Have you recently picked up your dog following surgery, only to find that upon returning home, he is refusing to eat. Concerning, right? But why may he be doing this – is it normal, even? And is there anything that you can do to stimulate his appetite and get him eating again? Well, here is everything you are going to want to know (and do).
So, why do dogs not want to eat after surgery? Dogs can refuse food after surgery because they are in pain or feeling nauseous. Their discomfort can be due to the surgery or the medications they’ve been given. Because they aren’t feeling their best, they often don’t want to eat.
While it is certainly worrying, rest assured this is entirely normal in dogs (as we shall soon explore), and their appetite should return in a relatively short amount of time.
At least, it does in most dogs.
So you will need to monitor your dogs eating closely and see how long this aversion lasts.
If it does start to go on a while, it’s never a bad idea to discuss this with your vet.
In the meantime, there are some effective means of stimulating a dog’s appetite post-surgery – from the foods you offer to the way it is prepared.
We will soon look at these.
But first, let’s continue to explore the specifics of food refusal.
That way, you may be able to identify the specific cause for your dog (and context).
Why Is My Dog Not Eating After Surgery?
Your dog may not be eating after surgery because of the anesthesia, medications, or pain.
Not Eating Because of Anesthesia
If your dog has had anesthesia for surgery, it’s possible he won’t want to eat. Anesthesia can make some dogs nauseous, in which case, they won’t want any food.
Not Eating Because of Medications
Similar to anesthesia, some post-operative medications can cause nausea in dogs.
Just like humans, dogs often don’t want to eat if they’re feeling nauseous.
Some painkillers and antibiotics can cause your dog to lose his appetite temporarily. Certain medications will cause side effects in some dogs.
Your dog may be given NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) which are commonly used to help reduce fever, pain, and swelling.
These drugs are best given with a meal to help mitigate side effects.
If your dog is taking NSAIDs, keep an eye out for the following:
- Change in stools (blood in stools or a dark color, or diarrhea)
- Changes in urinating or drinking
- Decrease in appetite
For any of the above symptoms, discontinue the NSAID and contact your vet or an emergency hospital immediately.
Some dogs receive opioids for pain relief. If your dog is on opioids, the usual side effects can be:
- Decreased appetite
- Sleeping more
Constipation is the most usual side effect, with many dogs not having a bowel movement for 48 hours.
If your dog is constipated for longer than 48 hours, contact your vet right away.
Not Eating Because of Pain
If your dog is in pain, it’s no surprise that he may not want to eat. Depending on the surgery, there is often some pain during the recovery process.
Most surgical procedures do not require antibiotics – antibiotics are only given when there are signs of infection.
Monitor your dog for any symptoms of infection, as that could cause additional pain (and problems eating).
How Long Can a Dog Go Without Eating After Surgery?
Your dog can go for 24 hours without eating after surgery without any negative effects. After that, you’ll want to check for signs of other problems and get him to eat (see below). If your dog hasn’t eaten in 48 hours, call your vet.
Most dogs can go for one full day of not eating without experiencing long-term ill effects. Usually, your dog will start to eat again gradually after a day or so.
However, if your dog’s appetite doesn’t come back within 48 hours, contact your vet.
Sometimes a prolonged loss of appetite can be a sign of infection.
If your dog isn’t eating and you also notice any of the following symptoms, there could be an infection:
- Discharge at the incision site
- Swelling or redness at the incision site
Most infections are caused by dogs licking or chewing at the incision, which is why they are usually sent home with a collar.
If you suspect there’s an infection, contact your vet.
If your vet prescribes antibiotics, the most common side effect is gastrointestinal upset.
Your vet will probably advise you to give your dog his antibiotics with food.
Is It Normal For A Dog To Not Eat After Surgery?
It is entirely normal for a dog not to eat after surgery since he is most likely not feeling his best. If your dog is overweight, it’s normal for him to take longer to recover. If your dog has to be fed from a syringe or a tube, it’s also usual for him not to want food.
If you’ve had surgery yourself, then you’ll know that you don’t always want to eat immediately afterward.
Depending on the medication your dog is taking (see above), he may be feeling nauseous.
Most of us don’t want to eat when we feel nauseous, so we tend to avoid food and let our bodies heal themselves without having to deal with the effort of digestion.
After all, digestion is one of the most consuming jobs that the body has, both in humans and in animals.
