Old brown dog
© Pixabay

Why is your old dog not eating?

By Nick Whittle Author

Updated on the

Dogs are famous for their appetites. So if your old dog stops eating it will be blatantly obvious. Find out what can be done to get her appetite back.

In fact, if she was allowed to, even an old dog would eat continuously until she was sick. Dogs are opportunists just like their wolf cousins, which means that they eat even when they are not hungry because they can.

Old healthy dogs will tend to eat only 60% to 70% of what the labelling on their food states they should. But if your dog refuses to eat you should consider this as a sign that something is not right with her either mentally or physically.

Before you ask a vet for help, why not take one or two days to figure out for yourself what may be the cause?

There are two types of eating disorders old dogs commonly suffer from: anorexia and hyporexia. Canine anorexia means a total loss of appetite and hyporexia means a partial loss of appetite. The first of these terms does not define the same condition suffered by some humans.

By what age is a dog considered old?

Let’s first talk about what we mean when we say a dog is ‘old’. The age at which a dog is old naturally differs from breed to breed. Large dogs have much shorter lives than small dogs.

Small-breed dogs (terriers) become geriatric at about 11 years; medium-breed dogs (spaniels) at 10 years; large-breed dogs (German Shepherd Dogs) at 8 years; and giant-breed dogs (Great Danes) at 7 years.

What happens to a dog when it gets old?

There are lots of ways you can tell whether your dog is old. One of the easiest of these is to watch how she moves. An old dog may not want to exercise or jump up as much as she used to.

The eating habits of an old dog will change as well; she probably won’t be as hungry for food as she used to be because she isn’t burning off calories. But you should still be aware of drastic changes to her eating habits. If she goes off her food quite suddenly or over a short period of time there may be other factors at work.

As a side note, you should also have the same regard for the way she drinks. We can all become dehydrated very quickly if we don’t drink and that can lead to nasty infections of the bladder and kidneys.

Why would an old dog stop eating?

The reason for your old dog not eating may be one of the following. Here we have listed the potential causes of (and the reasons for) her loss of appetite. If you are at all concerned that she is suffering with something you cannot handle by yourself you should consider medical intervention.

Pain or nausea due to illness

An old dog losing her appetite may not alone be cause for concern but you should consider that at its root may be: disease of the gut, cancer of the gut, diseases of the liver or kidneys, kidney failure, cardiac failure, gastrointestinal (GI) blockage, or stomach or intestinal ulcer.

Some of these diseases and conditions cause other symptoms such as  pain or incontinence.

Sore teeth or gums will reduce your dog’s appetite ©Pixabay

Dental disease

Pain caused by a disease of her mouth reduces your dog’s appetite. If the pain is intense enough she can become fully anorexic. Tumours or abscesses that have grown sufficiently to cut off her sense of smell can also have an effect because the scent of her food is an important contributor to palatability.


Neurological, allergic and inflammatory reactions have been observed on old dogs that were given vaccinations against contagious diseases. Side-effects of one form or another are common in dogs following vaccination; such side-effects may cause a loss of appetite and increased thirst.


Some dogs, young and old, lose their appetite if they find themselves in an unfamiliar setting. So too are they put off their food by the arrival of new people or new dogs to their home. In addition, some dogs simply don't like the food they have been given.

If their owners tend to change the food according to the dog’s reaction to it this problem can be perpetuated. An old dog’s anxiety may increase if she is suffering with a degenerative condition of her mind.

An old dog can be tempted to eat ©Pixabay

What can be done to make an old dog eat?

Generally speaking, most ailments of an old dog are incurable. Getting to the root of her not eating should however be your first concern. Once that is established, treatment of whatever problem there is can begin.

Acute anorexia warrants an urgent trip to your local vet. However, you may wish to try some of the following methods over the next one or two days to tempt her to eat:

Acknowledge the fact that her loss of appetite may be caused by anxiety. Make the necessary changes to ease her worry.

  • Give her fewer treats between meals.
  • As soon as she loses interest in her meal take her bowl away to prevent her grazing.
  • Make mealtimes enjoyable and stimulating, but do not distract her from her food.
  • Make sure that your dog is alone when she eats.
  • Avoid the temptation to think that dogs don’t get as fed up with food as we do. Try a different sort of food

If the causes of her loss of appetite are psychological then one of these list items should work to restore her appetite to normal. Never starve your dog to try to stimulate her appetite. It does not work.

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