What To Do If Your Old Dog Won’t Eat

What to do if your old dog won't eat

I know from experience what it’s like when your old dog won’t eat, and you’re willing to do and try anything!

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What to do if your old dog won't eat

How long can a dog go without eating?

Your dog can go a few days without eating, but in an old dog that may already have health issues, the sooner he’s back to eating the better. I would not wait more than 24 hours before calling the vet, and that is from my experience.

A very big concern is whether or not your dog has stopped drinking as well. Dehydration can set in very quickly in an old dog, particularly if he isn’t well, and he could die. I’m sorry to be so blunt, but it’s important you realise how serious it can be, so if your dog is not drinking call your vet right now.

Environmental causes for an old dog not eating

Before you start to panic, take a moment to look around and think about some possible causes.

  • Have there been any changes in his environment, for example have you moved?
  • Any new people living in the house?
  • Has your dog been stressed lately – thunderstorms, fireworks, construction…
  • Not liking his new food, or it’s upsetting his stomach
  • Changes in recent behaviour
  • Grieving the loss of an animal companion
  • Change in schedule
  • A new bowl (that’s right, that can be an issue for some)
  • Bored with the same dry kibble day after day and year after year
  • Food is too hot/too cold
  • Eating in a different room

Is your senior dog not eating

Other possible explanations

There are some medical reasons for your dog’s lack of appetite and they are –

  • Dementia
  • Cushing’s
  • Pancreatitis
  • Liver issues
  • Kidney issues
  • Cancer
  • Dental problems
  • Dulling of senses as a natural part of the aging process
  • Mobility issues make it difficult to reach the bowl
  • Infection
  • Anxiety
  • Reaction to a medication or vaccination
  • Nausea (from eating too much, something off the street or some of the conditions listed above)

Take your dog to the vet

If you’re sure nothing in your environment can be the cause of your dog’s lack of interest in food, your next step must be to call the vet and make an appointment as soon as possible. If it’s been more than a day since your dog last ate, I would give the person answering the phone those details, and see if they can find you an appointment that day or the next.

We’re so worried about our dog the vet appointment can be nerve wracking, so I encourage you to make a list of your concerns in advance and bring it with you. It not only ensures you don’t forget to mention something, your appointment will be more productive and it will help your vet with a diagnosis.  

Here are some questions you’ll want to answer in your notes

  • How long has it been since your dog has eaten?
  • How many times a day does he eat?
  • Is your dog eating something or nothing at all?
  • Is it just food that’s an issue or is he drinking more or less as well?
  • Is there a certain time of day he will eat?
  • Have you changed his food?
  • Has he been throwing up? Having diarrhea?
  • Is it just his dog food he won’t eat or he’s lost interest in everything?
  • Will he still eat treats?
  • Are there any other behaviours you’re concerned about?

What to do if your senior dog refuses to eat

What to expect during your appointment

Your vet will ask you what’s been going on, and this is where the list will come in handy. Once you have finished your chat he will examine your dog and may even take his temperature. In your situation, and I have been there many times, I would expect blood and urine tests to be done as well.

Some tests can be done in house and produce results in just a few minutes. Samples typically have to be sent away for further analysis, but at least you can get an idea of what’s going on, and treatment can begin immediately.

Your vet may recommend an appetite stimulant to encourage your dog to eat. He may also give him an injection for pain or nausea if he feels these are issues. Be sure to ask if there are any foods your dog should avoid.

Please do not let your vet dismiss your concerns with a diagnosis of “your dog is old” because that is a cop out not a diagnosis. If he doesn’t feel the need for testing I would find another vet, because in my experience if you’re concerned, there is a reason to be concerned.

Diagnosis and what comes next

Only once all the test results are in and there is a diagnosis can you have a conversation with your vet about treatment options.  I also think it’s a good idea to do a bit of research on your own and see what else is out there, particularly if you’re interested in adding some natural treatments. If you have found other possibilities that interest you, speak to your vet before giving anything to your dog. 


My experience with an old dog who refuses to eat

Red, the love of my life, sadly got her wings on May 18 2018. She was around 8 when we adopted her, so we think she was around 17 when we said goodbye. Eating had never been a problem for her, as a matter of fact she was obese when we brought her home. I always likened her to a vacuum cleaner, inhaling anything in her path.

