Why Some Male Dogs Won’t Eat When Females Are in Heat

It’s common for a male dog to stop eating when he’s around a female dog in heat. When a male dog smells a female dog in heat, it creates a very intense distraction. Because of this preoccupation with the female dog, he doesn’t find eating very interesting.

The mating process in dogs is primarily driven by scent. When a female is in heat, she emits a powerful scent that can reach male dogs from a far distance and drive them to seek her out. This is how unspayed female dogs can accidentally become pregnant if left unattended outside.

If you own an unaltered male dog and you or your neighbors own an unspayed female dog, it is common for the male dog to stop eating when a nearby female is in heat. 

The female’s smell is extremely distracting and agitating, and the male is entirely focused on getting to her. This is a natural behavior, though it’s distressing to see your dog refuse food and lose weight.

Your dog will not allow himself to starve, so you can choose to wait out the issue or try some methods of enticing him toward food.

How Long Will The Male Dog Go Without Food?

Female dogs go into heat approximately twice a year. Small dogs can cycle three or four times a year, while large breeds might only cycle once per year. 

This heat lasts for three to four weeks. During part of the cycle, the female dog is fertile and emits a strong smell to attract males.

This means that your male dog may spend two out of every twelve months too distracted to eat. Because the heat lasts for such a long time, it can be a frustrating issue to deal with, especially if you are also taking care of and cleaning up after the female.

Refusing to Eat is Just a Distraction

A male dog refusing to eat when a female is in heat is very common. He may even display other stress indicators such as vomiting, weight loss, and agitated behavior. Some of these issues are the same as symptoms of an illness. 

Consider temporarily removing your male dog from proximity to the female dog. These symptoms should immediately improve. If they do not, or you have reason to think your dog might have been exposed to an illness, consider seeing your vet.

If the behaviors only appear around a female dog in heat, you can know that your male dog is not sick or depressed. He is just facing a very intense distraction. 

Because of this preoccupation with a female dog, he just doesn’t find eating very interesting. That said, he has no desire to starve himself to death and will probably eat again when he becomes hungry enough. 

It is usually fine to ignore the issue, knowing that male dogs have dealt with this situation for hundreds of years.

It might be tempting to change your dog’s kibble for a more enticing one, but changing food can be stressful for a dog. 

Rather than changing food, consider supplementing high-value treats such as chicken, hot dogs, cheese, or any other treat your dog loves. 

These tasty morsels might tempt him to eat and trigger his hunger. It is also common to give dogs with upset stomachs food like unseasoned chicken, sweet potatoes, bananas, and rice. 

Even if your dog doesn’t feel ill, the variety might distract him from the female’s scent. Always make sure your dog has plenty of access to fresh water as well.

Calming The Male Dog

It’s hard to see your dog refuse food, even if you know he will be fine. There are several ways to mitigate the female dog’s effect on the male dog or even remove it altogether. 

In the end, this might prove soothing for all the dogs involved, making for a more peaceful environment and less stress for the humans involved.

Separate The Dogs

If you own two unfixed dogs of the opposite gender, consider keeping them as separate as possible during the heat period. 

You can keep them in rooms on opposite sides of your house, as far apart as you can. If you have a fenced yard, you can keep the male dog outside and the female dog inside, weather permitting. 

Never leave a female dog outside during heat, as this is unsafe. She will attempt to escape, possibly injuring herself, or attract neighborhood males to her. Either way, leaving a female outside alone during heat almost always results in mating and pregnancy.

Don’t Carry The Scent

Once you have separated your dogs, try to prevent carrying smells from one room to the other. After seeing your female dog, consider changing your clothes and bathing before going to the male dog. 

Offer him food in a neutral location that has no smells associated with the female. This includes making sure that no toys, blankets, leashes, collars, food bowls, or other scent-carrying items cross over between the male and female areas of the house. 

To avoid spreading the female’s scent through the house, consider using “heat pants” or dog diapers to catch her discharge cleanly. Dispose of these in a scent-proof location.

Plenty of Exercise

Give your male dog frequent exercise to help him remain calm. As with feeding, consider bathing and changing clothes first, and make sure that you don’t expose him to the female’s leash or collar. 

While you should obviously not take your male and female on a walk together, also keep in mind that you should not even take them on the same walking route as each other. The male will smell the path that the female took. The female’s path might also attract other male dogs, which could lead to a confrontation with your male.

Consider Menthol Products

If you are having trouble masking your female’s scent, especially in a smaller home, consider placing a gentle menthol product such as Vicks VapoRub on your female dog’s tail. 

This does not harm the dog, and it produces a strong smell that can mask and distract from her heat smell. 

Applying the menthol product before taking the female on a walk can help avoid spreading her scent outdoors and attracting wandering males.

Avoiding the Problem

Spaying/Neutering

Unless you are a breeder, consider spaying and neutering your pets to avoid this issue entirely. Your female will no longer go into heat, making things easier for you, your female, and your male. It will prevent accidental pregnancies and the associated health risks and dangerous escape attempts.

Temporary Separate Location

For those who own unfixed dogs but don’t want to juggle all the logistics of keeping them separate, it can be easier to send your male dog away for a few weeks. This might sound cruel, but staying in a calm, stress-free location away from the female can help your male relax and eat properly. 

If your dog has a regular kennel or boarding place that he likes, preferably one with services like playtime and grooming, this can be a great option. 

Alternatively, if you have a friend or family member who is close with your dog, he might enjoy a mini-vacation to their house until the female’s heat is over.

Dealing with a female dog in heat and an agitated male dog can be a big challenge. A patient, systematic approach to keeping the dogs separated can help the male dog relax enough to eat again. 

You can also offer your male dog some tasty chicken or soothing sweet potato (remember not to use seasonings) to tempt his appetite. 

Sending your dog to stay with someone else, or taking your dog to be neutered, are also great ways to prevent the issue from occurring. Missing a few days of food will not harm your dog, and his instincts will kick in before he suffers any harm.

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