Inappetence – when your dog just won’t eat a thing

October 16, 2014 at 5:38 pm

 

Few scenarios we doglovers  face are as frustrating and even frightening as dealing with an inappetent dog.  One of the things I am asked most about is, what to feed the dog who doesn’t want to eat, and are there any herbs that can help? Yes to both of these – but there are qualifiers and as always, what I recommend is case-specific.  In this entry, a look at inappetence and some ideas for coaxing the unwell dog to eat – when NOT to coax food, and some herbs to ease the underlying causes(Part Two).

As always,  the following is not intended as  replacement for veterinary care.

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Distraction plays a key role in Danny’s resistance to this plate of home baked cookies.

So – first – your dog refuses food and you don’t know why. Well, this is a scenario in which I advise you get right to the vet and find out. Because the cause of inappetence can vary so much, I prefer not to make recommendations without knowing what’s going on. If an otherwise good eater suddenly goes off their food, I’d first check the product if you are using commercial diet. Many of the dogs who became seriously ill from tainted kibble started off simply refusing to eat. I would give clear low fat broth only to a dog with sudden onset of inappetence, take his or her temperature and get to the vet. Chances are it’s nothing serious, but in case it IS, you need to know. Of course, there are behavioural causes, too, some anxious dogs are poor eaters overall, and some are simply finicky! but both of these tend to be a pattern, not a sudden onset. Dogs can become bored if made to eat the same food all the time – don’t rule out simple boredom if your healthy companion suddenly just seems disinterested. But an acute attack of refusing all food should be taken seriously.

Here are some common physiological causes of inappetence in dogs:

Tooth pain/gum disease (these dogs will typically refuse harder foods but accept soft, home cooked meat, eggs and soup) Be extra wary of temperatures here, and have the dental work done asap.

Chronic pain, such as arthritis – with this situation we often see not total refusal to eat but a general malaise and lessening of enthusiasm

Gastric ulcer, gastritis: may appear quite suddenly but can also take a while before discomfort leads to outright inappetence

Kidney disease – nausea is a common symptom and dogs with advanced disease are almost always inappetent

Cancer  – diet can be a really contentious issue, between conventional vets ,raw diet proponents, and people like me (nutritionists) often the dog owner faced with this already difficult diagnosis, starts to feel overwhelmed. When your dog with cancer won’t eat, it may be related to medication/treatment – or it may not. Decide your nutritional philosophy and work with that.  I hope it will be an NRC balanced, home cooked diet, developed just for your unique dog. If your dog is refusing food,  there are many strategies for you to try.

Side effects from medication – either expected, or unusual. Some medications can cause gastric upset and your vet may prescribe a medication such as Sucralfate  or Cerenia along with it. With any drug where nausea or anorexia is NOT considered typical, you should call your vet at once.

So, with the range of problems that can precipitate inappetence,  the  feeding/herbal strategy needs to be tailored to the problem .

But we can’t stop there  – there may well be other issues to consider. It’s very important to review the nutritional background and health history overall, to ascertain what kinds of foods might or might not be suitable. Has your dog had pancreatitis or any bowel sensitivity in past? If so, high fat foods, no matter how tempting, are not for him. What about allergies? It’s stating the obvious if you have had reason to suspect that beef, chicken, rice or any food at all causes a reaction, these too need to be left out. So before we start looking at  foods to tempt your dog, there’s two simple steps:

 

1) Ascertain the immediate cause                2)  Evaluate the dog’s overall health history

Doing this before offering up any and all foods you might think he likes is important, as it can prevent making a number of conditions actually worse. It’s easy to overlook when you are feeling anxious about your dog, but important to take that time and be safe. Of course, what every dog owner who is facing inappetence wants to know is, what can I try?  Let’s take a look at some ideas, with consideration to the health of the dog overall. Please note that there will be upcoming blog entries on all of these conditions in future, this is simply an overview of do’s and don’ts for addressing a crisis of food refusal.

