Feeding a sick elderly dog
November 12, 2014 7:26 AM   Subscribe

What to do for an elderly, sick, underweight dog who won't eat his prescription food?

Asking for a friend. His terrier is 16 and has chronic pancreatitis as well as liver and kidney disease, which he's on a prescription canned food for. He also gets NSAIDs in his food for arthritis in his hips and spine. As if he needed another thing to be going wrong, he's pretty underweight- fighting weight is 10 lbs and he's below 8. He's been refusing to eat his prescription food. If he doesn't eat, he can't get his NSAIDs. I'm trying to figure out what to do to help him live out the time he has left in comfort. I've thought about mixing other things into his prescription food, but he can't have too much protein or fat. My next step is to try to mix in low-sodium beef broth or flavoring but I'm looking for other ideas to get him eating and keep him comfortable.
posted by quiet coyote to Pets & Animals (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Broth will go a long way in terms of flavor, as will just a small bit of meat mixed in really well. If you add in water, it can help spread the flavor around even more.

I would try it , and if it works, give your vet a quick call to confirm that it is ok.

Also, is he getting wet food? A lot of prescriptions come in both wet and dry. My dogs are definitely drawn to the wet food more than the kibble.

My dog is 16 as well. We do the best we can.
posted by Vaike at 7:31 AM on November 12, 2014 [3 favorites]

Second-ing a little broth: when our old hound was ill for a long while and didn't want to eat his kidney-friendly food, mixing in a little beef or chicken stock made him pretty happy to chow down. Letting the food sit for a couple minutes helped, as well. (We think it either made the dry food softer or made the meat flavor somehow better. Or maybe he could just smell the tastiness while it sat!) We were making our own stock with leftover roast bones, etc., but I'd wager store-bought would be appreciated just fine.
posted by introp at 7:39 AM on November 12, 2014

Best answer: Could you try warming the food a little so it smells stronger. If they are up for it they may try sitting on the floor with him & hand feeding him. I know I had to do that for my cat as he got older to encourage him to eat.
posted by wwax at 7:56 AM on November 12, 2014

Best answer: Another option, if flavor improvement of the prescription food doesn’t work, is to consider adopting a “hospice care” philosophy and let him eat the food he likes even if it shortens his life. If he’s not enjoying food, he may not have a whole lot to live for.
posted by metasarah at 8:00 AM on November 12, 2014 [10 favorites]

If he also can't see well, and his food is served in a bowl, that may be the problem; he may not like sticking his head in it to eat. Try serving it on a plate.

Mixing with broth is a great idea, and you might also try smearing a thin layer of peanut butter on bottom of the plate or bowl, then putting his food on top of that. If he likes PB, he'll eat at least some food to get at the PB under it.

Other favorite supplemental foods from our days trying to put weight on our rescued rat terrier (who looks like your friend's dog) are: cottage cheese, plain yogurt, flaxseed meal mixed with broth until gloppy, canned pumpkin, chicken livers from the butcher. Always check with the vet first for an okay, but those worked for us.
posted by juniperesque at 8:22 AM on November 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

I had a dog with chronic pancreatitis who refused to eat the food he was supposed to eat. I tried everything. When it got to the point where it seemed more likely he would die from starvation than the pancreatitis, our vet told me to feed him whatever he would eat. He specifically recommended meat-based baby food (the little jars at the grocery store) warmed slightly and Gatorade through a syringe. It worked! Even now, when he has an attack and won't eat, a few milliliters of Gatorade helps immensely. I feed him freeze-dried raw food mixed with water (Stella & Chewy's or Primal Formula) and this formerly picky eater rarely misses a meal these days.

Also, fwiw, dogs staying alive long after being fed a hospice diet of whatever they will eat, but mostly meat, are not uncommon on dog health forums.
posted by Barnifer at 8:27 AM on November 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

Your first step should be to ask a veterinarian, preferably the dog's veterinarian.

You might try canned chunk chicken. Dogs that turn away from anything else will often eat that.
posted by jayder at 8:43 AM on November 12, 2014

I'm sorry, I just realized you said he can't have much protein.
posted by jayder at 8:45 AM on November 12, 2014

Possibly stupid question: would he eat if he were fed by hand?

In my experience, sometimes that will make pets eat when they wouldn't otherwise. I have memories of feeding our sick husky Campbell's chunky beef soup out of my hand. The thing is, it worked. I also did a lot of hand-feeding of brothy cat food to my FELV-positive kitty girl when she went on interferon, and she bounced back from what the vet said was possibly a few more weeks of life to a happy four years.
posted by dlugoczaj at 8:46 AM on November 12, 2014

Best answer: Try mixing in boiled sweet potatoes. My aunt who's a nurse always recommends this for skinny or sick dogs (granted she's a people nurse, not an animal expert but dogs seem to like it).
posted by dulce_ex_machina at 9:01 AM on November 12, 2014

FWIW, I've got a 14 year old beagle with cancer. Our Vet told us that when a dog stops eating it is telling you something. Animals are so programmed to eat, even gorging themselves when food is abundant, that an older, sick animal refusing to eat is giving you a big hint that it is done fighting to stay alive. In our case, prednisone has made a huge difference and he still seems happy to be here with us. However, at 16 and sickly, it may be time for your friend to consult with his Vet about a making a very tough decision.
posted by COD at 9:16 AM on November 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I'm not a vet, but I've loved and lost many elderly cats and dogs. I would try homemade food - scrambled eggs or tasty ground beef. Just love them and feed them as best you can, and don't worry about what's "right" or "wrong" at this moment in their lives. And when they stop eating altogether, then it's time to let them go, again, with all the love you can muster.
posted by tizzie at 9:54 AM on November 12, 2014

Response by poster: Yeesh, sorry for the mixed pronouns. I marked the comments that my friend said were particularly helpful as best answers.

He says:
The broth didn't help but 2:1 mashed sweet potato:cooked turkey, warmed up a bit, is a winner- check it out! He's even growling at the cat for getting near his food.
posted by quiet coyote at 2:07 PM on November 12, 2014 [6 favorites]

Yay! Great news!
posted by persona au gratin at 2:12 AM on November 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Just an update...the little guy died this morning. He had a good last couple of weeks thanks to you guys.
posted by quiet coyote at 9:22 AM on November 24, 2014

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