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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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
Other possible explanations
There are some medical reasons for your dog’s lack of appetite and they are –
- Liver issues
- Kidney issues
- Dental problems
- Dulling of senses as a natural part of the aging process
- Mobility issues make it difficult to reach the bowl
- 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 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
- Raw or cooked carrot
- Raw apple
- Cooked green beans
- Low fat cottage cheese
Helpful tip – Pour the water from the chicken into ice cube trays, freeze and defrost individually to pour over food.
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.
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
- Cottage cheese
- Rotisserie chicken
- Chicken soup
- 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.
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.**