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Cocker Spaniel Won’t Eat: 6 Reasons Why & What To Do

If your cocker spaniel isn’t eating it can be very concerning. I know, I’ve been there myself! After dealing with this multiple times and speaking with various veterinarians, I’ve learned a few things. This article highlights the possible reasons why your cocker spaniel won’t eat, when to see a vet, and what you can try at home to get them eating again.

Common reasons why a cocker spaniel won’t eat:

  • Dog food issues
  • Too many treats
  • Insufficient exercise
  • No set meal times
  • Unsettled in her environment
  • Underlying health issues

All of these will be explained below, along with the best solutions.


6 Reasons Why Your Cocker Spaniel Isn’t Eating

Diagnosing the cause of food refusal can be tricky. It helps to consider when it first started happening, and the recent events or changes that have happened up until this point. As I run through each reason and explain them, something may stand out to you as more likely and relevant to your cocker spaniel.

1. Dog food issues

There can be a range of different issues when it comes to dog food. It could be that your spaniel doesn’t get on well with that particular formula, the macronutrients are not favorable for digestion, or the food contains low-quality ingredients and many allergens.

Check this out after: Five best dog foods for cocker spaniels

Wrong macronutrient breakdown: If you find that the carbohydrates contained in the kibble is high compared to protein and fat, then that’s a sign the kibble is low-quality and likely causing digestive issues. Spaniels thrive on a diet that’s high in protein, moderate fat, and low carbs. This mimics a wild diet that dogs ate for thousands of years and is therefore the most digestible.

Manufacturers use carbs to bulk up products for a low cost, meaning they can pass on some savings to the consumer too. Carbs, however, provide very little nutritional value and goodness to our canine friends. Premium kibbles cost more mostly due to the fact they contain fresher more expensive ingredients (protein), and less crap!

Common allergens: It could also be that there are too many common allergens contained. Believe it or not, chicken and beef are common allergens, yet they are in everything! Most of the time, dogs are far better off getting their protein from turkey, duck, or salmon.

It’s worth considering all of this, even if your cocker spaniel has been eating the kibble successfully for months. Certain intolerances to ingredients may not be present at first but can develop over time if their body doesn’t get on well with it.

2. Too many treats (or the wrong kind)

Although treats are a fundamental part of any dog’s day and training routine, they can cause some serious issues if we get a little frivolous with what we give, and how much we give.

Firstly, If we give table scraps and tidbits of human food, spaniels can make the decision to hold out from eating their own food until we end up giving them some of ours again… (and with 40% of owners in the USA giving daily table scraps, this could certainly the issue)

Secondly, If we give the wrong kind of dog treats (high caloric treats) or we simply give too many in general, then the treats could be suppressing their appetite enough to cause food refusal.

I am a big proponent of treats, but we have to give the right kind of treat, at the right times, and in small amounts.

Our favorite all-time dog treat is Zukes Mini Naturals. These are healthy, natural, and low in calories.

It’s also worth asking everyone in the household about this. Although you might not be slipping some cheeky pork sausages to your spaniel, it doesn’t mean someone else isn’t!

3. Insufficient exercise

Physical exercise not only keeps spaniels fit and healthy, but it also helps to create a strong appetite. An insufficient exercise routine, or a spaniel that isn’t very active in general, can certainly be the reason for their food refusal.

Some dogs are considered gluttonous and will eat everything, whenever, but many aren’t, and for those ones, they need a reason to eat. Receiving a sufficient amount of exercise is the answer here.

Spaniels need around 60-90 minutes of exercise per day on top of training and other playtime. Consider your cocker spaniels’ general activity levels and see if this is an area that can be improved.

4. No set meal times (day grazing)

Having an undefined feeding schedule is another surprisingly common problem. Routine is very important for dogs, as it helps them know what’s going on and what should be happening at certain times.

By sticking to a rigid eating time, it trains their body to build an appetite for that specific time of the day. This ensures your spaniel is hungry and ready to eat when you put their food down.