If your dog is obese, his recovery time after surgery will likely be longer. This is because:
- Most general anesthetics are fat-soluble, which means the higher the percentage of body fat and the longer your dog is under anesthesia, the more anesthetic will be absorbed into your dog’s body fat.
- Anesthesia that is absorbed by body fat can leach back into your dog’s blood for as long as several weeks after surgery.
If your dog has to be fed from a syringe or a tube, it’s entirely normal that he will resist this. Tubes and syringes are not natural ways for him to eat.
What To Feed A Dog That Won’t Eat After Surgery
Your dog will need protein-rich foods to help him recover after surgery. Take into account any problems he might have as a result of surgery, such as difficulty chewing or having less energy. Avoid dry kibble or any food at all in the first few hours following surgery.
Most dogs enjoy chewing on a hunk of meat, even if it’s tough.
Bones are also favorites with dogs – provided it isn’t difficult for them to chew.
If your dog has trouble chewing or is simply a bit sleepier than usual, make it easier for him to eat.
Try cutting or shredding his food into smaller pieces so that he can swallow easily.
You don’t want him to choke if he can’t chew food with his usual efficiency.
Baby food is a good alternative for dogs, especially if you blend it with extra meat or vegetables.
The great thing about baby food is that it’s the perfect texture for your tired and achy dog to eat post-surgery.
Check the labels on the baby food to make sure all of the ingredients are safe for your dog, though.
Many foods that are fine for humans are detrimental or even dangerous for dogs.
If your dog seems to have gastrointestinal problems (constipation being the most common problem), try mixing some canned pumpkin in with his food.
Avoid feeding your dog in the first few hours after surgery, especially if he eats dry kibble.
His nausea from the anesthetic may cause him to choke. He needs smooth food or food that’s cut into small and soft pieces.
How Can I Increase My Dog’s Appetite After Surgery?
You can increase your dog’s appetite after surgery by making food more appealing, hand or spoon-feeding your dog, or offering some home-cooked food. Above all, don’t rush your dog or force him to eat before he’s ready.
Make Food More Appealing
There are several ways you can make your dog’s food more appealing. Try things like:
- Adding cooked lean meat like boiled, ground turkey, or chicken to their main meal. Dogs love meat, so this type of meat can get their attention and boost recovery. Make sure the meat is thoroughly cooked, with any bones removed. Cooked eggs work well, too. Avoid anything too rich, such as fried foods or other foods that are high in fat.
- Heating up your dog’s food. Warmed food smells better and can be more tempting for your dog. Try warming it up for a few seconds in the microwave, if you wish, to heighten the smell.
- Adding warm water or broth (low in salt) to your dog’s food can help soften it and make it easier to chew.
Hand-Feed or Spoon-Feed Your Dog
While you might not want to make this a habit, it can be comforting and encouraging for your dog to eat from your hand.
If hand-feeding doesn’t appeal to you, get children to do it. They love the sensation of a dog licking their hands, and they will appreciate being able to help their pet.
Another alternative is to spoon-feed your dog, particularly if you’re using baby food or a home-cooked meal.
The main idea here is to indulge your recovering pet with a little extra TLC. Your dog will appreciate you getting down to his level to gently feed him tasty tidbits.
Even if you only manage to give him a few bites of cooked chicken, egg, or little soaked bits of kibble, it will be a start.
However you choose to feed your dog, talk to him lovingly, with lots of words of encouragement.
These methods are particularly useful for dogs who are wearing an Elizabethan collar as part of their recovery process.
Try A Home Cooked Meal
Try feeding your dog some home-cooked doggie food, such as chicken with pasta, fish with potatoes, ground turkey or chicken with rice, etc.
Be sure the ratio of proteins to carbs is 1:1.
Don’t be tempted to use seasonings or spices: their digestive system is already sensitive, so they need bland foods to recover well.
Don’t Rush Your Dog
Yes, you want him to eat, but you don’t want to force him or push him into eating.
Doing so could have the opposite effect of putting him off his food even more.
If you dog is not eating after surgery, you should be rightly alarmed.
But, at least now we know there is a reason for it. And that it should pass.
Better still, with a few of the recommendations presented above, you should find that your dogs appetite returns.
Usually with a vengeance. Besides, they will need to make up for lost time/calories!
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I am a practiced pet owner with decades of experience owning a number of different pets. I am also the main writer and chief editor here at Pet Educate; a site I created to share everything I’ve learned about pet ownership over the years and my extensive research along the way.