What To Do When Your Older Dog Won’t Eat

by janie knetzer

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older german shepherd won't eatThere are a few things that you have to take into consideration when trying to determine why your older dog won’t eat.

Chances are that if you’re reading this article then you’re struggling with what to do when your senior fur baby shows no interest in his or her meals.

I’ve certainly fought this battle more than once over the years and I know how upsetting it can be for the dog owner.

Of course it’s critical that your senior eat in order to maintain his or her strength.  There are many reasons that can cause an older dog not to eat:

  • Disease or Illness
  • Dental – If you don’t clean your dog’s teeth regularly, your dog could be in pain due to periodontal problems
  • Emotional – Dogs DO get depressed
  • Poor Diet

DON’T Get Upset About It – Your Dog WILL Pick Up on Your Feelings

As silly as you may think this sounds, your dog knows what you’re feeling.  So, if you get stressed or panicked because he or she’s not eating, it can often make the situation worse. (I’ve been there). If your dog senses your nervousness, the chances are better that he’ll walk away from the food.

You have to find a way to stay calm and relaxed at meal time even if the dog doesn’t eat right away.  The key is to learn to entice your dog with the food via smell, before you even place the food down.  This is a vital step and here’s why.

If you place the food down and the dog doesn’t eat it; then you pick it back up and add something to it, put the bowl back down; the dog will often walk away at that point.  Then you begin to panic trying to figure out what to do.  Don’t play games putting the bowl down, picking it up and putting it back down.

Rule Out Disease

There are several different reasons that can cause your dog to stop eating such as disease or illness, parasites, stress and anxiety (behavioral).

It’s very important that you don’t try and guess what’s causing your older dog’s appetite loss. Make an appointment for your dog with his or her holistic veterinarian.

Although a loss of appetite can be a symptom of several issues; it’s important that your vet run tests to rule out that disease or illness may be causing the problem.

Once the vet confirms that your old fur baby is definitely okay health wise, then you can start evaluating why the lack of interest in food.

Rose’s Story – Suddenly a Finicky German Shepherd

how to get an old dog to eatAt one point, I had been working with a friend whose twelve year old German Shepherd suddenly developed reoccurring stool problems as well as daily accidents in the house.

Rose was always a good eater up until about six months ago when her owner took her to the vet for an ear problem. Rose was diagnosed with Vestibular Disease due to an inner ear infection. Other than Vestibular Disease, the vet indicated that Rose was healthy.

Rose’s owner contacted me due to her stool problems and sudden onset of anorexia. Anorexia in dogs is when a dog has a complete loss of appetite. It’s not the same as the eating disorder Anorexia Nervosa in people. Shortly after visiting the vet, Rose’s owner decided to use a dewormer on her in the event that she may have developed worms.

From this point forward, Rose’s stool and eating habits changed completely.  Since Rose wouldn’t eat, her owner decided to try boiled chicken and rice which Rose accepted with a doggy smile!

Determining The Problem

Since the vet ruled out any real health concerns, my suspicions as to why Rose wasn’t eating were more behavioral than anything, especially since she was always a good eater. Although Rose was diagnosed with Vestibular Disease, she also developed certain behavioral symptoms around that time as well.

Coincidentally, Rose’s owner welcomed a new German Shepherd puppy into the home around the same time that Rose’s symptoms started to appear. This confirmed my suspicions that much of Rose’s issues were indeed behavioral. Plus, Rose was used to eating free form; having dry food available at all times and now with the new puppy, this changed her entire routine.

All dogs like routine, but old dogs rely on it!

Adding Another Dog to the Family and Reinforcing Your Alfa Dog’s Role

I explained the importance that Rose must always be first – before the pup. Rose goes in and out of the doors first, she gets her food first, etc. Although dogs will typically work out any “pack” issues themselves, it’s a must for the owner to reinforce the older dog’s role.

I further explained the importance of a healthy diet for both dogs and further explained that boiled chicken and rice isn’t a balanced diet. This type of bland diet is typically recommended as a temporary diet for gastric upset or a diet for a recuperating pet. A diet of boiled chicken/ground beef and rice should never be your dog’s only source of food without adequate supplementation. It is void of all the nutrients your dog needs such as vitamins and MINERALS which are critical.

Since both dogs were used to eating commercial dry dog food, my recommendation for Rose and Niko was a much higher quality dog food for both dogs. Niko was also battling some skin problems too which a good food and a few supplements will usually take care of.

We changed the dogs to a higher quality commercial food and added some much needed supplements as well. Probiotics to build and keep Rose’s immune system strong. Digestive Enzymes to help Rose break down and absorb the nutrients in the food and Omega 3 Fatty Acids for healthy skin and organs.

Immediately after changing the foods and adding the supplements, Rose’s stool and accidents were better. However, Rose wasn’t quite 100% yet. She’ll still often go without eating and rush to eat her food when she knew “Niko” was coming. Again, her behavior confirms that much of how she was reacting, was due to the stress of lifestyle change.

Rose’s weight wasn’t nearly where it should be for a German Shepherd and it was important that she gain a little weight.

Okay, How To Get Your Older Dog To Eat

The first thing you have to do is to evaluate any changes made in your own life that directly or indirectly affect your older dog.

As far as actually getting your your senior to eat; I always recommend trying one of the better commercial foods first (a small bag) to see if your dog accepts it.

Another food that I always recommend is Wellness Ninety-Five Percent because it’s 95% meat. It’s generally accepted by most dogs who are often lacking in a quality protein. Keep in mind that because the only ingredient is meat, you can’t feed it by itself since it contains no vitamins or minerals. It’s only meant to be a supplement to your dog’s diet. So, this might be a nice addition to the right dry or dehydrated food.

If this doesn’t seem to be working either, then start looking at preparing something homemade for your dog or including some healthy tablescraps to her diet.   See my free recipe below.

*Important – when you home cook for your dog, you MUST add supplementation either by adding each of the individual supplements or by providing your old dog a multivitamin daily (follow the dosage instructions on the bottle according to your dog’s weight).

Get creative with these other ideas:

  • Shredded cheese
  • Hard boiled eggs
  • Sardines in water
  • Canned or fresh salmon

Dogs Love This Stinky Alternative!

Another alternative that most dog’s LOVE is adding green tripe to their diet. Beware – it’s stinky! Tripe is the stomach of ruminating animals such as cattle, sheep, bison, deer, etc. You always want green tripe which means it has been untouched (never bleached).

While fresh tripe is the best of course; Tripett brand is also a nice alternative. Try adding a little each day to his meals or after he eats to give him something to look forward to.

Here’s a recipe that also might work for your old fur baby. Adjust the recipe to your dog’s size. Although this recipe calls for baby food veggies; fresh veggies such as kale and carrots are much better choices if you can get your old dog to eat them. You can steam and puree them so they are similar to baby food:
2 cups of cooked lean ground beef lightly sauteed in olive oil (cook only until slightly pink)
4 hard boiled eggs, chopped
1 Cup cooked Oatmeal or Brown Rice (cooked well)
1/2 cup MASHED, drained and rinsed canned kidney beans
1 small jar baby food green beans or carrots
4 Tbsp cottage cheese

Combine all ingredients and mix well. You can either add the multivitamin to the meal or give it separately. Serve at room temperature. Store any left overs in the fridge and toss after about 3 days.

My blog also shares lots of information on how and what to feed your dog. Use the search bar or check out the category drop down menu.

Do you have any ideas or tips that you can share on what you did to get your senior to eat? We would love to hear them!

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Disclaimer: I am not a veterinarian and I am not suggesting that you replace your veterinarian’s advice or prescribed medications.

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