Is your old dog not eating?
In my case I go into a panic because Red loves her food and she’s always been like a vacuum cleaner – sucking up anything in her path. For years she ate with gusto, never knowing her to ever lose interest. I knew that if there ever came a time when she turned her nose up at food, she had a problem.
I’m starting off with this example because I always encourage anyone who shares their life with any pet, to pay attention to changes in behaviour, no matter how subtle. Particularly in the case of a senior dog, they may not bounce back as quickly, and delaying treatment can lead to them going downhill pretty quickly.
If your dog is not eating, or is eating but with less enthusiasm, please see your vet first to rule out, or treat any health issues that may arise.
Reasons why a dog may suddenly lose interest
Before we go any further, let’s look at some of the reasons for this lack of interest. This is something that needs to be addressed immediately, before your dog loses too much weight, and it becomes a dangerous situation.
- Nausea due to illness or a new medication
- Dental disease
- Urinary tract infection
- A consequence of aging when sense of smell and taste decline
- Discomfort or pain
- Stiffness making it difficult to reach food and water bowls
Dangers associated with loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Dehydration – which is life threatening
Okay, so what’s the culprit?
As soon as you notice a change, even the slightest hint that something is out of character, take your dog to the vet. Your keen observation may have led to an illness being diagnosed quickly, and a more favourable outcome.
Not everything can, and should be, attributed to “old age.”
Blood and urine tests are the first things that will typically be done, and a picture of what’s going on will usually start to emerge as a result.
If your dog has lost interest/ability to eat due to a medical condition, then your vet will advise you on the right course of action. That may include a condition specific diet, and any medications necessary for treatment.
If your dog is dehydrated, your vet will either keep him in the clinic on IV fluids, or have you add electrolyte crystals to his drinking water. The choice will depend on the severity.
If your vet hasn’t found anything medically wrong (which would be great news!), but your dog still isn’t eating…
Your dog needs to start eating, there are no two ways about it, but you may have to get creative.
Varying the foods you add, so he never knows what yummy treats await
Putting all, or part of his meal in a Kong, or other treat dispensing toy
Microwaving his food for a few seconds – warming it slightly releases the smells and may entice him.
Add a bit of water to his dry food, then microwave – it will make gravy (well, not gravy like you and I know it, but something vaguely resembling it!!)
Change her feeding times slightly, or take notice if there are certain times of the day she seems to be more interested in eating, than others
Smaller meals throughout the day
If you usually give her medication in her food, try giving it separately and see if that makes a difference. It may be changing the taste of the food, and while it didn’t bother her in the past, if she’s finicky now, that could be all it takes. If the food is permissible, put her pills in some cream cheese or peanut butter.
Elevated bowls make it easier for your dog to reach. I do that for my dog and she’s definitely more comfortable.
Exercise stimulates appetite, but just because your dog can’t run like he used to, doesn’t mean he can’t go out for short walks, or even a swim. Mental stimulation works too – hide a tasty treat under a cup and let him find it, practice some training, get an interactive toy.
I cut Red’s wet food into pieces, then bake it to use for treats, because various health issues have limited what she can eat. What I find interesting is how much she loves them, but the same food, straight from the can – I have to cover up under lots of other things for her to eat it!
Foods you can try adding to his regular diet
A word of caution – before you actually add them let your vet know what you’re considering, to confirm they’re all okay to eat. You may also want to ask if any supplements are recommended, in case his nutritional needs are not being met if he is eating less of his dog food.
Depending on your dog’s dietary restrictions, there are potentially tons of foods that can be added to make it more palatable, so don’t despair.
Vegetables (steamed or boiled to improve digestibility)
- Canned pumpkin
- sweet potato
- green beans
- White fish
- Some tuna oil
- A drop of fat free cottage
- Canned food if he’s only getting dry
- White part of a boiled egg
- Plain non fat yogurt
- White rice
Boiling some chicken with carrots and sweet potatoes is a great addition. Freeze the soup in ice cube trays and defrost as needed. A little splashed on his plain food adds a bit of interest.
Old dog not eating – Conclusion
I understand all too well how frustrating and even stressful it can be watching your dog turn his head away from the bowl he used to dive into. Sometimes it’s just a passing phase – a skipped meal due to an upset stomach or feeling under the weather. When it comes to Red I call my vet immediately simply because it’s too out of character, and I’m not willing to take a “wait and see” attitude given her age.
If it’s just a case of your dog getting bored with the “same old same old” the suggestions listed here will help.
Have you had some challenges with your old dog not eating? What were the reasons and how did you resolve the issue? Why not share your story in the comments section below or on my Facebook page.