Reasons Why Elderly Dogs Stop Eating


You hear all the time about senior citizens who experience health problems because they don’t follow a proper diet, or because they don’t eat enough. Maybe they don’t have much of an appetite. Or they could have dental problems that are preventing them from getting the nutrition they need. Sometimes, dementia can cause them to simply forget to eat, and they end up malnourished.

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So, how does this relate to your dog? Well, we can probably assume that dementia isn’t the issue if your senior dog is off his food – although dogs can suffer from dementia. More on that later in another blog, though. You are controlling the food, so it’s not like your dog is starving himself because he has forgotten to eat.

You might be surprised to know, though, that many of the reasons that senior humans fail to eat enough are exactly the same reasons that your senior dog is not eating. So, let’s talk about that.

Why Isn’t My Senior Dog Eating?

Well, the first answer is that he’s a senior dog. If it sounds like I’m trying to be funny, I’m not. In the same way that humans may lose their appetite as they age, dogs may do the same. It only becomes a problem if your dog is not taking in enough calories to support his bodily functions and enjoy a good quality of life. So how do you know if it is just a normal slowing down of appetite that comes naturally with age, or if it is something that should be investigated further?

The Appetite/Weight Connection

There is a big difference between “loss of appetite” and “not eating.” If your dog’s weight is normal, but he is eating less than he used to, don’t worry about it. His metabolism is likely slowing down as he ages. On the other hand, if your dog suddenly refuses to eat, regardless of whether his weight is dropping or staying the same, a trip to the vet is in order.

Now, the other thing you need to consider is whether your dog has always been a picky eater. If he’s always been picky, and now he’s a little more so, that is probably not a cause for concern. On the other hand, if he’s always been like Snoopy in “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown,” practically bursting into song any time food comes onto the scene, and now he doesn’t want to eat, that is a real cause for concern. If he always loved his food, and now is completely disinterested, that could be serious.

Why Older Dogs Don’t Want to Eat

Your dog’s appetite, like your own, can fluctuate. You probably have days when you have very little interest in food, and just eat to stay alive. You also have other days when you could happily go to an “all you can eat” buffet and stay there all day. It has to do with normal fluctuations in your hormone levels.

You also may eat more when you’re anxious or stressed. Or, you may go the other way and eat less. Again, your dog is the same. So, if your dog is eating more, or eating less, and it’s an occasional thing, it is probably not a cause for concern. A total loss of appetite is.

The following are some of the most common reasons why a senior dog doesn’t want to eat.

  • He isn’t getting as much exercise as he used to. He’s sleeping more. He’s old. An inactive body needs fewer calories, and therefore less food.
  • He has dental problems. His teeth are broken, decayed or infected, or he has gum disease. Eating is painful.
  • His digestive system isn’t working as well as it used to.
  • He has a medical condition like heart disease, kidney disease, Addison’s disease or cancer.
  • He is constipated.
  • He doesn’t have the sense of smell that he used to, so food does not seem as appetizing.

Obviously, some of these issues are just due to aging, and as long as your dog is not dropping weight alarmingly, you don’t have to worry about them. Dental issues, of course, should be taken care of. You don’t neglect your own oral health, so don’t neglect your dog’s. If a medical condition is at work, you will probably notice other symptoms, like excessive thirst, whining, panting, pacing, lethargy, vomiting or diarrhea. You should see your vet.

Also, if the loss of appetite is sudden and dramatic, then you should see the vet immediately.

Joint Pain

Another reason that your dog might be reluctant to eat could have absolutely nothing to do with any of the symptoms I’ve just talked about. It could be something as simple as his food dishes being at the wrong height. Think about this – if you are of a certain age, can you bend as well as you used to be able to? Even if you’re in the prime of your life and everything is working just tickety-boo, thank you very much, you probably have older friends or relatives who complain about not being able to move around the way they once could. If your dog’s dishes are at floor level, he may simply not want to bend down.

The solution for that is simple – elevate the dishes. You can put them on a low bench, or on top of a box, or go with an elevated dog feeder like the IRIS USA Elevated Dog Feeder with Airtight Food Storage It’s a feeding and storage unit all in one. You put the dog food in the bottom, and it’s sealed airtight. On top, there are two 2-quart bowls, and it rests on rubber feet so your dog won’t move it around while eating. It sells for $27.99, which to my way of thinking is small change when it comes to helping your senior dog to eat comfortably. And right now, Amazon is offering a coupon that will give you an extra 10% off.

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The Final Word

Don’t ever ignore sudden loss of appetite in your senior dog – it could indicate a serious medical condition. However, a dog’s appetite will fluctuate the same way a human’s will. And also, if a dog can’t eat comfortably, it will eat no more than it absolutely has to, so you may need to consider adaptive measures like elevating the food dishes. Do it because you love him.