I know from experience what it’s like to feel so desperate when your old dog won’t eat, you’re willing to do and try anything!
Red, the love of my life, sadly got her wings on May 18 of this year (2018). I adopted her when she was around 8 so we think she passed at around 17 years of age. She was obese when we adopted her, bless her, so trying to get her to eat was never a problem. I always said she was like a vacuum cleaner because there wasn’t anything she wouldn’t inhale. When I say inhale I mean that literally, which is why she could never eat dry food because she wouldn’t chew just swallow.
The last few months of her life getting her to eat became a real challenge. I believe having been on various medications for so long played a part in her developing a fragile system, then kidney issues and chronic pancreatitis made it even more difficult. Those two health challenges significantly shortened the list of what she was allowed to eat, so when she wasn’t feeling well I was always a nervous wreck because I didn’t have a lot of tools in my tool box to work with.
What made it even more difficult was – some of the foods that are okay for kidney issues are not okay for pancreatitis and vice versa. When the only thing she would eat was chicken I had to give it to her, knowing full well it wouldn’t have been good for her kidneys. What could I do, she was basically screwed either way, so my vet and I decided at that point it was just important she ate.
Why isn’t your dog eating?
I read a lot about people who have dogs that won’t eat and they’re constantly looking for things to try… as they should be doing. However, the first thing you have to do is figure out why your dog isn’t eating, or eating as well as he or she used to.
See your vet immediately
If you don’t yet know the reason, the best advice I can offer is to see your vet. My second best piece of advice is to NOT accept a diagnosis of “your dog is old.” Old age does not mean your dog stops eating. Perhaps it has made him a bit fussier, or his meals are too big to eat all at once and you should feed him 3, 4 or even 5 small meals a day, but not wanting to eat? I don’t buy it.
There are lots of reasons why your dog may be less interested in eating and I’ve already mentioned the two Red was dealing with – pancreatitis and kidney disease, both of which can cause nausea. A third thing that came into play was dementia, which made it hard for her to find or know what to do with her food, even though her face was in the bowl. Sometimes as hungry as they may be, they just can’t seem to eat.
I have a diagnosis now what?
Of course that will depend on the diagnosis and whether or not there is a treatment to cure or manage the condition. Perhaps your dog will still be fussy and not as interested, what then?
Your dog has to eat
That’s a given because let’s be frank, bad things happen when your dog is starving.
My list of Red friendly food
- Boiled chicken breast (freeze the water in ice cube trays and defrost to pour over food)
- Boiled broccoli
- Boiled squash
- Whole grain rice
- Raw or cooked carrot
- Raw apple
- Low fat cottage cheese
- Cut her canned Prescription k/d into pieces and baked them
How I got her to eat
A few years ago I started elevating her bowls which I found was more comfortable for her. You could buy raised feeders or get creative on your own. Red was very little so putting her water bowl on an overturned casserole dish on the floor gave her enough height, but not too much so she had to reach. I held her food bowl for her, again because the height was more convenient.
I discovered warming up her food in the microwave for a few seconds helped a lot, it seems the smells made it more appetizing.
There were many times in the last few months where I had to hand feed her, more because of the dementia. Heartbreaking to watch so if your dog is suffering from dementia I urge you to put her on a treatment plan.
Helpful and even brilliant tips for getting your old dog to eat
I did write about this topic in a previous article called “How to Get an Old Dog to Eat” , and in that post is a very lengthy list of possible food choices.
Since it was published I have started a FB group called Senior Dog Care Club, filled with incredible members who have some fabulous advice. They very kindly offered to share their tips and tricks for when their old dog won’t eat, and now I’m sharing them with you. The more things we have to try, the better we can care for our senior pups.
Be sure to check with your vet before adding something you aren’t sure of, because what one dog is allowed the other may not be. For example, Red wasn’t allowed coconut oil because of her pancreatitis, or peanut butter because the salt content wasn’t good for her heart.
Add coconut oil
Cheese topping or scrambled eggs mixed in
Buy a semi-soft food that is firm enough that you have to slice it up. The amount needed per day is measured out on the package. I slice it all up for the day and feed her throughout the day. Never too much at one time so she absorbs the food better and no risk of getting sick. I have to sit next to her, open up her mouth put in the food and she eats it up. At the end of the day i make her a fresh burger and she will take most of it but this is just gravy on top, she already has the nutrition she needs, the burger keeps her happy but she needs the dog food also. She will eat cheese so I get some high quality Cheddar and give her a couple of those a day too, very high in calories and she likes it
Bacon grease, bone broth, canned liver mixed with dry food, meat scraps.