Day grazing, and consuming small random bits of food throughout the day can seriously disrupt their actual mealtime.

An easy mistake many owners make, is trying to get their spaniel to eat anything, whenever, once food refusal sets in. We think it becomes crucial that our pooches eat, so we try offering them food randomly throughout the day in order to get them to eat something… If they do take a few morsels of kibble here and there, it further creates an undefined feeding time in their mind.

Sticking to strict mealtimes is crucial.

5. Unsettled in their environment

Dogs are very sensitive to their environment, especially when it comes to eating. Eating is considered a vulnerable moment for any animal, and if something doesn’t feel right to them, they will happily leave the food until later. Some dogs are more in tune with these instincts than others.

If your spaniel is spooked by something in the area it could be enough to put her off eating.

From things like new neighbors, new pets, having her food bowl changed or moved, to new smells or noises. Anything that changes could potentially unsettle your cocker spaniel.

Admittedly, this is more unlikely than the other reasons, but you would be surprised how our dogs react sometimes. My friend once moved her dog’s food bowl 4ft to the left to create more space along her wall, her dog then refused to eat until she randomly tried moving the food bowl back. Just like that, her dog ate again…

6. Health issues or pain

Something we haven’t discussed yet is underlying health issues. It’s no secret that food refusal is a very common symptom of numerous health problems.

If your cocker spaniel is showing other symptoms alongside food refusal, like lethargy, weakness, vomiting, diarrhea, nausea, or any other unusual behavior, then it’s best to speak to your vet right away. If your cocker spaniel still seems energetic, bouncy, and happy, then it’s unlikely health issues are at play.

In addition to a myriad of health issues, your cocker spaniel could be suffering from some dental issues. If her gums or teeth are hurting in any way, it will nearly always result in food refusal.

Oral hygiene is a topic that isn’t discussed enough when it comes to our dogs, yet it’s absolutely crucial to their overall health.

Related article: Cocker Spaniels & Sensitive Stomachs

cocker spaniel sensitive stomach

When To See a Vet

Food refusal can be worrying and quite a challenge to correct. If the food refusal has already been going on for a few days and you still can’t get your cocker spaniel to eat, then it’s best to contact your veterinarian without delaying any further.

In addition to this, if your spaniel shows other symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, nausea, and other unusual behavior, again it’s recommended to contact your veterinarian.

When to call your vet:

  • If the food refusal has been going on for more than 3-4 days already
  • If your spaniel has other symptoms alongside food refusal
  • If your Spaniel isn’t drinking any fluids as well as refusing all food
  • If you have absolutely no idea as to what’s caused it, and you get a sense that something isn’t quite right.

In those situations, it’s best to contact your veterinarian as soon as you can to get a health check-up soon.

While dogs can go many days without eating, they can only go about 3 days without drinking anything at all. This is something else to keep in mind. Source

7 Tips To Get Your Cocker Spaniel Eating Again

Let’s explain the best ways to get your cocker spaniel eating again. Please note, the following should only be tried if you are sure underlying health issues are not at play. If underlying health issues are the cause of food refusal, then it’s important your veterinarian provides appropriate guidance.

1. Give her some time

While it’s important not to wait too long, the food refusal could be a random blip that reverts back to normal without us needing to do anything. The last thing we would want is for this to be a one-off food refusal, and then we go and make matters worse by changing things…

If you’ve found this article on day one of the food refusal, it’s certainly not advised to try a whole bunch of things right away. Sometimes, dogs just have random moments and spontaneous behavioral changes.

So before worrying too much, keep offering her the same food at the same time for at least another day or two (assuming it hasn’t already been 3 or more days). Hopefully, the situation resolves itself. This is more common than you might think.

2. Try the 80% dry food 20% wet food diet

Veterinarians often recommend following a temporary food split between dry kibble and wet dog food. Wet dog food is very rich, highly palatable, healthier (in many ways), and tastier!

Mixing in just a small amount of wet dog food to their kibble can transform each mealtime. In most cases, this will work right away to get your cocker spaniel eating again.

