Your pooch has changed from a pup with a ravenous appetite who would never turn down a good meal to an older dog who refuses to eat. Don't simply assume his lack of appetite is due to old age. Although there can be a number of different factors why an older dog isn't interested in food, it's important to learn the cause to preserve his health and obtain the best possible treatment.
Your older pooch requires prompt veterinary attention to rule out an underlying medical condition for his refusal of food. Older dogs are more prone to a number of health problems that could be affecting his appetite or ability to eat, especially if he's displaying other symptoms such as diarrhea, vomiting, diarrhea, weakness, congestion or excessive sleepiness. Your vet will conduct medical tests to rule out illnesses such as cancer, liver disease, stomach problems, kidney failure or dental disease, which makes it too painful for him to take food into his mouth. Arthritis in his back or head can make the simple act of lowering his head into the food bowl too difficult.
Dogs require variety in their diet, just like humans do. Your furry friend of advancing age could be bored with the same food you've been feeding him for years and is protesting with a "hunger strike." Refusing to eat could be his way of asking for something new. Try changing his usual food -- give him canned food if he's been eating dry or vice versa. You can help him adapt to the change by mixing 75 percent of the old food with 25 percent of the new food and, as he begins to eat, slowly increase the proportions of the new food. Conversely, if you've changed his food recently, try switching back to the old food.
A Full Stomach
Make sure Fido isn't obtaining food from other sources that you're not aware of, which could be causing him to lose his appetite for regular meals. Don't allow family, friends or neighbors to feed him treats throughout the day or morsels from their dinner plates under the table. If you have other pets, make sure he isn't stealing food from their bowls or even wandering over to the neighbor's house and sharing their pet's food. Keep all garbage cans tightly sealed so he can't climb inside and snack on food scraps.
Make mealtime fun for the old guy, such as teaching him a trick that leads to a food reward or feeding him with a toy that dispenses his favorite treat. Take him for a walk or run before mealtime to help him work up an appetite. If you feed him with other pets, move his food bowl to another room so he can eat alone. Try placing his food on different plates, bowls or even directly on the ground to learn which he prefers.
By Liza Blau
ASPCA: Behavior Problems in Older Dogs
WebMD: Dog Not Eating? Possible Causes and Appetite Solutions
The Senior Dogs Project: Aging Signs
King5.com: Why Does an Old Dog Stop Eating?
VetInfo: Is Your Dog Not Eating? Learn Why This Happens
Dog.com: Has Your Dog Stopped Eating?
New York Post: No Bones About it
About the Author
Liza Blau received a B.A. in English from Columbia University. Her writing has appeared in fiction anthologies from Penguin Press, W.W. Norton, NYU Press and others. After healing her own life-threatening asthma by switching to a whole, natural foods diet, she founded the NYC Asthma Wellness Center. Blau counsels individuals on healing their own asthma and allergies with dietary and lifestyle changes.