How to Get an Old Dog to Eat

My Rottie/Shepard mix Sheba is 15 years old now, and has started to show signs of age. Most notably her appetite has waned – she’s been an enthusiastic eater all her life (she’s been eating raw since I adopted her more than 10 years ago), but now she often needs a bit of coaxing to get her to eat. Aside from concerns about her nutritional needs, this also makes it more difficult to keep her on a regular schedule for her medications.

Here are some lessons I’ve learned:

Feeding:

1. Sheba’s appetite level varies during the day, and is often lowest in the morning. While I still give her the opportunity to eat in the morning, I don’t get upset if she doesn’t want to. Usually when this happens, she has a voracious appetite by the time the evening meal comes around.

2.  Don’t mix medicines into meals. I’ve always done this in the past, but now I give them separately. The herbal medications I’ve been giving Sheba are a bit bitter, and affect the flavor of her food. With her appetite already a concern, I don’t want anything upsetting the taste of her food, or making her wary of her meals.

3. Try taking a break from the normal diet every once in a while. Sometimes Sheba prefers a “lighter” diet – like cottage cheese and brown rice, maybe with a little chicken broth, just to give her a change from her normal raw meat diet.

Medications:

1. For pills, I’ve been using cream cheese to disguise them. It goes down easily, and Sheba never even knows she’s taken a pill. I’ve used peanut butter the same way in the past as well.

2. Powdered herbs are a challenge, particularly if they’re bitter. I’ve tried baking them into a biscuit and then serving in warm chicken broth, but this doesn’t always work. I’ve also put them into capsules, but sometimes it would take too many to get the amount needed.

3. My vet suggested diluting the herbs in water and then using a turkey baster to squirt the mix down Sheba’s throat. I haven’t actually tried this, as I’m sure I’d get some resistance, but I may need to if nothing else works.

I’m interested in hearing any approaches that others have found to work with their dogs. What tricks do you use to get a reluctant eater to eat, or to get it to take its medications?

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  • Alyson

    Here's a tip I learned from an amazing veterinarian who focuses on canine acupuncture and holistic medicine: if your dog doesn't want to eat, especially in the morning, try getting their hunger juices fired up by giving them a high-quality treat first. When my dog doesn't want to eat in the morning, I give him a freeze-dried liver treat (his favorite), then give him his meal. This seems to do the trick.

  • http://www.offleashadventures.com/ tamara

    3 ideas that have worked for us and our clients: 1) A little exercise or activity before meals can help peak the appetite. . Few old dogs (or old people) have much appetite when they first roll out from a nap. They sleep hard, wake slowly, and may have aches and pains and stiffeness upon awakening. For an older dog, it may be just a tour around the yard or a leash walk to the corner and back – or even a short ride in the car. Put the food down immediatley after the activity and use Alyson’s idea of a treat primer as the first bite. 2) older dogs, especially those taking medications, may have a little stomach upset in the morning that can affect desire to eat. Ask your vet about giving a Pepcid AC with the evening meal or snack. This can help with that moring acidity or reflux. A small bland bedtime snack can also help prevent morning tummy upset. 4) Try mixing those herbs in a large spoonful of canned mackeral or canned tripe to hide the texture and the smell. A bit of tripe can also act as primer to spur on reluctant eaters.

  • Sbparkinson

    Where is the proof positive that shows the value of raw dog food as opposed to quality dry food?It is an unknown quantity and raw food is very expensive!