Dental/ Oral issues

In this case, given the dog has no sensitivities to consider, we want to emphasize two aspects: cooked foods, and soft! Assuming you are working on the underlying problem with your vet, very often you can simply move to a premium canned food, such as Merrick’s or Ziwi Peak, and if necessary thin it with warm water and swirl in the blender. You might consider scrambled eggs, cooked in a little butter if the dog has no history of pancreatitis. You can make a simple chicken stew with the white meat poached until very soft and blended with sweet potato (well cooked and mashed) or any assortment of cooked veggies your dog enjoys. Try the very popular bone broth, maybe without a lot of extras and vinegar, just a good stock, with the fat skimmed, as a base. You won’t be giving optimal nutrition with things like poached chicken and scrambled eggs, but short term the goal is to get them eating. Some canned food will offer a fuller range of nutrients.I really dislike using wheat for dogs, but in this scenario some cooked pasta might entice him to eat – easy on the digestion and the mouth. You can try baby food too, mixed in or on it’s own. Try not to make too many digestive changes, if your dog was raw fed, go easy on the carbs; if your dog has been on a cereal based kibble, don’t go nuts with fat and protein. Again, feed for the condition and the dog. Sometimes plain cooked sweet potato, mashed with a little butter, coconut oil and a pinch of salt, is well accepted. Introduce change slowly.

Chronic Pain – of course the answer here is to get pain under control, in which case appetite should come right back, if not related to a palliative situation.  If the dog has no dietary restrictions, you can work with many options here. Some of the foods I use with success include:

lightly poached beef heart, or raw as tolerated

green tripe, canned or fresh (this is a great idea with any inappetence)

Premium canned foods,  alone or added to meals

Soup, based on home made broth and with any number of additions, as the dog prefers. Try to keep fats moderate and don’t overdo veggies either, as both of these can stress the bowel of a dog unaccustomed to them. Check ideas at the end of this entry.

 

Kidney disease – this is a case wherein we will always have some dietary limitations, and often the dog is simply too nauseated to accept food, even with the standard veterinary anti-nausea meds. What I have seen most often is a tendency to accept blander foods, and very small amounts of each.  With most home prepared renal diets we are using restricted phosphorus, sodium, Vitamin D and sometimes, total protein, but when a dog is eating very little it’s fine to try foods higher in these nutrients simply because he isn’t eating enough of them to constitute a problem. Try the scrambled eggs,  poached dark meat chicken, sweet potato, and small amounts of each. the important element here is, if the dog rallies and starts to consume normal amounts of food again, it’s time to revert to a kidney friendly diet. Always confer with your vet on this one. The standard rule applies – variety, small amounts at a time, address the nausea either herbally or via medication. Keep the dog hydrated; adding broth or goat’s milk to the water bowl can encourage drinking, but you must be sure to empty and clean it frequently, moreso than with plain water.

Gastric Distress

With any form of digestive upset and inappetence, the primary concern is to get to the bottom of it. Is there vomiting? Malaise? fever? any of these indicate an urgent trip to the vet clinic.  Oftentimes, gastric upset is related to a “dietary indiscretion” – nice way of saying, she scarfed some garbage – and may well be a transient upset, best handled with a simple broth fast and a bit of elm to follow up. But any other symptoms should be taken seriously; inappetence can arise for many reasons but more than 24 hours and you need to be seen. Here’s an introduction to the things that can affect the canine digestive system. Once you have a diagnosis, you will be much better equipped to tackle periods of disinterest in food.
http://www.merckmanuals.com/pethealth/dog_disorders_and_diseases/digestive_disorders_of_dogs/introduction_to_digestive_disorders_of_dogs.html

This is one area where herbs can really shine, but given the wide range of both causes and medications I highly recommend people work with an experienced animal herbalist here. What I will say is, this is no place for highly seasoned foods, which may be a good strategy with other causes (such as cancer). Keep the food bland – oatmeal is a good choice if accepted, you can make it more enticing with butter, coconut oil, lower fat cooked meats, green tripe. Keep servings small even if that seems counter-intuitive; make sure to add a pinch of salt to help with electrolyte balance. Warmed goat’s milk may be useful here, but don’t force it (or anything) try plain ginger snaps, home made is even better to keep sugar content down. Soups are a great idea with almost every type of condition – simple broths made with chicken or beef or lamb bones, defatted, with overcooked white rice, sweet potato,  a little pasta, an egg mixed in. All short term solutions of course, until your dog recovers and can resume a balanced diet.

