There can be many reasons why your senior dog has become a picky eater. It could be due to illness such as kidney disease or cancer, it could also be due to dementia, either way it can be a daily struggle to get them to eat enough. Here are some tips and tricks learned over the years that can help to get your senior dog eating again.
- Feed them off one of your own plates or a bowl. This can make them feel like they are getting the coveted people food!
- Feed them off a towel and half bury the food. Either on their dog bed or on the couch get an old towel and put some of their food on it, wet or dry, half cover it. This can entice them as it is out of the ordinary and like a hidden treasure.
- Feed them in the car. If they love to go for car rides, take them out and have some food on hand to offer them.
- Feed them on slow walks. Have food ready on their excursions with you and offer them some throughout the walk.
- Warm up the food in the microwave. Heating food can make the smell stronger tempting them to take a bite.
- Cook the dog food, kibble, wet or both in a little bit of water on the stove in a frying pan. They really do seem to love it this way.
- Add cooked ground turkey or chicken to their food. Crumble it up in little bits so they can’t just eat around their kibble and go for the meat.
- Cook the kibble or wet food in the pan you cooked the turkey or chicken in with a little bit of water. Just remember to not add any oil to your dog’s food, it can be too rich for them and cause an upset tummy.
- Find a couple of foods that your senior dog likes and that agrees with them, don’t want them getting an upset tummy, then switch around as needed to give them variety.
- Feed them off the floor. Drop kibbles or pieces of food on the floor as they walk around so they feel they are finding a secret morsel.
- Feed them in the yard. Same principle as feeding them off the floor, drop food in the yard as you take them out for their bathroom breaks.
- Try soaking the food if it is kibble or adding water to wet food to make it mushy. Sometimes the consistency change can make them interested.
- Get them a little excited before hand. Whether it is the silly voice you use that they light up at or the special toy that makes them giddy. Try getting them a little excited before feeding time it could get their appetite going.
- Hand feed your senior dog. Sometimes they eat better when offered each bite by hand.
- Try home cooked dog food using a balanced vet approved recipe.
- Give healthy treats. Some senior dogs won’t eat all or much of their food but they love treats, find some healthy ones and supplement their diet with those.
- Pretend to eat the food yourself before you offer it to them. They love to eat what we eat, this can perk their interest in the food and make them want to eat it.
- Crumble their favorite treats into their dog food, with a little sprinkle on top to entice them. Make sure to crumble it finely so they must eat the dog food to get the treat crumbles.
- Feed them from the table. If you have never fed your dog from the table, maybe you wanted to avoid them begging, now might be the time to start. Offer them their food from “your” plate as you sit at the table and pretend to eat it.
- Sprinkle a pet food topper on your senior dog’s food. There are a variety of options available from reputable pet food companies. As with adding anything new to their diet just be sure it agrees with them and does not cause an upset tummy by trying a small amount first.
When trying these suggestions to encourage your dog to eat, here are a few things to remember:
If your dog has any dietary restrictions or food allergies be aware when selecting any new foods to try. In the case of food allergies sticking with hypoallergenic or hydrolyzed protein foods is best.
Don’t leave food out all day, if it is evident they are not interested, put the food away and try again later. Also, food left out all day can get stale or dry in the case of wet food, so offer small meals more frequently so the food is at its freshest.
If you are offering new foods to entice them, try a small amount at first to make sure it does not upset their stomach and give them diarrhea.
Never try to force your dog to eat or leave food under their nose all the time. This can create an aversion to the food making it harder to coax them to eat.
Be calm. It can be hard to be calm when we are so worried about our dog’s wellbeing or they have an underlying illness causing their appetite to wain. When they do not eat it hurts since we know they used to “love that food” or were always “mooching food off everyone”. It reminds us that they are aging and unfortunately not immortal. Remembering to be calm can go a long way for your senior dog as they pick up on our moods and worries. Just relax with them and try again later if they truly seem disinterested.
Emily Charlton is a lifelong animal lover drawing on more than 12 years experience in a veterinary clinic.