My Old Dog Isn’t Eating – What Now?

senior dogs

My Old Dog Isn’t Eating – What Now?

Owning a senior dog means joy and sadness lie close together. While we are thrilled that our dog is still by our side, more and more health problems are starting to creep up. Every time our old dog isn’t eating, stumbles or has a hard time getting up in the morning, we wonder: Oh no, what now?

Today we will look at why senior dogs might refuse their food and how you can help them eat again.

To take away the conclusion: For many senior dogs, simply softening the food can already make them eat again!

Table of Contents

old dog not eating

Why does my old dog not want to eat?

There are many reasons why your dog might be refusing his food. Some are more common than others, and they can stem both from physical and behavioral causes.

Here are the most common ones:

Dental Decay

As dogs age, so do their teeth. We know that from humans: The older we get, the more likely it is that we will need a crown or implant, a bridge or root canal … and it is not different for our dogs either!

While you can prevent dental issues to some extend with regular brushing and dental chews, your senior pup probably has sensitive gums and discomfort when he chews hard food such as kibble.

You should experiment with soaking his food. Instead of just using water, you can also try broth specifically made for dogs.

Pureed pumpkin can make the food softer and is a mild vegetable which will be tolerated even by sensitive stomachs.

Yoghurt can be good for dog’s digestion and soften the food – try to mix some of it in your older dog’s meals. 

You can also switch to feeding your senior dog wet food – either partially or completely replacing the kibble in his diet.

old dog doesn't eat

(Joint) Pain and Aches

We wish we could keep all pain away from our dogs, but as they age they will start to hurt occasionally. Nearly all dogs experience arthritis eventually, especially in their hips and knees. Supplements for senior dogs can help sustain joint health. You should consult your veterinarian for prescription medication as well. Just one or two pills a day can often make our dogs’ lives a lot more joyful and jump-start their appetite!

If your old dog is pacing a lot, his joint pain might be exacerbated. Make sure he has a soft and inviting place to rest and don’t leave him outside unsupervised if he is unconfused. The repetitive motion of pacing can lead to more discomfort and increase his lack of appetite.

(In the same vein, invest into a dog ramp so your pup can safely get into the car and onto the couch!)

If you do not yet trim or grind his nails regularly, start doing so. Overgrown nails can and will lead to additional pain, which again can make your dog refuse his food.

Anxiety, Lethargy & Confusion

Like humans, dogs can experience cognitive decline in their senior years. “Doggy dementia” can have physical consequences as well. Dogs might seem restless, have a sensitive stomach and vomit frequently or howl and whine a lot. They may seem especially clingy and become agitated when left alone. Your old dog might also run away.

This stress again can lead to your dog refusing food – just like we don’t want to eat when we feel tense and upset.

Easing your dog’s anxiety and ensuring a high quality of life is important. You can give him a doggy massage, encourage him to sniff a lot or take him on a special walk to help him feel more content. Of course, you should mention your observations to your veterinarian as well at your dog’s next wellness check – they might want to put him into a mild doggy anti-anxiety medication.

On the other hand, doggy dementia might also present itself as an increased need for sleep. During sleep, the body produces hormones that suppress appetite (so that we are not woken up every couple hours because we have to eat). The more your dog sleeps, the less hungry he may be due to this connection.

Recent changes

If you recently made big changes to your dog’s life and environment, such as by adding a puppy, your senior dog might refuse food due to the stress and upheaval. It is your task to try and make the transition go as smoothly and easy as possible for your dog!

Try to ease into any new setups and do not make any big changes that are not necessary. A renovation or big move for example is not in your dog’s best interest.

senior labrador on a meadow

Your Dog Isn’t Eating – What About His Weight?

It is important to consider your dog’s weight when he eats less. If your old dog hold his weight steadily but reduces his food intake, you should not worry. An older dog will spend more time sleeping and resting and not be as active as in his younger years.

It is only natural that he will eat less than when he was tearing around the park for hours. A slight reduction in calories will not result in any lost weight if your dog lies on the couch most of the day.

You should get into the habit of weighing your dog every two weeks and keep a record of this data. If you notice that his weight suddenly drops – it is time to see a vet and explore ways to help him gain weight. As long as it is steady, your dog is most likely fine.

When To See A Vet ASAP

Some conditions require urgent attention by a veterinarian. You should have your dog seen as fast as you can if he shows any of the following sings:

  • He is vomiting repeatedly and throws up even water
  • He stops eating completely
  • His water intake drastically increases or decreases
  • He is panting and drooling excessively
  • He stops defecating and has a distended belly

These can be signs of a serious condition (not only in old dogs – but dogs of all ages!).


The Bottom Line

Most dogs experience decreased appetite as they are aging. The most common cause is dental decay and discomfort when chewing hard foods such as kibble. This is easily remedied by soaking the food, switching to wet food or mixing it with soft ingredients such as yoghurt or pumpkin.

It is likely that your dog is experiencing joint pain in addition to the dental issues. Doggy dementia might also play a role in your senior dog wanting to eat less. You should see a veterinarian to get the best possible treatment for both causes.

If your dog shows a drastic change of appetite or has accompanying symptoms such as repeated vomiting or extreme changes in water intake, it is time to take him to doggy urgent care!

Do not delay getting your dog the right treatment – taking action quickly could get your many more happy and healthy years with him.

Check out our effective and affordable online dog training courses!