For the best chance of success and to avoid upset stomachs, stick to the same brand you are using for the dry kibble. Most reputable brands will create both a wet and dry version of each food they make.

Although wet food has fewer preservatives, additives, and is generally healthier, it is often too rich to be consumed on its own. This is why it’s important to only mix a small amount in. Make it 10-20% of their overall calories. And remember to give slightly less dry food.

3. Add water or meat broth to dry kibble

If you’re not sure about trying the wet food split, you can easily make their kibble more palatable and tastier by adding either just water, or even better, some meat broth.

By making the kibble wet, it will start to smell stronger and be easier to swallow. It will also create a little pool of meat-flavored liquid at the bottom of the bowl. This proves to be irresistible for most dogs.

You can do this water or to really jazz it up, go with meat broth. If you do decide to use meat broth, ensure it has no added salt, herbs, or spices. Only ever use plain broth.

4. Food rotation

Another great way to prevent boredom with food is to have 2 or 3 different kibbles (or flavors) that you rotate every few months. While this is more of a preventative measure, there’s no reason why you can’t implement this now and start with a new flavored kibble.

The best thing to do with this is to stick to the same brand, and just choose different flavors. This way, the formula will remain mostly the same which should avoid an upset stomach. And remember, when switching foods, always do it gradually/incrementally over 10 days.

5. Peanut butter

After all my time with dogs, I have never come across one who doesn’t like peanut butter! You can mix in a small dollop of peanut butter into their kibble to give it a new smell and taste.

Be sure to use peanut butter that does not contain Xylitol or too high salt. To avoid making mistakes, it’s best to buy a dog-specific peanut butter rather than use one made for us.

The top tip here is to warm the peanut butter first so it melts and spread around the food better.

6. Pick the food up if it’s left

If after a good 10 minutes, your cocker spaniel still hasn’t touched the food, remove it. This does two things, it stops day grazing, and the time restriction gives a sense of urgency for the next mealtime.

Time-restricted eating is a known method to get dogs to eat their food again. If your pooch doesn’t touch their food, don’t keep trying different things or putting it in front of their nose, it’s best to simply remove it.

The next time you put it down, they will absolutely remember that last time, it got removed… This spurs most dogs on to eat their food the moment they get it.

7. Dog food toppers

While I personally don’t think dog food toppers work as well as the tips above, they do still work for some, so it’s definitely worth covering it.

You can buy various dog food toppers either online from Amazon, or from your local pet store. These are essentially herbs and spices for dogs and are designed to be sprinkled on top of their food to make it taste better.

Please don’t use herbs or spices from the cupboard, as many are toxic for dogs, so only use a dog-specific one.

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What’s The Best Solution For You?

Ultimately, the right solution depends upon the cause… For example, If the kibble contains a high amount of carbs and a lot of chicken, it could be that your spaniel is no longer getting on with it, and it’s causing her digestive problems… If this is the case, then no amount of wet food, peanut butter, or food topper will fix that. This highlights the importance of finding the root cause.

Consider the recent events leading up to this and ask yourself some of the following questions:

  • Are you providing enough exercise?
  • Does your cocker spaniel have set meal times?
  • Has someone been feeding her too many table scraps?
  • Does she consume high-calorie dog treats near dinner time?
  • Does she have diarrhea or other negative symptoms?
  • Has she recently eaten something rotten or foul?
  • Has anything significant changed in your daily routine (different feeding times, coming home from work at a different time)?
  • Is something different in her close environment like new neighbors or pets?

Considering these important questions could shed some light on the true issue. Once you know the issue, the appropriate solutions may become obvious.

Thanks for reading! Back to more Cocker Spaniel articles


Before making any decisions that could affect the health and/or safety of your dog, you should always consult a trained veterinarian in your local area. Even though this content may have been written/reviewed by a trained veterinarian, our advice to you is to always consult your own local veterinarian in person. Please read our full dislcaimer if you have any questions.