How to Get an Old Dog to Eat

Every dog, especially every old dog, is different when it comes to appetite and nutrition. Some get pickier as they age, while others just stop eating as much. 

If your dog is getting older and slower, you might be worried about their loss of interest in food, so you’re wondering how to get an old dog to eat.

Your dog’s dietary needs and habits change as they age, and we’re here to help you understand why old dogs stop eating and how you can get them to eat again. 

We also provide our top suggestion on what to feed them!

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how to make old dog eat

Why Old Dogs Stop Eating

There are many reasons why dogs lose their appetite at an old age. One of the most obvious reasons is, well, they’re old. Dogs, like humans, normally lose their appetites as they age. 

It only becomes abnormal if they aren’t taking in enough calories to support their bodily functions and enjoy a good quality of life.

If your dog has a normal weight but is eating less than usual, there is no need to worry. Their metabolism is probably just slowing down. 

If your dog is refusing to eat anything at all, then it might be a more serious problem. 

As dogs age, their activity levels also decrease, meaning they burn less fuel and therefore need less calories. This helps them avoid obesity.

Old dogs may tend to get pickier too. If they have always been picky, and now they’re a little more so, it’s not a cause of concern. But if they have always loved their food and suddenly stop enjoying it, then that could be more serious. 

The most likely reason why older dogs stop eating is that they are sick. Just as we don’t feel like eating when we feel unwell, so do dogs.

Your dog’s sickness may be as mild as a cold or as severe as pancreatitis, so contact your vet for a diagnosis and treatment.

Old dogs may also stop eating because of dental disease, although this is a rare cause. If your dog has a tumor in their mouth, that might also cause them to stop eating.

If your dog is put on certain drugs or medications, their stomach may be reacting by suppressing appetite. Treatment of some diseases can cause them to stop eating. 

Some medications give an upset stomach or nausea. Potential culprits are antibiotics, chemotherapy, and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. Your vet will be able to advise you more on this.

Young or old, dogs can purposefully avoid eating, especially if they have gastroenteritis or an underlying injury that has taken their appetite away.

But they aren’t starving themselves, their body is just telling them that they cannot take in that much food anymore.

Older dogs may also feel depressed as they age which may affect their appetite. But it should be noted that senior dogs don’t make a conscious decision of starving themselves to death. 

The idea that dogs understand death is still questionable. According to Science Daily, a dog has the equivalent mind of a 2-year old. Psychology Today adds that they may feel depressed, but their canine survival instincts remain strong.

Another possible reason is joint pain which makes them unable to reach their food bowl. Their food dishes might be at the wrong height and they just couldn’t reach it anymore. 

When they also cannot reach their water, they may become constipated, causing them to lose their appetite even more.

How to Get Your Old Dog to Eat Again

It’s important to get your old dog to eat again. In general, dogs can safely go without eating for anywhere from five days to three weeks. 

Remember that this depends on the size and health of your dog, as well as their movement and temperature. 

Here are some of the best ways to get your old dog to eat again.

Feed Less, But Feed More Often

A big meal might be too much for your senior dog, but a smaller portion several times throughout the day might be more effective.

Adult dogs often only eat one huge meal a day, but a senior dog does better with two or three smaller ones. 

Every dog is different, so if you think feeding them very small portions six times a day is the best way to go, do it. Just make sure not to overfeed them.

Make Their Meals Appealing

Senior dogs usually have a weaker sense of smell and taste. Try adding low-sodium chicken broth to their meals, dog food gravies, cheese, scrambled egg whites, and other types of food that they might like.

If their kibble is mixed with gravy, try heating the whole meal a little. It will make the food smell better and release the flavor more easily.

Variety is key! 

Increase Their Activity Levels

If your dog can still walk, exercise them more often so they can use up those calories and get hungry. 

This video shows how you can safely increase your senior dog’s activity levels.

Minimize Treats

If your dog’s appetite is low, they may feel bloated after a few treats, leaving less room for their stomach to absorb proper and nutritious food. 

Use treats, especially high calorie ones, sparingly in between meals and only if they are eating their healthy nutritious food first. 

Consider Existing Health Issues

To get your old dog to eat again, you must use an approach that caters to their disease. For example, if they stopped eating because of constipation, help them increase their fluids by soaking kibble.

If your dog has a reduced sense of taste and smell, add gravy, broth, and other additives that will make their meals more appealing. 

If they have arthritis or back problems, get an elevated dog feeder with airtight food storage so they can reach their food comfortably. 

What to Feed Your Old Dog

Geriatric dogs need lower-calorie diets to help prevent obesity, as well as higher-fiber diets to improve their gastrointestinal health. Many dog food companies now offer senior dog food formulations.

Canned food is also a good option for old dogs with dental problems, dehydration, and other health problems. However, it often has very limited nutrition. 

Our top recommendation is to feed your senior dog with age-appropriate dry kibble soaked in warm water, broth, or dog gravy. You can mix it with canned food to give you the best of both worlds.

Keep Your Senior Dog Healthy!

Getting an old dog to eat can often be a challenge, as there are so many reasons why they suddenly lose their appetite. 

It could be because of the pain that’s giving them an upset stomach, a dental problem, or simply because their arthritis is stopping them from reaching their dog bowl.

Always consider their current condition to find the best solution to get your senior dog to eat again. Make sure to minimize treats, exercise them more often, and give them food that is right for them.