Over the weekend, I talked with three friends who were all having trouble getting their senior dogs to eat. I try to be a nice person, so I offered some advice and suggestions to each of them. I know what it’s like to go through finicky eating with senior dogs and how frustrating it is, so I thought the least I could do was share what worked for us. In a small way, Lilac’s legacy lives on.
I will start by saying that I know it’s frustrating when a dog won’t eat, but it’s also tinged with a little panic when you have an older dog. Not eating can be a sign of something really being wrong, and if you suspect something is wrong, take your dog to the vet. Nothing I’m going to suggest is going to make much difference if something is medically wrong with your dog.
That being said, I do know that there are times when older dogs just get finicky. At one point, before I was writing the blog, we had three senior dogs in residence here. I was in denial that Treat was a senior dog, because she was always on the go, but she was. When the weather would start to turn warm between Spring and Summer Treat, Hawk and especially Lilac would go on a hunger strike. I’d nearly jump through hoops of fire trying to get them to eat. Some days went better than others.
One thing that worked wonders for us was “shaky cheese.” For those who don’t know what that is, it’s Parmesan cheese that’s already been grated and is sold in a shaker jar. It has a strong smell and sometimes we’d just take it out of the fridge and give it a good shake on top of their food. The dogs would then inhale their food, afraid someone else might get their special treat. This trick has been so effective in our house that if we happen to run out, we keep the jar and sometimes pretend to sprinkle shaky cheese on their food to get them to eat, and they like it so much that they eat their food too quickly.
That being said, if you use shaky cheese every day, it will lose its allure. Trust me on this. So, I started a quest for something new to entice them to eat. Low sodium beef and chicken broth became another staple of our dinnertime routine. I think the aroma of the broth heating on the stove added to their anticipation, as well.
We also found that sometimes mixing in some canned food, especially Merrick’s, helped stimulate their appetites as well as using Vita Gravy. If you’re adding canned food on a regular basis, you might want to cut back and give them a little less kibble, though. Some seniors can use a little extra weight and some might be in need of trimming down a little. Just play that part by ear.
The main thing I found to keep them eating was to keep mixing things up. I didn’t switch the kibble we were feeding them, but I did learn to rotate what we added in. It seems that keeping a little variety in the mix helped us to keep them interested in eating when their appetites waned. Generally speaking, the stronger the smell it had, the better it was at enticing them to eat. I managed to not pull out my hair. I also learned that sometimes they ate better early in the day and later as it cooled off a little, even though we were inside in the air conditioning.
Another important lesson I learned was not to stress over their eating peccadilloes. If they didn’t want to eat, I put it up to offer it later. This was partially so Blueberry, who was the baby dog at the time, couldn’t eat it all and also so that they could see that it wasn’t going to sit there forever. If they missed a meal, I didn’t fuss about it. When I got stressed about their eating, they got more determined not to eat. I learned not to start the vicious cycle. Another thing I learned was that they wouldn’t starve to death if they skipped a meal. Even I have skipped one from time to time. I learned to play it by ear as far as when to offer a little extra incentive to eat. That’s just one of those things you have to figure out as you take into account what you know about your dog and learn what works for the two of you.
Having senior dogs is really a wonderful experience. They grow much sweeter and more endearing at they grow older. However, there are challenges that come with having an older dog and a lot of people feel isolated with those problems. Finicky eating is one of the things that I think a lot of owners of dogs of a certain age worry about. However, I want to let everyone who’s begged their older dog to eat know that you’re not alone. Sometimes, I think they just enjoy keeping us on our toes and getting a little extra attention. If you’ve got any tips of your own for getting your senior dogs to eat, feel free to share them. They might really help someone out.