Discover why your puppy is ignoring the food bowl, and get expert tricks for stoking a puppy's appetite.
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Golden Labrador puppy standing next to his food bowl
Credit: tan4ikk / Adobe Stock

Puppies are known (and loved!) for their bouncy exuberance, from dashing into a pile of leaves to barking at their reflections in the mirror to trying their darndest to jump onto the couch. All those learning-about-the-world quests require lots of energy, which your pup gets from being fed multiple times a day. If your puppy isn't eating enough, should you be worried? The answer is maybe.

Veterinarian Joanna Gale, BVetMed, a Mars Petcare expert, explains how much your puppy should eat and gives the lowdown on why young dogs sometimes skip meals, how to get them to eat, and what signs indicate something is seriously wrong.

How Many Times a Day Should a Puppy Eat?

Like human babies, puppies have little stomachs and need to eat several small meals a day. As your puppy grows, you can feed larger amounts less frequently. Your veterinarian can recommend a schedule, but Gale says these are the general guidelines:

  • 4 meals a day: Recently weaned puppies of all sizes need four meals a day.
  • 3 meals a day: Small breeds can transition to three meals a day around 4 months of age, while larger breeds make the switch around 6 months.
  • 2 meals a day: Maintain two meals a day starting between 4 to 10 months for small breeds and between 6 to 12 months for large breeds.

How Much Should a Puppy Eat?

Puppies need varying amounts of food, depending on the dog's size and breed. For a starting point, check the feeding guides on puppy food packages. But remember, Gale says, that the feeding guides list the total daily amount—so split that amount equally into the number of meals that's right for your puppy's age.

For example, if it says your 3-month-old puppy needs 1 cup of food a day, divide that by four. So you would feed your pup a quarter cup of kibble four times a day. Your veterinarian can also help determine if the amount of food needs to be adjusted based on your dog's growth and weight at each well-visit.

How Long Should a Puppy Eat Puppy Food?

Young dogs need the extra nutrients they get in puppy food for proper growth. "Only transition to adult food once your puppy has stopped growing and reached their adult size," Gale says. "The age at which this happens varies according to dog size and breed." But here's a rough guide for when dogs can typically make the switch to adult food:

  • Small breeds: Nine to 12 months of age
  • Large breeds: 12 to 18 months
  • Giant breeds: Around 2 years

How Long Can Puppies Go Without Eating?

It's essential for puppies to regularly refuel. Growing bodies need lots of nutrients. So if your puppy is acting like his goofy, normal self but hasn't eaten for a full day, call your vet for advice. Is your puppy also refusing water? Then ring your vet after a half-day of no eating or drinking, Gale recommends.

If your puppy becomes inactive or starts to vomit or have diarrhea, it's best to see your vet right away. Diarrhea and vomiting can quickly dehydrate a puppy and could indicate that something is seriously wrong.

7 Reasons Why Your Puppy Won't Eat

Your puppy may lose his appetite due to a variety of causes, some of which you can easily remedy at home while others require veterinary care.

1. Exhaustion

Puppies go-go-go until they suddenly crash into a sleeping pile of cuteness. Your little one may simply need a nap before he's ready to chow down. As long as your pup digs into his bowl at the next mealtime, it's okay for him to miss one feeding.

2. Distraction

If there's a party going on, a new person or pet in the house, or an opportunity to play, your puppy might be too excited to eat. Your four-legged friend should be ready to eat once things settle down again.

3. Stress

Has anything changed in your puppy's environment recently? For instance, a new home, pet, or person? If surroundings have changed, that can cause puppies to act differently. "Some puppies will eat even if the world is ending, but others are more sensitive to what's going on around them," Gale says. It may just be a matter of your puppy adjusting. But make sure feeding times are as calm for your pet as possible and consider placing your puppy's food bowl away from other pets' feeding areas.

4. Vaccinations

Just like in people, pets can feel a little blah after getting a shot. Fatigue and reduced appetite are normal side effects of puppy vaccinations, but they shouldn't last longer than a day.

5. Finicky Eater

Many pet parents assume that if puppies aren't eating, it's because they don't like the food. But, Gale says, "Most healthy puppies have a good appetite and aren't fussy about their kibble. If you add human food, you're unbalancing the meal that's been carefully formulated for puppies. And your puppy may end up picking out the bits that he likes and leaving the rest."

6. Too Many Snacks

It's important that puppies learn good manners with some basic positive reinforcement training. But teaching young pups the do's and don'ts usually requires lots of treats. If your puppy is filling up on treats, he may not be hungry for his normal meal. If that's the case, use pieces of his regular kibble or try buying specific training treats as incentives during training sessions so he gets proper nutrition throughout the day.

7. Illness

A complete loss of appetite could mean your puppy is sick, particularly if he is listless or quiet, Gale says. The problem could be anything from a virus to eating something that isn't food (hello, little shoe chewer).

How to Get a Puppy to Eat Again

If your puppy has other symptoms or has missed an entire day of eating, seek veterinary care. Otherwise, there are a few things you can do at home to encourage your pup to eat his next meal.

"If your puppy is healthy, the best thing is to let him eat when he's ready," Gale says. "Instead of going down a rabbit hole of trying to please a picky eater, try a puzzle or toy feeder that makes mealtime fun—a trick that often turns a finicky puppy into an enthusiastic eater."

Also, limit giving treats to your puppy to encourage a strong appetite when it's time to eat. And, make sure mealtimes are calm and relaxed. One other secret to enticing your pup to eat is to mix wet and dry puppy food. It's a change that's still nutritionally balanced and appropriate for puppies.

Healthy puppies happily chomp their kibble at mealtimes. So if your furry pal is refusing to eat, it's best to check in with your vet especially if your pup has skipped several meals. Once your adorable fur ball is chowing down again, you can relax knowing your spunky pup is getting everything a growing dog needs.