chicken-soup-bowl

 

Cancer

In my consulting practise, inappetence related to cancer (either the illness itself or side effects form veterinary treatment) is the most common form I address. The trust is, I use much the same with cancer as listed above – with the one exception, dogs who are under my own nutritional supervision, whom I know have tolerated the higher fat diets we tend to use with cancer, I feel better offering higher fat foods. This just means things like cooked ground lamb, cream cheese or ricotta, extra butter, or cheese grated on a meal will likely not be problematic, as I would worry about a dog with gastric distress of an undetermined cause. If you’re sure your dog has no issue with higher fat – and bearing in mind we are not feeding copious amounts of any food! you can try some of these as well…emphasize dark meat chicken, whole eggs, poached or scrambled, a range of cheeses, lamb. Remember too that it’s perfectly possible for a dog with cancer to develop pancreatitis – so even if you’ve been doing fine with higher fat, be cautious. Have that vet check, if there’s vomiting – stick to lower fat.

With MCT (mast cell tumour) I prefer that people still avoid high-histamine content foods – no canned fish, no food that’s sat in the fridge for very long, no cottage cheese or yogurt, no breads or anything fermented…no quinoa….to list a few only – here is a more comprehensive listing for people dealing with MCT in their dogs:

http://www.histamineintolerance.org.uk/about/the-food-diary/the-food-list

 

Depression/Behavioural

If all physical causes are ruled out, I would suggest you work with a trained herbalist who can help with adaptogenic and nervine herbs, and a behaviourist who may be able to address the condition. Some depressed dogs do require medication, but I so much prefer to exhaust all dietary and herbal approaches first. Short term, you might think of a few things such as the stress level of mealtimes – are there  many animals clamoring for food? how often you feed, the monotony of the diet (I highly recommend enhancing kibble diets and switching them up as tolerated) also the type of serving bowl you use, the temperature of the food(too cold or warm can be a turn off, and very much so with dental pain) and even the type of dish soap you use on the bowel. Sensitive dogs an be affected by small factors we human might easily overlook.Is there loud music at dinnertime?Is your dog getting enough exercise and mental stimulation?
In conclusion, a few Do’s and Don’ts when facing an ongoing issue of inappetence in your dog.

 

Don’t Use:

-canned tuna ever, nor any canned fish with MCT

-drastic changes in fat or fiber levels

– high salt foods with either cardiac or renal patients – watch sodium content of cheese, anything canned, and commercial foods as well

– sweet foods with cancer – not so much that a few treats will be a problem, but that the dog develops a taste for it!

– sweet foods with diabetes, of course

– any food normally understood to be toxic, so no grapes, raisins, chocolate etc – more information here: https://www.aspca.org/pet-care/virtual-pet-behaviorist/dog-behavior/foods-are-hazardous-dogs

– heavily seasoned foods with gastric upset

Do Try:   scrambled eggs, boiled and mashed sweet potato (with appropriate toppings, fats, cheese, a little ground meat) baby food, chicken broth, poached shredded chicken, lean beef and especially heart, home made biscuits, sauteed or baked chicken livers, soft cheeses like ricotta, sprinklings of Parmesan on other foods, herbal seasonings such as thyme, basil, oregano, herbes du provence, in moderation; premium grade canned foods and tripe! Higher fat foods and total content only with dogs who are known to tolerate them well; glutenfree biscuits and oatmeal

– keeping  notes and see if the dog prefers food slightly seasoned or bland

– ginger can help nausea, but it can also be too heating for some stomach issues and some constitutions. Look for my upcoming entry on herbs for digestive issues

-experimenting with temperature and texture, warming foods, pureeing as indicated

– cutting out supplements, such as acv, coconut oil, turmeric – any of the popular ones your dog doesn’t actually need for a balanced diet.It’s more important that he or she eat, then miss the extras for a few days. They an be worked back in, or others found that don’t have the nauseating effect, in future

– hand-feeding from your own plate – I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen this one help! Worth a try at least.

