What To Do If Your Old Dog Won’t Eat

Changes in appetite can occur for many reasons as our dogs age. A loss of appetite is one of the first symptoms of many developing medical conditions, many of which senior pups are more at risk of acquiring. So what do you do when your old dog won’t eat?

In this article we will discuss the details of appetite changes in old dogs, and help you better understand how to help them going forward.

Does Your Dog Eat Very Little, Or Nothing At All?

Before we discuss the many reasons why senior dogs turn away their food, we should first establish if your dog is truly experiencing anorexia or not. Anorexia in dogs is a significant decrease in appetite, or a complete loss of appetite for food all together.

A slight change in appetite in your old dog is not always an immediate cause of concern, but anorexia certainly is. If your senior dog is experiencing a noticeable decrease in their normal appetite, it’s always best to contact your vet, as something could be going on with their health.

What To Do If Your Old Dog Won't Eat

Possible Reasons Your Senior Dog Won’t Eat

Our senior dogs can’t tell us why they are suddenly turning their nose up at food, so it’s up to us to decipher the clues. Many factors can cause a decrease in appetite in dogs, so let’s go through the list of possibilities below.

They Are In Pain

When you are in pain, eating regular meals is the last thing on your mind. Pain can decrease appetite in elderly dogs as well, causing them to shy away from their normal meals. Not only is pain a cause of anorexia in dogs in general, but the pain can be tied to underlying medical conditions. These conditions themselves can be known to cause appetite loss in dogs, increasing the chance of your dog struggling to eat.

Dogs can experience pain due to joint disease, GI conditions, sudden injuries, dental disease, and even aches that come along with aging. A painful senior dog may turn their nose up at food, appear lethargic, turn down activities they once enjoyed, and struggle with performing normal tasks. If you think pain is the cause of your old dog’s anorexia, it’s best to contact your vet for further guidance.

They Are Nauseous

There is nothing worse than the smell of food when you are nauseous. Nausea hits senior dogs hard, often causing them to avoid food at all costs. Nausea can be a symptom of multiple complications in dogs, ranging from dietary indiscretion to kidney disease.

Some of the most common causes of nausea in elderly dogs include gastritis, pancreatitis, bacterial infections, and metabolic conditions like kidney or liver disease. Nausea can be unbearable for our canine friends, so it’s always best to visit your vet if you think your senior dog has an upset stomach for any reason.

They Have Dental Pain

Dental disease is a common condition in senior dogs. While periodontal disease is most common in small breeds, any pup can fall victim to painful dental infections. Because our pups cannot tell us when their teeth hurt, this means many dental infections go unnoticed for long periods. Our pups will often suffer through dental pain until it’s too painful to eat, allowing us to finally notice their struggle.

An old dog with dental pain may experience difficulty eating, blood in their water bowl, blood on their toys, facial swelling, face sensitivity, and even tooth loss. Severe dental pain and infections require medical intervention to relieve, meaning you should always contact your vet if you ever expect it.

They Are Stressed

Some old dogs stop eating anytime they are experiencing stress. Senior dogs become extremely accustomed to their regular routine, meaning any change in their environment can result in serious anxiety. Something as simple as a change in your work schedule can cause a major stir in your old dog’s life, causing them to go on a food strike.

Dogs can experience stress due to changes in your home, moving to a new home, presence of a new pet, a sudden disappearance of someone they love, and any other change in their day to day lives. Offering your dog comfort and stability is the only way to relieve their stress, and may require extra attention to work through.

They Are Congested

Dogs rely on smell to guide them to their food bowls and determine if something seems satisfying. If they are experiencing nasal congestion, this can throw off their entire mealtime routine. Not only can it be more challenging for a dog to enjoy their food when they are congested, but most respiratory infections can cause them to feel unwell. A congested dog may eat less food than they normally would, or refuse to eat all together.

Serious Medical Conditions

As our dogs age, they are more prone to developing serious medical conditions and metabolic complications. Anorexia is one of the first symptoms in many of these conditions, whether it’s due to nausea or general discomfort. Some of the conditions that can cause a decreased appetite in senior dogs include:

  • Diabetes
  • Addison’s disease
  • Kidney disease
  • Liver disease
  • Cancer
  • Cardiac disease
  • Cognitive dysfunction

Yearly exams in elderly dogs are not only critical in diagnosing these conditions early on, but a tool to offer your pup a happier and healthier future. The conditions listed above are why we strongly suggest contacting your vet anytime your old dog is not eating, as it can be a sign of something more.

How Long Can An Old Dog Go Without Eating?

If your senior dog is not eating, you are likely wondering how long they can go without consuming any food. Most senior dogs can survive 3 to 5 days without eating, but you should never allow this to happen.

Senior dogs are more fragile than their younger canine friends, and require extra attention anytime they shy away from food. You should contact your vet at the 24 hour mark if your senior dog will not eat, as they can experience serious complications if they go any longer.

Can I Offer My Dog Human Food If They Won’t Eat Their Food?

When old dogs refuse to eat, many dog owners wonder if they can offer them tasty human food. While the answer to this is yes, there is a fine line that should not be crossed. For example, some senior dogs become extremely picky with their food when dealing with medical complications, causing some owners to give them any food they want.

Sometimes this includes food such as hamburgers, hot dogs, and anything else you can think of. While your senior dog may eat these items happily, it could be setting them up for failure. You can give your elderly dog human food if they refuse to eat anything else, but it must be bland and easily digestible.

What To Feed An Old Dog That Won’t Eat

If your old dog will not eat their standard diet, there are some other options you can give them when approved by your veterinarian. To help you have a clear idea of what is acceptable for your pup, let’s list some bland diet options that your old dog can safely enjoy.

  • Boiled chicken breast without seasoning
  • Boiled turkey without seasoning
  • Pan fried lean ground turkey without seasoning
  • Unseasoned scrambled eggs
  • Chicken or turkey baby food as a meal topper
  • White rice
  • Brown rice
  • Sweet Potato
  • Bananas
  • Pureed pumpkins

While you should always have the above items approved by your dog’s vet, they can be helpful in encouraging your dog to eat.

Is This End Of Life For Your Old Dog?

Refusal to eat in your senior pup is not automatically a sign that it’s time to say goodbye. Anorexia can certainly point to serious medical conditions in our furry friends, but many conditions can be managed with proper veterinary care.

Things can get more complicated if this is a recurring issue in your dog accompanied by significant weight loss, but every situation will vary. The only way to determine if your dog is near the end of their life is by speaking with your veterinarian about their specific situation.

Senior dogs may refuse to eat for multiple reasons. Be sure to review the information that we discussed above, and you can get to the bottom of your dog’s anorexia in no time.

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