Why Do Dogs Spit Their Food?

Adrienne Farricelli

Dogs spit their food generally in two specific scenarios: when something is not right with the food itself or when there is something not right going on with their lives. To get to the source of the problem, you may have to carefully evaluate in what context the behavior occurs and whether there's a problem with the foods you are offering.

When dogs spit their food, dog owners are often concerned, and rightfully so, considering a dog's reputation for gluttonous eating. Is there something wrong with the food? Does the dog think the food is disgusting? Is the dog not feeling well? These are all important questions. 

Something Wrong With the Food 

If your dog always ate his food with an appetite and is now spitting his food, you may want to rule out the possibility of something being wrong with the food. 

Your investigation should start by checking the expiration date on the bag of the food if you are feeding kibble or on the can if you are feeding wet food. If you are feeding a homemade diet, check that none of the ingredients you have used for your dog's meal preparation have spoiled. 

Next, go online and check whether there were any recent recalls on the food you are feeding. This lately happens more often than one would like. If you find none, then try Googling whether other dogs being fed the same food are getting sick of refusing to eat it.

If nothing seems wrong with the food, it is always a good idea to call the food manufacturing company to check whether there were any recent changes in their formulation. I remember once my dog getting super gasses from the food they are for long time, only to discover that yes, they changed some ingredients.

  Most bags of food or wet canned food should have a customer support phone number listed somewhere. If none is listed, look for a "contact us" form on their website. 

Dog Not Feeling Well

Deprived from the gift of voice, dogs cannot tell us how they are feeling, but we can often deduct something is amiss in the health department when there are changes in their appetite and eating habits. 

The list of conditions that may cause a loss of appetite in dogs is very long, but here is just a summary of some.

 Starting from the mouth, a dog spitting food may be suffering from some type of oral pain. Maybe your dog injured his mouth earlier when chewing on a stick, maybe he has jaw pain or maybe he is suffering from periodontal disease of which 80 percent of dogs show early signs of by the time they're three years old.

Down the digestive tract, dogs may spit their food when they are feeling nauseous, which may stem from lots of underlying causes such as an abrupt dietary change, viral infections, exposure to toxins or poisons, pancreatitis, organ failure and even cancer to just name a few. 

Pain can also cause a dog to not feel hungry and it may interfere with a dog's ability to eat. Pain can be just about anywhere, but it often affects a dog's joints, spine and neck. My dog was spitting food when he developed a pinched nerve in his neck. It was painful to lower his head to eat so he decided to give a try and then spit out the kibble giving up. 

Older dogs as they age, may also lose a bit of their sense of smell. Food may be less enticing without detecting the aromas, but it's always best reporting to your vet to make sure your elderly dog is not suffering from some medical issue. 

A Matter of Priorities

Sometimes, a dog spitting out food may be doing so because there are certain things in his environment that he feels it is more important attending to. 

For example, if your dog is spitting food on walks, this is likely a sign that he is over threshold. A dog is over threshold when he is too concerned about stimuli or situations in his environment. Perhaps your dog is worried about some noises, or the presence of other dogs and people make him uncomfortable or stressed to the point of losing his appetite. If you are interested in learning more about this, read about a dog's fight or fight response. 

Not always fear is at the base of this behavior. Sometimes, dogs may be too distracted and overstimulated by things in their surroundings that eating is set aside for a bit, until he is in more relaxed surroundings. Maybe a young puppy wants to play badly with another dog that eating is not so important-for now. 

Female dogs in heat may spit food when they are too focused on the possibility of mating. Indeed, it's actually not unusual for male and female dogs to refuse food for some time as their hormones temporarily set their priorities on reproduction maintaining it at the top of their hierarchy of needs. 

Some dogs with strong prey drive may also care less about the prospect of food, spitting it out as if disgusted or ignoring it altogether when they sense the presence of critters such as squirrels or cats. With the dog's pupils dilated and body quivering in anticipation, these  dogs are too focused at the prospect of chasing to care less about about treats. 

Worthy of mentioning is also the fact that dogs can get depressed too when they lose a family member, being a dog or person. These dogs mourn just as people do, and may lose their appetite when they grieve. 

Now that You Know...

As seen, there are several possible reasons as to why dogs may be spitting out food. It may not be easy sorting through the several possibilities. Your vet can help your though sort out some. Here are some tips now to help you solve the problem.

  • Always have a vet rule out any potential medical problems. A dog who has always eaten with appetite and now spits food, should raise a red flag. Sadly, in both my senior dogs, spitting food was the earliest sign of cancer, so play it safe, your canine companion deserves it! The earlier you sort out medical problems, the better.
  • If medical conditions have been ruled out, consider trying to switch your dog to another type of food. Switching food in dogs should always be a gradual process so not to upset the dog's stomach. 
  • If your dog is too over threshold on walks, you have two options: increasing the value of the food you are offering or making the environment less scary. Doing both of course is better compared to one or the other! If your dog is is scared of humans or other dogs, you may find it helpful to train the "look at that" exercise. Have a dog behavior professional help you out for safety and correct implementation of behavior modification.  
  • Male dogs refusing food because of female dogs in heat in the neighborhood are difficult to calm down. You can try to close windows and doors  when indoors and take him on car rides away from home to tire him out. Fortunately a female dog's heat cycles doesn't last too long, but it can feel like forever. The most critical time lasts for about 7-14 days, and the interest then starts dwindling after that. 
  • Dogs with strong prey drives need to be trained under levels of strong distractions. This takes a gradual approach to help set the dog for success. 
  • Dogs suffering from grief need your gentle attention. Keep their routines the same and try to be strong for them as they easily pick your emotions. 
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