisines.


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