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How Can I Improve My Dog's Appetite?

How Can I Improve My Dog's Appetite?

If you have a sick or an old dog, you may reach a point where your dog won't eat and you may be looking for ways to improve your dog's appetite. As concerning as a loss of appetite in dogs can be, the good news is that there are several options to stimulate your dog's appetite and get your dog to eat. Some of these options you can try at home, while others will require veterinary attention so that your dog can receive the amount of nutrition he needs. As always, if your dog has a sudden loss of appetite, see your vet so to determine the underlying cause. Often, the key to the solution to improving your dog's appetite lies in addressing the underlying problem.

Coaxing Your Dog to Eat 

feeding dog

In order to succeed in coaxing your dog to eat, you will need to rely on highly palatable foods that are energy dense. There are several palatable foods that are readily available from your vet to meet your dog's energy needs that can be used during these critical times.

While offering baby food (without garlic or onion), paste calorie supplements (products like Nutrical) and table scraps (that are not toxic to dogs) may be effective ways to get dogs to eat, it's important to realize that such foods are not complete or balanced.

These foods should therefore be limited for the time being, but once the dog is back to eating, the dog should be switched to its regular complete and balanced dog food.

Often dogs find food more appealing if it's warmed up to body temperature or water is added to the food. Hand feeding dogs versus presenting bowl with food will often be more successful. Many anorexic dogs benefit from praise when eating. Some dogs may start eating when they get a small taste of the food such as placing a bit on on the dog's gums or nose area so that it's readily licked off. Certain dogs may refuse to eat in a hospital setting, but will readily eat at home, in a stress-free environment.

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Dog Appetite Stimulants 

Apoquel for dog allergies

Sometimes dogs need a little bit of help in getting their appetite back. It's a good idea to consult with your vet and ask for appetite stimulants for dogs. There are several appetite stimulants that are available by prescription that you can obtain from your vet.

One popular appetite stimulant is cyproheptadine, (Periactin generic) an antihistamine that has a common side effect of an increase in appetite and consequent weight gain.

Another appetite stimlant is mirtazapine (Remeron), which has a history as being used for humans as an antidepressant. This drug works because it has a strong activity against nausea and stimulates appetite.

Lately, the drug Cerenia (maropitant citrate) has been increasing in popularity for use in dogs. Also because Cerenia is a potent anti-vomiting drug. Some vets recommend vitamin B injections once a week to stimulate some dogs to eat.

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Generally, prescription appetite stimulants in dogs are simply a way to "jump start" a dog's appetite." If the dog is still not eating after 48 hours, other means of nutritional support should be considered.

Force-Feeding Dogs

Sometimes, when no other means of feeding works, dogs may need to be force-fed, which simply means using a syringe to force food into a dog's pharynx so to stimulate the dog's swallowing reflex. Syringe feeding entails the use of canned food gruels or commercial enteral diets for convalescent dogs. It's important to have a vet show you how to correctly syringe feed to lower the risks for aspiration pneumonia.

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While force feeding may seem effective, it is often stressful for the reluctant-to-eat dog. For larger dogs, it may be impractical and difficult meeting their nutritional needs by feeding food through a syringe. Force-feeding should be limited to only a day or two until the dog eats on his own.

Tube Feeding Dogs

life expectancy of addison disease in dogs

Tube feeding, also known as enteral feeding, encompasses inserting a tube within the gastrointestinal tract. This is done in an veterinary hospital setting or in a veterinarian's office.

The feeding tube may be placed in the dog's mouth to reach the stomach (orogastric, often used to feed orphaned puppies), in the dog's nose to reach the stomach (nasoesophageal) in the dog's esophagus (esophagostomy) stomach (gastrostomy) or jejunum (jejunostomy). Several of the latter methods require general anesthesia.

What food is generally fed by tube? For the most part they consist of blenderized pet foods or commercially available critical care diets that are calorie dense and purposely made for critically ill dogs. When mixed with water, these foods should be strained so to remove any large particles. The food must be able to effectively fit through a feeding tube. Important nutrients needed are water, energy, protein, minerals and vitamins.

Tube feeding is only a temporary measure. Once the dog starts eating voluntarily, the dog should be gradually switched from tube feeding to oral feeding.

Enteral vs Parenteral Feeding 

Enteral feeding in dogs encompasses any method of feeding that involves delivery of food through the digestive tract. As the saying goes "if the gut works, use it."

Parenteral feeding in dogs, on the other hand, encompasses any method of feeding that involves delivery of calories and nutrition through a vein. This form of feeding therefore bypasses the dog's digestive tract.


  • Clinician's Brief: Enteral Nutrition: Tube Feeding
  • Textbook of Veterinary Internal Medicine

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