It’s not uncommon for a senior pup to lose interest in eating at times, so when that happens should you give your old dog an appetite stimulant? Your dog needs to eat no question about it, and depending on the cause a stimulant is often recommended but… I do not suggest picking one up randomly and giving it to your dog. The first thing you should do is call your vet and make an appointment to be seen as soon as possible.
Allowing an old dog to go without food for more than a day or two can be dangerous, especially if the reason is an undiagnosed medical condition. Old dogs can go downhill very quickly, so when it comes to my pups I never adopt a “wait and see” attitude.
*There are affiliate links in this post, so if you buy something I may receive a commission. It has no effect on the price you pay, but will help me raise much needed funds for my feral cat spay/neuter project.*
What is an appetite stimulant?
Just as the name suggests, it is something to stimulate your dog to eat.
Whenever someone mentions those words I immediately think of drugs. Do you? It turns out there are natural products to try that may be used in conjunction with medication, or perhaps instead of. That will depend on what’s going on, what your vet has to say and whether or not he or she incorporates alternative therapies into his practice.
My struggles with Red and her appetite issues
Frequent visitors to my website are familiar with Red, my heart dog who gained her wings last year, the love of my life and inspiration for my website Caring for a Senior Dog.
In the last couple of years of her life she started having some real issues with lack of interest in her food. It was very disconcerting because I used to refer to her as a vacuum cleaner, there wasn’t a type of food she wouldn’t devour.
The two conditions that were a direct cause were chronic pancreatitis and dementia. When she had trouble eating my vet would recommend Pro-Kolin by Protexin, a probiotic paste to help with digestion issues and Cerenia for nausea.
In addition to those two aids, there were other things I did that made a big difference.
I made a list of all the human foods that were safe for her to eat so I could rotate them.
Warming up her food in the microwave worked very well.
I cut up her canned food, baked it and used it for treats and meals. The length of time you’ll keep it in the oven will depend on how hard or soft you want the pieces. You’ll probably have to try different textures to see what your dog will eat.
Feeding her 4 or 5 smaller meals a day also helped a lot. Your dog may feel a bit more nauseous in the morning, or feel better after a walk and be more inclined to eat.
Sitting on the floor with her while she ate and holding the bowl up under her nose. Sometimes hand feeding worked too!
Reasons your dog may not be eating
- Fireworks, thunderstorms or even construction in the neighbourhood has stressed your dog
- An animal companion recently died and he’s mourning that loss
- You’ve recently changed his diet and he doesn’t like the new food or it’s upsetting his stomach
- Your dog is not getting any exercise, barely leaves the house so is bored and depressed
- Someone new has joined your household
- He may have eaten something he found on one of his walks and he’s feeling sick because of it
- He’s fed up with the same kibble year after year
- He’s having some dental issues that’s making it painful to eat
- You bought him a new bowl (that’s right it can cause problems)
- His schedule has changed recently and he’s out of sorts
- His senses have become dulled, a natural part of aging, so he doesn’t see or smell the food very well
- Mobility issues are making it hard for him to reach down, or up to his bowl (if you have an elevated feeder)
- Feeling nauseous due to a reaction to new medication
- Dementia is causing him to be confused, not realising he’s hungry or can’t find the bowl
- Illnesses such as cancer, Cushing’s, pancreatitis and liver problems can cause nausea
- An illness your dog already suffers from has gotten worse
What’s the next step?
Review the list above, brainstorm with others in the family, and think about whether any of the above can be the cause. If you can’t think of any changes that could be affecting your dog, make a vet appointment.
In order to make your visit as productive as possible, make notes before your appointment.
Here are some things to jot down –
- Is your dog eating something or nothing at all?
- Is he turning his nose up at his food but happy to eat yours?
- How long has this been going on?
- Is he still drinking?
- Have there been any changes in the house recently? Changes to his routine?
- Any other new/worrying behaviours you’ve been noticing?
After your chat the vet will examine your dog and likely take his temperature. Based on the physical exam and things you’ve discussed, he could have a pretty good idea what’s going on. Blood tests may be needed to figure out what’s going on or confirm his theory.
Your vet is recommending an appetite stimulant
He will explain how quickly you can expect to see results, and advise on how long the treatment needs to continue. Make sure to ask him what happens if your dog doesn’t start eating.
In Red’s case my vet would give her a shot of anti-nausea medication, then send me home with tablets (Cerenia). An injection is fast acting which meant she would feel better quicker, start eating and re-gain her strength. That was usually in combination with the Pro-Kolin I mentioned earlier.
What is the best appetite stimulant?
The “best” is what works for your dog, so let’s look at this list of options. Please check with your vet before starting any new medication or food.
Entyce is a prescription medication that “stimulates appetite by mimicking the effect of the hunger hormone ghrelin.” For more information about this product, visit their website.
Mirtazapine is also a prescription medication and is often prescribed by vets to treat loss of appetite. This article “ Mirtazapine For Dogs and Cats” will give you more information about this drug.
Acupuncture has been known to stimulate appetite by reducing nausea. You may still need medication used in conjunction, but speak to your vet or holistic vet. To learn more about all the ways acupuncture can benefit your old dog, visit the American Academy of Veterinary Acupuncture (AAVA) website.
Cerenia is a drug Red used with great success to treat her nausea and get her eating again. According to their website it is the “first and only FDA-approved anti-vomiting medication for dogs and cats.” Even though Red wasn’t throwing up it worked wonders. As I mentioned my vet would give her an injection at the clinic, then she would take it for about a week in tablet form. Click here for more information about this product.
Meclizine is a human over the counter anti histamine medication, and one of the things it helps treat is nausea caused by vestibular disease in dogs. Even though it’s easy to buy, please consult with your vet first as there can be side effects and interactions. Brand names are Antivert®, Dramamine® Less Drowsy Formula, Bonine®, Bonamine®, Postafen®, Univert®
CBD oil is used to help old dogs with everything from mobility issues and pain to seizures and yes even appetite stimulation. Don’t worry it doesn’t contain THC so your dog won’t get high, but with the number of companies popping up there can be huge differences in quality and of course efficacy.
Some of the brands recommended by my FB group members include –
- HempMy Pet
- Bluebird Botanicals
- CBD Brothers
- American Shaman
- Blooming Culture
- Lazarus Naturals
- Creating Brighter Days (Canadian company)
- HempRX from Rx Vitamins for Pets
- Pure Life (UK)
Nutribound® by Virbac “is a highly palatable, liquid, complementary feed which helps to stimulates eating and drinking in cats and dogs, and has been formulated to help pets who need encouragement to eat and drink, be they recovering from surgery, illness or for those who are experiencing a general lack of interest in food or water.” This is UK information, the product may be known by a different name in the U.S.
Pro-Kolin+ by Protexin is what my vet recommends, you can learn more here.
Hand feeding may help, as well as holding your dog’s bowl up to his nose.
Try a different brand of food or different flavour of the same brand. Be careful not to introduce a new brand too quickly or in too large of a quantity or you’ll be dealing with an upset stomach.
Warming up your dog’s food is a super simple and effective way to get your dog interested. It certainly worked for Red!
Exercise is something many senior dogs don’t get enough of. Just yesterday I read a comment from a woman who takes her old dog out just 3 times a week!!! I couldn’t believe it and I felt so sorry for that pup. I know arthritis and other mobility issues can make it more difficult, but with the proper medication, supplements and mobility aids most dogs should be able to get out 2 or 3 times a day, even if only 15 minutes or so at a time.
Leaving him stuck in the house can cause boredom and depression so it’s no wonder he’s not interested in eating!
Try a variety of human foods but ask your vet if they’re okay. Here are a few suggestions but start with small amounts –
- Baby food
- Bone broth – very nutritious and super easy to make
- Grated cheese on top of his food
- Scrambled eggs (no oil) with or without cheese
- Cooked oatmeal
- Diced ham and rice warmed in microwave
- Peanut butter (check there’s no xylitol and be careful of sugar content for heart issues)
- Roll of dog food (like a salami roll) you can slice up the daily amount and feed it throughout the day
- Tuna packed in water
- Meat scraps
- Pumpkin or sweet potatoes mixed in with food
- Cottage cheese
- Rotisserie chicken (watch out for spices)
- Chicken soup
- Tinned cat food
- Homemade chicken and rice
- Low salt ready-made broth
- Blend dry food until it’s almost dust and mix with canned food
- Single ingredient freeze dried meal toppers
- Puree cooked vegetables and put a couple of tablespoons on food daily
- Unflavoured yogurt
- Cooked broccoli
- Add mashed up sweet potatoes, pumpkin and broccoli
- Boiled chicken tenderloins cut up, add noodles, water or bone broth, add a bit of dry dog food, cooked peas and carrots, mix well serve warm and moist. You could try lean ground beef.
- Organic ground turkey mixed with turmeric golden paste, cooked vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower and carrots) and blend.
- Ground turkey burgers
- Canned pumpkin
I’ve been doing research into things like essential oils, herbs and other alternative options. There are a few listed here for those who are interested, but to learn more I recommend you find a holistic vet or integrative vet in your area.
Yuca root may help boost appetite. I found some information about it on a website called NHV Natural Pet.
Slippery elm is an herb that coats the stomach and may help relieve pain that is making it uncomfortable for your dog to eat.
Seacure is a supplement designed to treat malnutrition.
Antacids such as Zantac or Pepcid
Dried peppermint, fennel, alfalfa, or dill sprinkled on food.
Denes Nux Vomica is a homeopathic remedy that is supposed to help with several issues including stimulating appetite.
Malted Kelp by Dorwest contains “Powdered fucus vesiculosis 360mg, Malt extract 90mg, Anise oil” and they claim it helps stimulate appetite. To learn more about this product and the company visit their website. Dorwest is sold in many countries so search for a distributor in your area. My dog takes their Glucosamine & Chondroitin tablets.
Diffusing lavender oil may help your dog relax if stress is the reason for him not eating.
How about sharing your experience. Did your dog suddenly stop eating or did he first become fussy? Were you able to figure out the reason on your own or did you see the vet? Did he recommend an appetite stimulant, and if yes which one? How long until your pup started eating again? It’s such a stressful time for senior dog parents, so sharing definitely helps others just leave your comments below.
Thanks for the suggestion of baking the canned food! I have had a terrible time getting my 16 year old dog to eat. She is on an anti-inflammatory and Tramadol because of spurs on her spine that are pinching the nerves in her back legs. I used to try and hide the pills in food but she found them and then wouldn’t eat. She will usually eat turkey breast or chicken (I make her a chicken/rice/veggie food in my Instant Pot) but I wanted her to also eat canned food or dry so she gets that nutrition. I add milk thistle and collagen to it and bake it. I also try different kinds of canned food as she seems to like things that are new and different.
Clearly she is being well taken care of. Great job Jone!
This is such a helpful article. I googled this topic with a slant on when to stop, I couldn’t find one but you may be a good source and may be able to share your perspective. Imagine I wrote this article (I basically related to every word and have tried or concur with everything you’ve said)!
I’ve tried it all and are now at decision time…do I keep trying or accept where we are and let him go. The love of my life is a 15 and 7 mths. Year old Border Collie who served me his entire life as my service dog ??.
In the past 5 days our nights are sleepless. The vets (I travel often and I have established a veterinarian wherever I go) are stumped at this point and the consensus is Sundowners…but I’m not sold on that because he seems in distress and his stomach rolling around I can hear from another room. (However it is largely at night ?♀️)
I’m exhausted. I don’t want to give up hope but everything is trial and error to determine what’s dementia, what is arthritis pain or pancreatitis like issues. He’s outlived his litter by all most 4 years.
I’d love your thoughts as to when a food stimulant no longer serves. He’s on so many meds and has recently had some seizure activity I believe medication related. But again I can’t be sure. He’s just very sensitive to medications.
Bloodwork is great but his body is somewhat a wreck. I lift him to stand most of the time. For context, I’m single so my time is my own, but I’m a struggling entrepreneur and need good upbeat energy to persevere. He is the love of my life and to be without him is almost unimaginable.
He’s gone from 60-63 lb fluctuations his whole life to now 49lbs. Love to have the thoughts of someone who genuinely gets it. By the way Riley has also inspired all of my professional work.
Susan Kerns Durnell
We went through this anorexia with a Lab X border collie, Daisy (12), several years ago. The cause was idiopathic liver disease, and this was the only symptom she ever showed. We tried many of the “tricks” listed here and more, including feeding away from other animals, adding red bell peppers to her food (she loved them), and feeding her on a pie plate instead of in a bowl. I also cooked for her, making her a “meatloaf” of ground chicken or turkey; eggs; cottage cheese; plain Greek yogurt; oatmeal; cooked rice, potatoes, and sweet potatoes; frozen mixed vegetables, and chopped red bell pepper. Bake at 350 for 45 minutes. I sliced each loaf into six parts and froze them. Then I could feed them one a day. We always tried to get some dog food down her too, so about half and half.
She was finally “cured” with antibiotics. Each time she refused food, our vet put her on metronidazole and amoxicillin. After the third time she was put on a low dose of the metro for life, and it worked.
Now Molly, a cocker cross (15.5), has been anorexic since a few months before the pandemic. Has gone from her ideal weight of 32# down to 25 over time. Usually she will eat something once only. So this makes me think that it is related to nausea, as Daisy’s was. We follow her around the house offering little dishes of this and that–tapas for dogs! Tonight she ate about a quarter cup of a new dry food, most of a tiny can of wet stuff, and most of a jar of baby food. She also had some table scraps, chicken. That’s a pretty good meal for her.
She has had blood work (several times), X-rays, and an ultrasound. Her teeth could use a cleaning but are otherwise fine. They thought it was some kind of cancer and offered to send her to the vet college for a bone marrow biopsy or endoscopy, but she was already 14. You get results, and they what do you do? We refused. I am very frustrated because my vet office still won’t let humans in with their dogs, and they sometimes will not talk on the phone either. I’m going to ask her to try Cerenia. And if that doesn’t work, maybe metronidazole.
I personally have a great experience with cbd oil for animals. My dog is stressed whenever he stays home alone. I give him cbd oil and it makes me feel more balanced overall.