What do you feed a sick dog that will not eat?

Often when dogs are sick they go off their food, especially if nausea or vomiting is one of the symptoms of their illness. It can be difficult to encourage them to eat, but there are things you can try to tempt them.

Animals have a natural instinct to hide pain and illness as it makes them vulnerable. Key signs that your dog is sick include:

Many common illnesses share symptoms so it is vital that you get your dog checked by a veterinarian if you suspect they may be sick.

What to feed a sick dog with no appetite

There are a few foods you can offer that are bland and easy to digest.

1. Chicken and rice

Plain shredded chicken breast and boiled rice is a common meal for dog owners to offer their sick pets. Chicken is naturally easy to digest, but shredding it reduces the amount of energy required to break down the food.

2. Bone broth

Bone broth is another good option for dogs experiencing episodes of vomiting. It is also great for dogs with food allergies. You can either purchase it from a store or cook it yourself. All you need is a deep soup pan and a few beef bones with marrow in the center or a chicken carcass with the joints intact. Simmer in the water on a low heat for 24 hours. The longer they stew, the more nutrients will leach into the water. Strain the water to remove all the bones and let the broth cool before pouring it over your dog’s dinner.

3. Sweet potato or pumpkin

If your dog is suffering from constipation or diarrhea, sweet potato and pumpkin have some excellent health benefits. They are rich in vitamins A, B6 and C, plus fiber and potassium. This helps to regulate a healthy bowel and prevent constipation or diarrhea.

4. Baby food

this may seem like an odd one but many veterinary surgeries have baby food on hand for dogs suffering from intestinal illness. Since baby food is blended and the ingredients are bland, it is easy to digest and doesn’t further irritate the stomach.

See: What food should I feed my dog?

How can I stimulate my sick dog’s appetite?

As you probably know, the last thing you want to do when you are sick is eat, but a sick dog is a weak dog and it can cause more serious symptoms.

Bland food is best because it does not cause irritation to the stomach and it is easy to digest. To entice your dog to eat the food, you can pour a little bone broth over it as this will have a strong aroma.

Feeding smaller portions is also a good idea as your dog’s stomach may not be able to tolerate a normal-sized meal.

If your dog is still not eating, consult a veterinarian. They may want to put your dog on a drip to replace nutrients that have been lost through not eating. They may also prescribe a veterinary-approved diet or medication to help ease their symptoms.

Offering them wet food instead of dry kibble will help to give them extra water in their diet to prevent dehydration. This is a common side effect of dogs who are off their food.

What can I feed my elderly dog with no appetite?

As dogs get older, their appetite will naturally change. They may stop wanting foods that used to be their favorite and they will also not be able to eat as much. Due to their reduced activity, they do not require as much food as younger dogs.

It is common for older dogs to refuse the odd meal or only eat a certain food, but this should not be a regular occurrence and may indicate an illness.

The biggest cause of loss of appetite in elderly dogs is oral issues such as gum disease or tooth loss. Dry kibble can be difficult for old dogs to chew and swallow, so you might want to try transitioning them onto wet food instead. Wet food also has a stronger aroma and may be more appealing to your dog.

When changing your dog’s diet, this should be done slowly to avoid shocking the digestive tract. Start by adding a small amount of the new food to his current brand. This may naturally encourage him to eat a little as the new food will smell different. If he has no side effects from the new food you can slowly increase the amount you offer while decreasing the amount of his old food. Changing food should take at least a week, but for older dogs, smaller changes over 2 weeks are better.

Try getting excited when you offer him his food. Instead of simply putting his dish down, try interacting with him by saying “what’s this?” Use an encouraging tone like you would during puppy training or when giving him a fuss. He may be tempted to investigate and eat the food if he sees you getting excited about it.

You could also try adjusting your feeding times. Instead of feeding your normal morning and evening meals, try feeding a small portion for breakfast, then offer another small portion at lunchtime. Since he didn’t have as much as normal at breakfast, he may be hungry again. If he eats his small lunchtime portion you can wait until dinner to offer him another small portion.

The last tip is to try to offer a few of his favorite treats with his dinner. You can crumble a few of his favorite dog biscuits on top of his food or mix in a few lumps of cheese and pieces of ham to get his interest. Mixing it in rather than just placing it on top means he will have to eat some of his regular food to get at the tasty treats.

Food for dogs with allergies and sensitive stomachs

If your dog is eating a raw or partially raw diet, rabbit is by far the best option for allergies. It has one of the highest protein contents of any meat option. Even chicken and beef contain less protein than rabbits. It is also a fairly lean meat, so the dog is not receiving unnecessary fats.

For dogs on a kibble or canned diet, choose recipes with rabbit or other lean meats like duck and lamb. Dogs suffering from sensitive stomachs will struggle to digest high-fat and high-fiber food. Focus on lean meat options, vegetables like spinach, kale and broccoli and add natural supplements such as cottage cheese, probiotic natural yogurt and fish oil.

These foods are also great for dogs with allergies. Adding supplementary fish oil is ideal for dogs with skin conditions or hair loss. The high protein content will help the body with skin repair and hair growth. If your dog has intolerances, avoid dairy foods, egg, wheat, beef and lamb.


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Hannah Elizabeth is an English animal behavior author, having written for several online publications. With a degree in Animal Behaviour and over a decade of practical animal husbandry experience, Hannah's articles cover everything from pet care to wildlife conservation. When she isn't creating content for blog posts, Hannah enjoys long walks with her Rottweiler cross Senna, reading fantasy novels and breeding aquarium shrimp.

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