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As a puppy owner, it’s a good idea to keep an eye on your puppy during mealtimes so that you can monitor their intake. Depending on the puppy, they may gobble up their meal in no time, but what should you do if your puppy doesn’t eat all their meals or finish their food?

Nutrition and feeding are an essential part of your puppy’s daily routine. Puppies are active, full of energy and curiosity, and they need the proper fuel to keep them going. In this post, we’ll address any concerns you have about your puppy not eating all their food, leaving food in their bowl, or having no interest in eating.

Should you be worried if your puppy is leaving food?

You should be concerned if your puppy is leaving food behind and they aren’t gaining weight. A puppy should eat 3 to 4 meals per day, with a steady weight gain over time, rather than fast growth through overeating, which can lead to developmental problems.

If you’re concerned about your puppy’s weight, read our post on Puppy Growth Rate Charts to determine if they’re underweight. And if they are, then be sure to read our post: Getting Your Puppy to Gain Weight. 

There are two likely reasons your puppy has left behind food:

  1. Distraction: Puppies are like toddlers with shiny objects! Your puppy may easily get distracted by the things going on in the home and forget about lunch. Oh, mom just got home! Oh, there’s that toy I was playing with earlier! What’s that noise, I better investigate!
  1. Satiation: Your puppy might just be full. Did you do a training session where they got some treats? Did you give them a full KONG to keep them busy? Are they being fed the correct amount of food intake? Puppies don’t have adult-sized stomachs, so they are going to get fuller quicker.

*EDIT – We have great news; our dog feeding calculator is now LIVE. Be sure to try it out here: Dog Feeding Calculator

Distraction causing puppy to leave food behind

As puppies suffer from shiny object syndrome, it’s important to remove as many distractions as possible from their eating times.

Watch your puppy when they’re eating their meals and see if it is, in fact, a distraction that’s causing them to lose interest. If you can locate that distraction, then be sure to mitigate it. If toys are getting their attention, remove them from sight, if it’s sound, then attempt to remove it, or drown it out with white noise.

If your puppy sleeps in a crate, then it’s also a good spot to feed them. Not only will it likely already be set up in a quiet location in your house, but it will further increase the positivity they feel towards their crate.

puppy smelling a bowl of food

Satiation causing puppy to leave food

Be sure to offer 3 to 4 meals per day to your puppy with the correct food calories (kcals) in their bowl to ensure optimal growth. If your puppy is getting more than their daily required intake of kcals, then it’s likely they will be leaving food behind. They simply don’t require the excess energy of the extra food.

To determine the correct amount of puppy food, follow this guide:

The Resting Energy Requirement is a calculation based upon body weight and what a dog needs to eat at complete rest to sustain them at a healthy weight. This doesn’t account for growth, health, or exercise. Meaning a puppy that is growing and running around requires a higher intake.

A standard Resting Energy Requirement for a dog is: 1lb of dog weight equates to 39 kcal per day. (https://www.hillsvet.com/)

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Puppies that are under 4-months old require 3 times the normal Resting Energy Requirement.

Puppies that are older than 4-months old require 2 times the Resting Energy Requirement.

(Attained from https://vet.osu.edu/vmc/companion/our-services/nutrition-support-service/basic-calorie-calculator)

To calculate out how much your puppy requires per day in order to maintain optimal growth, you will need to weigh your puppy.

If your puppy is 1lb, then they will require 3X the Resting Energy Requirement of 39 kcal/day. This equals 117 kcal per day.

Here is a table to give you an easy way to determine how many kcal per day your puppy should be consuming:

Lbs. Kcal per day
1 39
2 65
3 88
4 110
5 130
6 149
7 167
8 184
9 201
10 218

If your puppy’s weight isn’t listed you can use this site for an expanded version: https://wilmotveterinaryclinic.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/Resting-Energy-Requirements.pdf 

Read the label of your puppy’s dog food. It will tell you how much kcal per cup in their puppy food. Then use the above table to determine how much you should be feeding your puppy. Divide this kcal number by 3 or 4, depending on if you’re feeding 3 meals or 4 meals to your puppy per day. Of course, if you’re feeding 2 meals, then you would divide the number by 2.

I would also suggest that you consider trying out Pet Plate, which is a personalized fresh-cooked dog food service. You can enter in your pup’s details and they’ll make sure you are sent the correct amount to feed your puppy for optimal growth and health.

The best thing about them is they make their food with human-grade whole-food ingredients. And if your pup isn’t eating all their food it could be because it’s just not tasty enough for them!

Also, be sure to remember that treats also count towards the Resting Energy Requirement, so be sure to read up on your puppy treats label for calorie counts and factor it into the equation.

Here’s a good video on some tips on getting your puppy to eat their food:

Puppy not eating due to depression or sadness

If your puppy is sad or depressed, it’s possible they’ve lost their appetite. This is most likely to occur when a puppy is new to a home, as they lose their connection to their litter. Over time this will pass as they grow to love their new home and of course, you!

For more information on depression in puppies, be sure to read our post: Puppy is Sad and Depressed: What to do about it.

Getting your puppy to eat more food

A normal, healthy puppy will not starve itself. Leave out their food for 10-15 minutes. If they don’t eat it, pull up the food and try again in an hour or two. It’s necessary for your puppy to learn that this is what there is for dinner.