Scrambled eggs with cheese
Good quality tinned cat food/ sardines/ sprinkle a little grated cheese over dinner, also heating it up increases the scent and gets their noses sniffing
Homemade chicken and rice
Freeze dried meal toppers
Entyce from the vet
I take frozen veggies, mine likes carrots. Cook them then purée it in a blender. Use a little water to thin it out. I put about two tablespoons on her food daily.
Diced ham and rice, warmed up in the microwave… added to their food in small amounts.
Don’t hover over them, constantly cajoling them and bribing them with “goodies”. IOW: Give them their personal space
I admit – this can be a struggle! Depending on the type of food, warming it up can help. Sometimes I need to hand-feed. Other times, as I am hand-feeding, I will gently push the food towards their mouth and let it brush against their lips. That will cause them to lick their lips and usually/eventually interest them in eating. Other times, if it is food that is in a plate or bowl, I will add a few tiny pieces of a favorite human food to their meal. Right now a few tiny crumbs/pieces of pizza crust does the trick. Sometimes, they might just eat the crust from their bowl, but 90% of the time, they end up eating everything (both their food and the pizza crust).
I’ve had success with chicken, hamburger and ground turkey. Canned cat food; something smelly. Sometimes I had to pull out the big guns: steak. Warming it up helps.
Things that have worked for my dog – feed pieces of dog food by hand, call it treats/ Put dog food on a plate, leave unattended on kitchen table
One thing she has never turned down is a baked potato with butter. When desperate carbs can be a great friend.
I have found rolling her food in my hands and giving her a bit at a time helps. She likes when I drop it in piles on the floor for her. Sometimes she prefers to stand and eat from the bowl. I have to gauge her mood a bit. Definitely try rolling the kibble in your hands though. It can really help.
Boiled chicken tenderloins and cut it up, add some noodles, water or bone broth, add a bit of dry dog food, mix well serve warm and moist. You could try lean ground beef. My Lily eat this every day. If she’s having tummy issues I just give her the chicken with the noodles sometimes I’ll add peas and carrots and always moisten and warm food.
Dr Becker’s Bites Appetite Flakes
Cheese. Cheese always works
Feeding them some of their food in the park. A change of scenery might help.
Unflavored and unsweetened yogurt. Cottage cheese sometimes. Plate instead of regular dog dish sometimes helps. Mozzarella. Unseasoned smoked meat and broth made from the bones. Strong scent can make a difference. Cook or pretend to cook food that goes in a meal. Pretend to eat what you want them to eat. Allow them to not eat some meals. Try a different schedule. Walk before meal and allow them to fully wake before trying to feed.
Sprinkle a little of a fav treat (like turkey) on top of and throughout the food. Diversify. Rotate the type of meals each day.
Organic ground turkey that I mix with an organic golden paste recipe and mixed organic veggies cooked and put in blender (broccoli cauliflower and carrots). She has been scarfing it down and has picked up in energy!
Ground turkey burgers 5grams twice a day, wet at night, hand feed kibble measure out if she won’t. I put it in bowl warm water soup kibble yummy but she is fussy had to stop after twelve years of eating everything. WE did hard but she’s ok just try sometimes just eating with or at the same time so not alone as much
Making a big deal eating out of matching bowls
Rotisserie chicken or chicken soup
I’ll add mashed up sweet potatoes, pumpkin and broccoli. Our Eskies love their broccoli. They’ll eat it soft, and also like to eat the stalk cold like a bone!
I put my baby’s dry food in a blender. I turned into dust. I add a little wet dog food. Not a lot because she strains when she poops
Mix a little pumpkin or sweet potatoes in with food and anything else safe. Rotate rotate so they don’t get bored
So there you have it…lot’s of things that have helped other senior dog parents when their old dog won’t eat.
What have you tried that worked? Sharing helps others so please leave your comment below.
Check out my Facebook page, Caring For a Senior Dog for stories, quotes and interesting articles about senior dogs.
**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.**
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