It was a struggle getting her to eat the last few months of her life. Her kidney issues and chronic pancreatitis caused her to feel nauseous at times, her dementia made her confused and I believe the years of medications affected her stomach.

There were so many foods I had to avoid, we would get down to fewer and fewer options to try. As we approached what turned out to be the end of her life, I fed her anything just to get her to eat.

Here is my list of Red friendly food

  • Small amounts of boiled chicken breast
  • Boiled broccoli
  • Boiled squash
  • Whole grain rice
  • Quinoa
  • Raw or cooked carrot
  • Raw apple
  • Cooked green beans
  • Cod
  • Skyr
  • Low fat cottage cheese

Helpful tip – Pour the water from the chicken into ice cube trays, freeze and defrost individually to pour over food.

What to do if your old dog refuses to eat

 

Things I tried to get Red to eat

I elevated her water bowl (I put it on an upside down casserole dish, and since I don’t like cooking it was put to much better use this way!)

I held her food bowl up to her mouth, which helped when her dementia got worse. When that didn’t work I hand fed her  

Warming her food in the microwave so the smells enticed her

She ate a wet kidney prescription food which I cut it into pieces and baked. She loved it so much I used them for treats and as part of her meal

The last couple of weeks of her life my tricks no longer worked. A blood test revealed extremely high urea levels which meant her kidneys had failed. That was when I knew it was time to say goodbye.

Get creative  

You just read some of what worked for Red, and here are some other ideas.

Vary the foods you try so he doesn’t know what to expect

Put all or part of his meal in a Kong or other treat dispensing toy for a change

If he eats dry food add some water and microwave it to make a gravy

Add at least one extra meal to his day to increase the chance/amount he’ll eat  

Are there certain times of day he’s more interested? Change meal times to match

If you usually put medication in his 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. Her pills can go in something like cream cheese, spray cheese, meat…

Exercise stimulates appetite so maybe go for a walk, a swim or something similar before meal time

Put dog food on a human plate – yes it has been known to help

Put it on the floor

Feed them in the park or backyard, a change of scenery may help

CBD oil may help depending on the cause of your dog’s anorexia

Foods to try  

Some of these foods I have tried with Red, most are what have worked for many of my FB group members. They were added to their dog’s existing diet, or given on their own if that was the only way they would eat.

Please check with your vet to make sure the ones you’re considering are safe for your dog.

  • Baby food
  • Bone broth – very nutritious and super easy to make
  • Grated cheese on top
  • Tiny pieces of pizza crust added to dog food  
  • Scrambled eggs (no oil) with or without cheese
  • Cooked oatmeal
  • Diced ham and rice warmed in microwave
  • Peanut butter
  • Dr Becker’s Bites Appetite Flakes
  • 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
  • Sardines
  • Mackerel
  • Cottage cheese
  • Rotisserie chicken
  • Chicken soup
  • Steak
  • Tinned cat food
  • Homemade chicken and rice
  • Baked potato with butter
  • Low salt ready made broth
  • Blend dry food until it’s almost dust and mix with canned food
  • 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

Obviously there are so many more options, but I think this is a good start.

Is your old dog not eating

Have you been having challenges with your senior dog not eating?

There are so many emotions when it comes to trying to get an old dog to eat, stress, anxiety, fear, worry…yes I have felt them all.  

My hope is that you have found this advice helpful, and some of the options listed will have your dog eating better.

 

What is the reason for your dog’s lack of interest in eating? What foods or tricks have you tried that worked? Sharing helps others so please leave your comment below.

 

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**I would like to invite you to join Senior Dog Care Club, my Facebook group for senior dog parents. There you will find lots of helpful tips and advice, a place to ask questions and share experiences. I look forward to welcoming you.**

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

38 Comments

  1. Sherri

    All good advice. Fortunately, my old guy (about 13) is a picky eater but still eats. Cheese solves everything. However, pancreatitis is a concern so I am watching fat content carefully. Freeze dried toppers are often high in fat. I’m looking for 10% or less fat content.

    Reply
    1. Hindy Pearson (Post author)

      Cheese does solve everything in this house as well, and I know what you mean about fat content and pancreatitis. Red had the same issues. I found cod was a good one to hide pills in, and my vet was okay with me giving her low fat (although I bought no fat) cottage cheese. When I was really desperate I would get low fat hard cheese and give her the tiniest piece I could. She loved when I baked her canned kidney food so it was easy to slip a pill in there as well.

      Reply
  2. Kelly

    I clearly remember what it was like trying to get my senior dog to eat – I was desperate and tried a variety of foods. Eventually, just like you said, it gets to the point of you just need to get them to eat. I made her food, and found warming it helped and encouraged her to eat.

    Reply
    1. Hindy Pearson (Post author)

      Warming does help a lot, and I find it oddly comforting knowing there are so many going through the same challenges and sharing tips to help.

      Reply
  3. JoeHx

    Thanks for this. My dog is almost 12 – and technically a senior – and recently she’s not been finishing her food bowl in the morning. I’m not sure exactly why – is she just getting distracted, or is there something more? She has no problems when she does eat, and she enjoys her treat when I have her go into her cage in the morning. She still begs for food when I eat. Right now, I’m keeping a close eye on her and will be weighing her soon to see if there’s been any significant loss in weight. She doesn’t look any skinnier, though.

    Reply
    1. Hindy Pearson (Post author)

      Perhaps you would like to join my FB group Senior Dog Care Club. It’s a wonderful supportive community, and lots of great help and advice.

      Reply
  4. Ruth Epstein

    Fantastic post as Layla the past couple of days does not want to eat her food BUT she is eating the treats from all her uncles in the dog park and eating boiled chicken when I give it to her. So made up a bowl of boiled chicken with supplements last night to see if she would eat that and sprinkled on top of it the crumbs from her treats which she loves. I also raised her bowl to see if that would make a difference. She is drinking and I am monitoring her at this moment. Am going to be taking dog food to the park instead of treats now to see what happens, especially when we are sitting there for a couple of hours

    Reply
    1. Hindy Pearson (Post author)

      I hope Layla is feeling okay, great to hear she’s loving her chicken. I used to raise Red’s water and food bowls and I found it made it more comfortable for her. That’s a great idea to take her food to the park rather than treats, let me know how that works. A chance of scenery may be the answer.

      Reply
  5. Michelle & The Paw Pack

    Great post! My oldest boy will be 10 in December but luckily getting him to eat has never been an issue for us. Quite the opposite, he likes to eat a little too much so we had to put him on a diet. I’ve always jokingly said that the only thing that’s ever going to stop him from eating is going to be death. He’s such a foodie!

    Reply
    1. Hindy Pearson (Post author)

      It’s so much easier when they love their food, the worst is when they stop eating and lose weight and they’ve lost interest. Glad to hear your pup is loving his food.

      Reply
  6. Beth

    These are great suggestions! When my sister’s dog stopped eating, I heated up a freshly made dog food (NomNomNow) and she would eat that along with her favorite brand of dog treats. Eventually, the vet removed her spleen and she made a good recovery.

    Reply
    1. Hindy Pearson (Post author)

      Warming up food is a great way to entice a dog to eat.

      Reply
  7. Holly

    I’ve had good success with an old old cat making a gruel he could drink out of kitten formula or goat’s milk and honest kitchen cat food and baby food, and serving in an elevated saucer.

    To get past picky I’ve found the warming up to work, sprinkling with parmesan cheese or nutritional yeast or crushed temptations treats (or another favorite but in my experience those are like kitty crack.)

    Reply
    1. Hindy Pearson (Post author)

      Great tips thanks for sharing. It’s funny you say Temptations are like kitty crack. My cats were never big on treats, more accurately they had no interest until we got a sample of Temptations and they loved them!

      Reply
  8. Lorie Ham

    I have one dog who is approaching or I guess technically in his senior years (turning 9 next month)-this is good info to have even though for now he’s a really good eater. Thanks for all of the great info.

    Reply
    1. Hindy Pearson (Post author)

      It’s always good to have resources available, ready when you need them.

      Reply
  9. Lola The Rescued Cat

    It’s horrible when your pet won’t eat. I watched my friend go through that experience with three of her senior cats and it was heart wrenching. These are great tips. And Hindy is right… Temptations are like kitty crack!

    Reply
    1. Hindy Pearson (Post author)

      It really is tough when they won’t eat, and they really need their medication.

      Reply
  10. Jana Rade

    Food things can get pretty complicated when it comes to older dogs or dogs who are plagued with ailments. Jasmine gave us quite a challenge getting her to eat as well. First because of her IBD, later on, because of liver issues. In the end, she was unable to eat at all.

    It gets even harder when the things a dog would likely enjoy are forbidden because of underlying health issues. Finding a way of making it smell strongly and attractive often helps.

    Reply
    1. Hindy Pearson (Post author)

      It can be quite complicated, and it’s true how much harder it is when the foods they loved are on the NO list. I used to microwave Red’s food and it helped at times.

      Reply
  11. Dorothy "FiveSibesMom"

    Again, a great post, Hindy. Wonderful sharing of tips. I have one Husky who is not a big eater and always causes me concern, especially since he is 10.5. He has always been this way due to anxiety issues that cause GI upset, but I have him on a regimen to help ease it and encourage him to eat – I started him on CBD treats an hour to hour and a half before he eats, he is also on Pepcid. I make boiled beef and chicken and turkey, salmon, I add pumpkin, baked sweet potatoes, coconut oil, Omega-3 oil, organic blueberries, salt-free cottage cheese, organic cream cheese, organic creamy peanut or almond butter, and fat-free Greek yogurt. If he is really on a food strike, I will sneak in tiny bits of gluten-free pizza crust sprinkled on top and also crushed treats and shredded cheese. My goal is to at least get him to eat! My other Husky, she will eat anything and everything that is not nailed down! So if she does not eat, I know something is up!

    Reply
    1. Hindy Pearson (Post author)

      Thanks again Dorothy. Sounds like you have a great schedule, and the CBD treat idea is a great one. I agree, sometimes it’s more important that they eat than what they eat. Red was like your Husky who would eat anything, I always referred to her as a vacuum cleaner. Like you, when she didn’t eat I knew there was a problem.

      Reply
  12. Bernard Lima-Chavez

    I’m SOOOO happy one of your 1st recommendations was having your dog examined by a vet. Anorexia AKA inappetence or not eating) is a clinical sign of so many health issues. It’s so important to get a proper diagnosis so you know how to proceed!

    Thanks for writing this!

    Reply
    1. Hindy Pearson (Post author)

      Thanks Bernard!! I’m always banging on about people going to see a vet first thing whenever there is a change in behaviour, particularly in a senior dog. Without knowing what’s wrong with your dog, how could you possibly know the best course of action to take!

      Reply
  13. Talent Hounds

    Isabelle and Cookie kept eating until they passed at 13.5 and 17.5 although Isabelle became quite picky and ate less more often and more wet food. Nala the cat was so healthy but then got kidney disease at 19 and I had to get a special diet and hand feed her regularly as she lost interest in most foods. She loved chicken and tuna so I made the same decision – let her enjoy her last 6 months where possible and let her have pieces from my fingers.

    Reply
    1. Hindy Pearson (Post author)

      At some point it’s more important that our animals eat something, rather than worrying if it’s the “right” thing. I know I was faced with that decision and I chose to make sure Red ate, even though I knew it wouldn’t be the best thing for her. She had lost weight and that wasn’t a good situation either.

      Reply
  14. Maureen

    Great advice. When Keria was so ill I brought to the hospital a hamburger (or two) and she ate that. Thank God. She was refusing everything else. Sometime you gotta do what you gotta do!

    Reply
    1. Hindy Pearson (Post author)

      Glad you found something that worked, I know how stressful it can be when they refuse everything you try. I agree, sometimes you have to give them food you wouldn’t ordinarily try just to get them to eat something.

      Reply
  15. Marya O'Brien

    Hi Hindy. Just joined your FB group just now. Hope to be included soon to get some tips and guidance. I have a 12 y/o shih tzu who has started being so finicky and would eat sparingly every day-if he even eats at all. We’ve been to the vet for a different issue-his liver enzyme count has been high lately and so he’s on a holistic treatment to bring it down and so far so good. His liver count came down. However he’s still not that interested in food. he’s been on raw food for years and have had no problem but lately all the treats and main food he used to love are not a big hit for him. So I had to change the whole diet and what he eats one minute, he’ll turn his nose away from it the next. So frustrating. Sometimes even heating it up doesn’t work. So it’s definitely a challenge and a hit and miss for the both of us everyday. I’m encouraged from reading stories here, that I can give him food that may not be that healthy just to get him to eat. I will definitely keep that in mind.

    Reply
    1. Hindy Pearson (Post author)

      Very common for old dogs to get finicky. Their senses may become dulled, be nauseous from kidney issues for example or even because of the onset of dementia. There is an article on this site about getting an old dog to eat, plus it’s a very common topic in the group. Hope you get the support and information you’re looking for there.

      Reply
  16. Sherry

    Thank you for this article. My 15 year old dog has gone from just being picky, to now only eating a few bites a day. She has valve disease and takes meds, plus some dementia seems to be setting in. It’s nice to know someone else has been through this before and it’s ok to feel the way I’m feeling. We have a vet appt tomorrow, so I’m anxious to see if anything new is going on or or if this is just part of the process. Thank you

    Reply
    1. Hindy Pearson (Post author)

      Hi Sherry, I don’t know if your dog is on any medication for dementia, but I highly recommend you speak to your vet about Anipryl which is available in the States and Canada. There is an article on my website you should have a look at before your appointment, so you can discuss some of the options there. Is it possible he’s not eating because he’s nauseous? That could be because of pancreatitis, kidney or liver issues. Hopefully things go well tomorrow, but keep me posted. https://caringforaseniordog.com/dementia-in-older-dogs-a-holistic-approach-to-treatment

      Reply
      1. Sherry

        Thanks so much for this info. I read your article and will do some additional reading before our appt tomorrow. After reading more about dementia in dogs, I think we may be dealing with it. Butters has always been fairly anxious, but now sometimes she trembles for seemingly no reason, goes to the wrong door, forgets we’re in the back part of the house and will bark when we come to the front, etc. She currently takes pimobendan, benazepril, furosemide, galliprant, and DES. In addition to tomorrow’s regular appt, we also have her 6 month cardiology follow up appt next week. I feel like I’ll need my own dr appt soon to help with nerves. So hard to watch my girl go through these changes, but also know the cycle Of life happens and I just want her to be happy and comfortable for as long as possible. Again, thank you

        Reply
        1. Hindy Pearson (Post author)

          It can be very stressful caring for an old dog who isn’t well, believe me I’ve been there. It’s so important to take time for yourself, even if it means a walk around the block. Check out my article on the front page about natural dementia treatments, and of course find out about the prescription medication Anipryl. There are lots of options to help with anxiety.

          Reply
  17. Colleen

    Thank you for the tips. I have an old girl who just turned 13 and doesn’t always want to eat. She’s never been a “foodie” and wouldn’t always eat her breakfast. But as she’s gotten older she has become much pickier, even turning her nose up at peanut butter. I found that if I put potted meat (like Spam) and water it down a bit to stir into her food she’ll eat most of the time.

    Reply
    1. Hindy Pearson (Post author)

      I’m glad you found something that works. They can become so finicky it’s a constant battle to find something they’ll eat. Is it possible she’s a bit nauseous? I did find warming the food up a bit in the microwave made a big difference, as did baking her canned food and using them as treats.

      Reply
  18. Bridget

    Thank you! My old guy has been eating less and less and I just go on brain freeze because I worry! I read this after him not eating this am and jumped up and made him scrambled eggs! He scarfed them down! We were both happy 🙂 Now, on to the next step but at least I know he’ll eat and you gave me so many ideas. THANK YOU 🐾❤️

    Reply
    1. Hindy Pearson (Post author)

      Hi Bridget, Thanks for writing in and I’m very happy your pup loved the eggs!! Believe me I know how scary and frustrating it is when our old dogs don’t eat. Red was like a vacuum cleaner, and if she ever turned her nose up at food I panicked.

      Do you know why your dog has become less interested? Has he been to the vet lately for a check up? Is he nauseous perhaps?

      Reply

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