You may also decide to make dinner time a little more fun by using their food for training or in food puzzles. Dogs and puppies often like to put a little work in for their food. The change of pace might make it an exciting event!

puppy using a puzzle toy to eat

Feeding your puppy in a bowl isn’t required. What’s required is that they get their required calories in a day, so if they prefer eating their kibble from a toy, then there’s no harm in it, and it will actually work their minds at the same time.

Be sure not to feed your puppy their treats after their meal, such as going out for a training session, or even a play session. You don’t want your puppy associating the end of mealtime with playtime or time for treats. This will teach them that when they’ve finished it’s time for fun, so they’ll think, Look, I’m finished now, let’s go! Where are the treats?!

Lastly, it’s possible your puppy food just isn’t enjoyable to them, so try changing it up. But if you do so, be sure to transition slowly to avoid an upset tummy.

Is it a kibble problem? Does your puppy eat wet food but not their dry food? If this is the case, be sure to read our post: Puppy won’t eat kibble: do this!

We also have this post specific to the French Bulldogs: French Bulldog Puppy Not Eating: What To Do

When your puppy just won’t eat all their food

Let’s examine this scenario: you’ve been logging your puppy’s meals, and you’ve noticed they have been skipping meals or leaving behind a considerable amount of food. Enough to make you start to worry, as they’re eating less than the above guidelines of required food intake.

They’re also leaving food behind in puzzle toys, and even when you take their meal away, and bring it back in an hour, they’re still not eating it all.

We know how important it is for a puppy to get the appropriate nutrition and calories so that they develop into adult dogs with healthy minds and bodies. When our puppies are skipping meals and not getting enough calories, and despite our best efforts, they’re still not eating, it would be a wise decision to consult with your veterinarian at this point.

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There are benign issues, like your puppy is bored of their food and would appreciate some variety, but Dr. Nicholas of Preventative Vet encourages us to think about medical or behavioral issues that could be affecting your puppy’s appetite.

Potential appetite disruptors could include:

Environmental

Environmental changes can cause stress. This includes if they are new to you, as there will be a transitional time as they adapt. They may eat less during this time, and will often hold onto their poop, too.

Adding a newborn child or moving can also be a change that may affect their appetite.

Separation related behaviors can cause a puppy to forgo eating as they can become anxious and stressed about being left alone.

Viruses, infections, or pain

Puppies have new immune systems and can be prone to picking up some nasty bugs. Whether the illness has affected their respiratory or digestive system, not feeling well can absolutely lead to loss of appetite.

Injuries or pain-causing issues can also lead to an uncomfortable puppy who isn’t interested in eating. Just remember the last time you didn’t feel well!

Obstruction

Puppies are notorious chewers. It’s normal for them to be exploring their world with their mouth. Sometimes that can get them into trouble if they are left unsupervised with inappropriate objects.

Because their digestive systems are small, it’s easy for items to get stuck along the way.  Usually, a symptom of an obstruction is lack of appetite. This type of issue will require immediate veterinary attention, so watch for signs of discomfort, vomiting, and restlessness.

Should your puppy eat all their food at once?

Whether you have an adult or a puppy, your dog has a certain number of calories they need each day, as explained above. This calorie count will be based on their age, activity level, and any health concerns.

Puppies need to have quite a few calories per day because they are growing. We are looking for our pups to grow slowly and steadily, not as fast as possible.

According to veterinarians, Dr. Williams and Dr. Downings, we are looking for our puppies to have “optimal growth.” This allows puppies to grow into their ideal weight at the right speed.

Veterinarians will usually recommend that puppies eat 3-4 meals a day so that they can gradually absorb their daily calories.

Puppies that are given too many calories all at once, may grow to an adult size too fast and are at risk of “skeletal deformities, obesity, and shortened life expectancy.” (VCA Hospitals) Free feeding or giving puppies their daily calorie intake all at once is not conducive to healthy physical development.

So, the answer is no, please don’t feed your puppy all their food in one go.

You might also like to read this post: Can You Overfeed Your Puppy? (Yes or No)

Puppy won’t eat food but will eat treats

To be fair, dog treats are made to be super yummy for dogs. Dog food on the other hand is often nutritionally focused. It would be like giving a toddler a well-balanced meal and they only want a chocolate chip cookie. We get it!

We want our puppies to have the right number of calories, but we also want them to be nutritionally balanced. A puppy’s food is going to check all of those boxes.

While treats are great for training and for just being a good dog, they shouldn’t be the main source of food. Be sure to separate mealtime from treats as much as possible.

If your puppy is stuck on treats, then it’s time to stop them altogether for the time being. You can introduce a food topper to their food to make it more enticing, then slowly reduce the amount you use until it’s gone. This process should wean your puppy of their treats.

Final Word

There is a fine line to walk with puppies and mealtime!

  1. They should be getting enough calories to help them grow into adult dogs, but not too much all at the same time.
  2. Puppies may not be eating for a few reasons. Some of those reasons are due to pickiness, loving treats, there’s a distraction or a distaste of the food.

Lack of appetite can also be an indication that something is medically wrong and needs to be addressed immediately. Contact your veterinarian to discuss your puppy’s appetite if there has been a string of missed meals, especially if it’s all of a sudden.

Puppyhood is full of cuddles and fun, but as responsible dog owners, we should focus on their health and development, too. By being aware of what’s happening at mealtime, we can be ready for any potential medical or behavior problems and teach good eating habits.

Is your puppy eating the correct dry food? Breed and size are important. In our Dry Food Choosing Guide, we give you the best dry food for your puppy: