If you have a 15-year-old dog (or older dog in general) who has stopped eating, this could be a sign of a severe underlying issue. The best way to deal with this is a visit to the vet, but there are various possible explanations for why this is happening.
An older dog likely requires different treatment than a younger dog, as will be discussed in this article. The solution may be as simple as using food that will be more agreeable with a senior canine’s newfound tooth and stomach sensitivities. Treatment options may also include addressing stress due to rapid changes in your dog’s life.
What Is Causing My Dog to Not Eat Anymore?
A sudden loss of appetite in an older dog is widely considered a sign that the dog has reached the twilight of its life and that it is time for the owner to start making serious decisions about their dog’s future.
First, take into consideration the average life expectancy of the specific breed. Generally, larger breeds will not live as long as smaller breeds. For example, a Labrador retriever will be expected to live 10-12 years while a dachshund can live for as long as 16 years, or even longer.
Reduced Appetite Vs. Not Eating at All
A reduction in appetite is cause for concern, but there is not as much a sense of urgency as there should be in the case that your dog has stopped eating entirely. A reduction in appetite can be as simple as a change in dietary preferences or tooth sensitivity that often occurs with age.
A complete loss of appetite can signal a serious medical issue and should be addressed immediately with a veterinarian visit. The American Kennel Club advises dog owners to take their pets to medical care within 8-12 hours if the sudden lack of appetite is accompanied by vomiting or diarrhea.
11 Reasons Why an Older Dog Has Stopped Eating
As mentioned, if you notice your dog has stopped eating, it is worth a trip to the vet, but the following eleven reasons may help explain the root of the problem.
1. They Have a Dental Disease
A dog’s tooth health can impact its eating habits significantly. Most dog owners feed their pets dry foods. These hard pellets can be problematic for dogs to chew if their teeth are not strong and healthy. If your dog has suddenly stopped eating, then a toothache is certainly a possibility.
Perform a visual inspection of your pet’s teeth when you get a chance. Try to avoid sticking your hands or fingers into your dog’s mouth, as you are never quite sure how they may react to this unusual behavior on your part.
Here are some things to look for:
- Calculus/Tartar: this will show up as a yellow or brown material where the tooth is usually a whitish color
- Gingivitis: the gums will show up as reddened and inflamed, especially in the part of the gums neatest the teeth
- Foul-Smelling Breath: this can be a sign that there is a tooth infection
- Caries: holes in the teeth resulting from decay
Take your dog to a veterinarian if you feel that you may have observed one of the above tell-tale signs of dental decay. This is very much a fixable issue and may add years to your dog’s life if the problem is encountered early on.
Some level of tooth sensitivity is anticipated with older age in canines, so you are encouraged to change up feeding habits accordingly. For example, look for softer dog foods. As soon as you begin feeding your dog something more forgiving on the teeth, you may notice a return to normal eating behaviors.
Tooth decay problems can be avoided with future pets if you ensure that the teeth are routinely cleaned. Pet owners are encouraged to take their dog to the vet annually for tooth check-ups. Chew toys, like the one found here, are also preferable to hard bones that can damage an older dog’s teeth.
2. They Have Stomach Issues
If your older dog has stopped eating, a simple stomachache may be to blame. These animals have the nasty habit of eating just about anything that they happen upon. Sometimes dogs eat or drink something pretty gross. The solution is to feed your dog something that will comfort their stomach.
One sign that a stomach ache is to blame is that the dog will begin eating grass. They are not necessarily eating this so that they can vomit. Instead, they are trying to improve their digestion during a stomachache or may be in search of a little more fiber for their diet.
Either way, the solution is to feed your dog foods that will soothe the stomach, such as:
3. They Have a Serious Illness
Sudden changes in eating habits may signal the onset of a severe illness. Therefore, it is vital to consult a veterinarian’s help as soon as you notice changes in your pet’s appetite.
Chronic kidney failure is a common issue among senior dogs. Dogs experiencing kidney failure lose their appetite and may even stop eating altogether. It is critical to catch this issue early on as this is typically not recognized until two-thirds of the kidney tubules have become damaged.
Note: If you are currently treating your dog for kidney failure, you are encouraged to warm their food to just below body temperature.
Both cats and dogs experiencing heart disease have been recorded as having a reduced appetite, even to the extent of not eating at all. When such symptoms become apparent, it is time to visit your local vet.
As soon as you begin to notice a change in appetite in your older dog’s eating habits, keep a diet journal for your pet, including information like time of day and frequency of feedings, precisely what you are trying to feed your dog and how much they actually eat.
4. They Have Lyme Disease
Those living in areas where deer ticks are common should be accustomed to routinely checking their dog for ticks after being outside. Deer ticks, in particular, can be carriers of Lyme Disease.
If left untreated, Lyme Disease can even become fatal for your dog. The symptoms of this illness include fever, loss of appetite, and the sudden inability to even move. Your dog will become quite lethargic and may not even be able to walk under its own power. Also, look for a characteristic bullseye rash.
If you suspect Lyme Disease, take your dog to the vet immediately and request a Lyme Disease screening. Be sure to check with a doctor if you are experiencing symptoms yourself, as Lyme disease impacts humans as well; there is a good chance that Fido may have brought the ticks to you.
5. They’re Reacting to Recent Vaccinations
Dogs that are young and old are more prone to experiencing temporary symptoms from vaccinations. In many cases, even healthy adult dogs will act sluggish after getting a shot. If you have recently returned home from the vet, you are encouraged to allow your dog a day or two to at least partially recover. Otherwise, it may be time to think of taking another visit.
Indigestion from vaccinations can be treated with food that helps calm down the dog’s stomach. Chicken and rice is one such food combination that your dog may find more agreeable if they happen to have an upset stomach.
6. They Started a New Medication
If your dog is around 15 years old and not eating, then medications could be the culprit. Be sure to follow the instructions on the pill bottle to a tee. Misusing medication can have some severe impacts on health. Even if instructions are followed, loss of appetite is a common side effect associated with medicines.
Never use medications that are not made for pets or use medicines that have been prescribed to other dogs. Doses vary widely based upon the dog’s size, and misusing medications is as dangerous for pets as it is for humans.
7. They May Not Like a New Therapeutic Diet
A veterinarian may have prescribed a therapeutic diet for your dog in response to an underlying medical condition or diet.
You certainly want your dog to get better but trying to get him or her to eat new food can be an arduous process. They will often not be as enticed by their new mandatory diet as they were with the old diet. (Dogs are no different from humans told by a doctor that they must cut back on sodium!)
There are several ways to go about getting your dog to eat his or her newly prescribed diet, according to Lisa Freeman of the Cummings Veterinary Medical Center:
- Try presenting the food at different temperatures: some dogs like their food warm while others prefer it cold.
- Speak with your veterinarian about suitable flavor enhancers.
- Don’t act nervous when you are feeding your dog. They may sense a change in your behavior and figure out that something is up.
- Discuss appetite stimulants with your veterinarian.
8. They’ve Had a Recent Major Lifestyle Change
Much like humans, dogs tend to eat less when they are feeling down or stressed out. A sudden change in lifestyle can cause your pet to react unpredictably. A popular saying goes, “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” This can certainly ring true, as older dogs are more resistant to sudden change than younger ones.
If your dog has stopped eating, the first thing you should check for is some kind of medical emergency. However, if no health issues are found, even after an examination with the vet, consider any recent changes in your home life.
Here are some dramatic changes that can affect an older dog’s appetite:
- You moved to a new home
- A new pet has been introduced to the home
- Your work schedule has changed, and you suddenly find yourself away from home for more extended hours
Separation anxiety is a very real problem for dogs of all ages, but particularly for older dogs who have become accustomed to having you around all the time. One potential solution is to put an old blanket of yours on their bed. This blanket will still carry your scent.
You can also leave them with safe toys during the day. Avoid giving them a toy that could become a choking hazard, like a genuine bone. Look for toys that won’t fall apart easily or contain pieces that can be ripped apart and swallowed. Also, avoid toys that have stuffing. One example of good toy would be the Benebone Wishbone.
9. Arthritis Makes It Difficult for Your Dog to Reach the Food Bowl
Older dogs commonly suffer from arthritis, a condition that causes pain in the joints of humans and canines alike. If you see your dog struggling to sit up, then you can also expect them to have trouble reaching their food bowl as well.
Look for a solution that makes it more comfortable for your dog to eat. It would help if you considered putting their food and water bowls in a closer location to where they like to lie down during the day. Also, consider placing the bowl in a raised platform like the one found here.
A bowl in a raised platform will put considerably less strain on your pooch’s neck. It will also help deter them from moving the bowl around, which can produce a lot of noise if the bowl is placed over hard flooring. Lastly, it reduces the odds of insects and other pests taking up residence in your home because the feeding area will become easier to clean.
10. It May Be Time for Your Dog to Move On
Dogs tend to eat less food as they grow older naturally, so if you notice your dog has stopped eating altogether, it sadly may be time for you to prepare for the reality that your dog is reaching the end of an illustrious life in your home.
Also, if your dog is significantly older and not eating, further treatment may not be realistic. More medical treatment may put your dog under unnecessary strain and may be a short term solution at best.
These are tough decisions that are best discussed with a veterinarian. They will be able to discuss treatment options and whether your dog has several healthy years of life still ahead of them. It certainly is tough to deal with but is bound to happen at some point.
You can take solace in the fact that you are doing them a favor at this point. Sending old dogs into treatment is a choice that may create more new problems rather than solving old ones.
11. It May Be Simple Boredom or a Lack of Exercise
Ending on a lighter note, the lack of appetite could be from stress. A lack of exercise could bring on this stress; owners with older pets may have a more challenging time getting their dog to go outside enough to be happy.
This is because older dogs suffer from issues like arthritis that can make it harder for them to get adequate exercise like they used to. However, according to the American Kennel Club, walking is a low-impact activity that can be enjoyed by dogs of all ages.
Swimming is an even better low-impact activity for senior dogs. This is an activity that is commonly used to exercise dogs needing physical therapy after a surgery of some kind. It is not as hard on the bones and joints as running can be. Look for a local pool or beach that is dog-friendly. If you are unsure whether your dog can swim, you may consider putting a life jacket on him or her.
Keeping Your Pet Mentally Stimulated
Boredom can certainly affect a dog’s appetite. When your dog is bored, they can become distressed. It is essential to keep your dog mentally stimulated for them to feel a healthy sense of self-worth. Mental stimulation is particularly important for older dogs that you may have a more challenging time keeping active otherwise.
According to the University of Illinois, dogs can even suffer from a condition that is similar to Alzheimer’s in humans, called Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome. Common symptoms include disorientation, changes in social interactions, sleep-wake cycle alterations, going to the bathroom inside the house, and a general lack of activity.
The general disinterest in daily activities can even contribute to a change in eating habits. One of the best ways to combat Cognitive Dysfunction is to keep your dog mentally stimulated with games and puzzles that even older pets can take an interest in.
Here are some great games for senior dogs, according to research:
- Search and explore games, like this interactive 3-in-1 smart toy
- Food puzzle games like the Outward Hound Interactive Puzzle
- Food foraging puzzles like the Slo Bowl
A sudden loss or change of appetite in an older dog needs to be addressed with an immediate visit to the veterinarian. Time is of the essence, particularly if the change of appetite is accompanied by vomiting or other clear signs of illness.
If your dog no longer seems to have much of an appetite, it may result from them not being able to digest food as they used to, although your vet will be able to determine the root cause of your dog’s ailment.
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