– deepen awareness about the externals – a dog who doesn’t feel well may be much more influenced by noise, heat, loud talking and the presence of other animals at mealtime. In some cases, herbal nervines can help, but often it’s a matter of just tuning in to what he dog prefers. Make meals calm and peaceful, including management of your own stress 🙂
I do hope this helps a little – I will cover the popular “satin balls” recipe – and my own much modified take on it – as well as a few herbal suggestions and a recipe or two-  in a second entry on this topic.

Wine Dogs on Entry Post

 

 

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24 thoughts on “Inappetence – when your dog just won’t eat a thing

  1. Thanks for this info , its happen all of a sudden and she isnt eating or like to drink water. She has had kidney issues ever since she was born, and has goo to the vet this week, however the food the vet recommended , has nt work . They seem to not rally know much about whats going on
    with my dog.

  2. Hi Andre,
    Sorry to have missed this comment, I believe it came in while I was switching computers. Have you had any clear diagnosis yet? Is your dog accepting food? I am taking clients on a very restricted basis over the summer, but if you need help, it’s important that you work with a trained prfessional. Please use the Contact sheet and let me know if you need help.. Hope all is well now.

  3. Hi,
    My dog has myeloma. He went into the hospital not eating and not drinking water, but was able to come back home after a few days. Since then he has done two rounds of chemo and is on Prednisone, two anti nausea, an antacid, and an antibiotic for a UTI. It’s a struggle to get him to eat, even now when all of his blood levels are good, the chemo is working, and he does not have pancreatitis or other internal inflammation (at least not that shows up on ultrasound). We’ve had some luck kind of randomly with feeding him. One day he ate two chicken breasts and some cooked pasta. Another day, he’ll eat an egg yolk only and then turn away from everything.
    He is a lab and used to go crazy for food. I mean, we had to have the house on lock down. Now sometime I can get him to eat a couple of bites, then he’s done with that food. Sweet potato worked for a while. We do a lot of hand feeding. Nothing seems to work for a long time.

  4. my dog is 5 years old german shepherd . her urea and creatine level are high hemoglobin 3 even after blood transfusion refuses to eat anything. vet has suggested daily drips with iv meds for vomiting and vitamins . she is not improving.. her stools are blackish but she is passing stools n urine very well. plz suggest something

    • Hi mini,
      I’m so sorry to hear about your dog- with a situation like this, I can only recommend a consultation, because your dog needs more than a line or two of casual advice. Please look through my Services and see if you might be interested in working with me. I recommend the Diet for Health Issues, but an email or phone consult can be helpful too. http://www.thepossiblecanine.com/product-category/consultations
      I look forward to hearing from you.

  5. Hi my boxer was diagnosed with a ulcer and irritable bowel syndrome. He eats dome days and then just turns his nose up at them he was vomiting dr gave him serene put him on several meds he quit eating so took him off except for the probiotics and proud and steroids. I was just wondering what erbs we could use. Dr and I are just baffled with our boxer mason and tips greatly appreciated.

    • Hi Tina,
      I’m sorry to hear about your Boxer – this is not really a case for casual tips, but I can help you via the consultation process.Each dog, and illness, is unique, so I would recommend booking with either myself or another herbalist/nutritionist who has both training and experience with IBD. Let me know if I can help any more.

  6. My dog 9 yr old beagle has chronic pancreatitis. She’s been officially diagnosed for 2 years. She loves the Jill’s rx low fat i/d. I do 1 1/4 cup of dry and 1 5.5 Oz can of vegetables stew formula. Both are i/d. But it’s like she’s always hungry. Any low fat extras we can add? We’ve tried to take her off the rx food thinking she’s lacking something and she had a flare up within 48 hrs. Any help would be greatly appreciated! We were told by the vet basically to add low or no sodium greenbacks, but she laughed at us! Lol! A side note, we had her tested for Cushing’s & diabetes to see if that may be contributing to the hunger just to be safe & all labs were normal.

    • I can certainly book you for a consult, although the wait time is about a month right now – I’d be happy to develop recipes as per the consultations page on the top menu. 🙂

  7. hi. my dog has chronic fungal infections. he used to eat rice and veggies until i decided to switch him to all beef diet. it did somehow help his infection but today he lost appetite. it’s only been 4 days since he started eating all beef. last night, i added boiled egg on his food. i need advice, he lost some amount of weight and he’s not himself today. help, please.

    • Sally, this scenario needs more help than some casual advice on a blog. If you would be interested in a Consultation I am still taking some clients, please use the Contact form to email me or purchase the Service directly and I will get your date confirmed asap.
      Best wishes, Cat

  8. My shar pei has entropian op 4 days ago he was eating food out of our hand only then yesterday for the first time he ate from his bowl last night he was sick twice and today completely refusing to eat anything,but yesterday morning he started new tablets for possible infection wondering if these new tablets could be causing nausea am worried sick

  9. Hi, my 15 year old Italian greyhound has oral squamous cell carcinoma. Eating is an issue and she’s down to a very light weight from 12.4- 9.3 lbs. She won’t eat much. Any suggestions on things that she may eat. She seems to like 1percent milk, is it ok to give milk to her? I am giving her manuka honey and turmeric which appears to be helping some. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated :0)…

    Thanks!

  10. Hi, my 10 yr old lab has cancer and has recently been diagnosed with kidney disease, He now prefers people food. We are experimenting with different foods but we are having a terrible time getting him to take pills. He happily took pills for 9 months in pill pockets but now he has stopped and he is on 30 pills a day. Do you have any suggestions on how I can give him his pills? I have unsuccessfully tried hot dogs, soft cheese, bread, and peanut butter. He will take the pills if I wrap them in sliced turkey or chicken breast but I know this isn’t good for his kidneys. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Thanks so much

  11. My 8 year old female lab X stopped eating normally 2 weeks ago. She was always very enthusiastic about food. Two things happened prior to that. She chewed on a beef round bone and my husband gave her some elk meat sausage he got at processor. After a few days she was
    refusing to eat, we took to vet. All blood and urine tests normal. Teeth good, defecation and urine normal. Put her on metronidisole and gave her anti nausea injection. Still would only eat small amount of boiled chicken barely . After a week took her back. Lost 3 pounds. After another physical, vet thought her neck movement was tense. Now treating her for sore neck with muscle relaxer and rimadyl liquid. Recommended no stairs and not allowed on furniture. Walk only to relieve herself. She is also taking Pepcid. We have to put down throat cause she won’t eat. I really feel like it may be her teeth or partial obstruction. Every once in a while she seems interested in food but then turns away. She moves around fine, no crying out, jumps on bed, in car, no problem. But very unlike her to not eat. Should I just wait and give it more time. I just want to do the right thing. Vet suggested we bring her back in 4 days if not eating still. We got her to eat a boiled chicken thigh last night by using incredible enthusiasm and being upbeat.

    • What did you find out? My 11 year old boxer doing the same thing. Been to the vet for X, all blood work ultrasound and x-rays normal. Our Boy hasn’t eaten in days. I’m at a loss as of what to do

      • Denise I replied to Tina about what happened to my Lab x but she ended up having hemangiosarcoma and we had to put her to sleep. Sorry about your dog. I hope you can find an answer. The only thing that helped temporarily was prednisone.

  12. We found that our boxer had ulcers in his intestines and colon. Tried all kind of medicine long journey and he passed away in July. I still feel if the original bet would of just the x-ray we ask him to do we could of saved him, it would of been a earlier diagnosis.

    • So sorry about your Boxer. After several vet visits our Lab x went on Prednisone which worked to get her to eat for about 5 days. Then she stopped. Long story short she had hemangiosarcoma and we put her down 3 1/2 weeks after her first food refusal. I had her in vet twice and they never suggested x-rays. Blood work was fairly good. One vet thought she had a sore neck even though she jumped in car, on couch bed with no pain. He talked me into doing cold laser on her neck. I wish I had been more assertive but they are the experts. Later a vet suggested ultrasound. First one was inconclusive. Then the next two visits she had ultrasounds and xrays, needle biopsy, and they showed she had cancer in spleen, bladder and liver. It surprised me that given a dog that was a voracious eater then stopped eating did not flag the vet to do more in the beginning. I don’t care about the cost really but we ended up finding out after 3 weeks of many unnecessary procedures and drugs. And now we struggle daily with the sadness and grief. I did learn a lot from this experience and that is that we know our dogs best.

      • Iam so sorry we to went through alot, and he passed away with in a month and half we had spent thousands of dollars it didn’t matter we just wanted to save him he was such a baby he was only 8 years old. We to live with sadness and miss him dearly. We begged the vet to do this and this and we wouldn’t we changed vets and the other vet was doing all the things we asked and he tried to save him but I think it was a little to late. The vet that tried to help even would call on Sundays to see how he was. If when we get another dog I will definitely going back to them. They were so good and caring unlike my vet that I had for years. I am so sorry about your pet as they are a big part of our lives. We have his ashes and a foot print death certificate and a poem from the vet for our boy.

  13. My dog has 30% function with her kidneys. I have been cooking specific recipes for kidney failure for the past 3 weeks. She now does not want to eat. Need help with what I can fix for her please. I went to a holistic vet and he gave her additives. GI track, probiotic, kidney additive and a pill for a hole in her kidney. Heart medicine and detox. She takes a pill for thyroid also. Too much? Thanks

    • Hi Maggie,
      This is the kid of case I work with all the time; please see my services page, and if you wish to proceed with a booking I will get you the earliest date I can. You can use the Contact form to get in touch or just email directly at catlane@thepossiblecanine.com. I can help.

  14. Dear pets lovers, I have been caring for my beloved Motzu for one year and 5 days after diagnose of splenic hemangiosarcoma. Because of age (14 )and all other complications we decided not to operate, and the idea of putting to sleep is excluded. So, we have learned a lot during this year. The holistic vet or herbalist, or doctor opinion is always good to have but sometimes things go wrong when we as dog parents do not have the possibilty to reach to the cabinet. It could be weekend, or the doc is on holiday etc. Motzu was behaving just like a normal dog but he had a few inapetence periods. I have learned that keeping on hand the product Oralade, and the multivitamin paste from Vetiq did wonders. The most lenghty period without food was 3 weeks last year September. He received within this period twice intravenous fluids on different days and than we switched to Oralade. He wouldn’t take it alone, so we started with small amounts in the mouth with a syringe. Increasing the dose little by little and the frequency. Every morning and evening the paste. Than one day we were having eggs at breakfast and he approached the table. He did not use to beg, so immediately I knew the smell was enticing for him. 🙂 as he did not eat for such long time we gave him just 2 yolks, and about two hours later some fresh grinded meat. In our case Oralade together with the multivitamin paste worked wonders! I think that Motzu understood us when we told the doctor we do not go with the surgery, as he offered us as a gift a wonderfull 1 year and 5 days together!
    This is not to replace any specilist opinion, nor to do advertising, is just a case experience related to inapetence.

  15. Very nice article! I had a dog with splenic hemangiosarcoma. We decided not to operate because of age (13) and other possible complications plus the odds of losing him on the table. So after finding out the horrible diagnosis I decided to be strong for him and walk together with him. He was a noble soul and he offered 1year and 5 days of happines and joy more! It would take many pages to describe everything we went through, but I can say most of the time he looked and behaved like a normal dog. When innapetance occurred he enjoyed to lick a Multivitamin paste from Vetiq. Than we have discovered Oralade. It is an isotonic drink that helped maintain with nutrition and maintain gut balance and keep him hidrated. Multivitamin paste morning and evening and Oralade every time we could. He wold not accept the Oralade freely so we used a syringe. He was a sheperd mixed breed medium to large dog and we started with a few milliliters per hour. With the paste was easy, because even though he was feeling unwell he still liked to be clean. So we putted it on his front paws, and he licked it clean. Of course these were not the only supplements he received during this year, but these 2 products helped us to go over the inappetance episodes.

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