Help me be creative with my old dog's diet.
April 24, 2016 11:41 PM   Subscribe

Our dear girl is 15+ years old, 50lbs, and becoming pickier every day. She just won't eat what we've been giving her anymore, she changes her mind every day, and we know we need to aim for low protein. Most of the time now she turns her nose up at just about everything except people food. We are OK with that, but please help us be creative.

All her life she has eaten a very good quality kibble of some kind (Solid Gold Wolf King for a while). At about age 10 she started getting one or 2 tablespoons of good wet food mixed in with the dry kibbles. We've always given her people food in addition, let her lick the plates and all that, shared our broccoli and cantaloupe and snap peas. She loves those things. Especially now, it's whatever we can do to get calories on board. I did read this and it was useful, but we are looking for more diet suggestions.

Lately, we have two bags of kibbles to mix 50/50 vegetarian and regular protein kibbles, and two open cans of wet food for flavor variety. On any given day, she will turn her nose up any or all of it. In the last week, she's probably eaten half the calories she needs. Out of desperation I bought a can of tuna in oil, and that did the trick for two meals of tuna-kibble combo. But then, she turned her nose up at the last quarter can. Yesterday I made a big batch of brown rice, and I am mixing that in with wet food. She likes instant mashed potatoes too, and pumpkin. Sometimes I sprinkle Parmesan cheese on her food. But here is the problem: I can never expect any one solution to work for more than a couple of meals. And the second I try to mix those things with kibbles? Forget about it. She spits them out, or rejects the entire bowl. I've thrown away many bowls of food this week. I give her treats and milk bones throughout the day, because she always eats those.

Incidentally, she hobbles from hip and shoulder issues, takes daily previcox and beefy glucosamine chews. She's a happy snuggly girl and we want her to get the calories she needs so she can enjoy a few more months, if not longer. of sniffing the air and lounging in the warm grass. Would love your ideas.
posted by AnOrigamiLife to Pets & Animals (15 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I meant to add that she has been to the vet recently, just before this latest shift in her interest in food. Just for a checkup, but then we discovered she's in early stage kidney failure, apparently to be expected at her age. So low protein was advised. This is why we went for subbing out some of her kibble with a vegetarian option. The beast approved of the kibble, ate it for a couple days, and now, like all kibbles, spits them out no matter how we try to disguise them.
posted by AnOrigamiLife at 11:47 PM on April 24, 2016

I have a friend whose ailing senior dog loved speculoos butter, the kind you can get at Trader Joe's. (It's ground up cookies, so not high in protein.) Best of luck enjoying your remaining time with her.
posted by praemunire at 12:05 AM on April 25, 2016

Nausea is something that happens with renal failure. Can you ask your vet about treating that as a possibility? She might be doing a balancing act between new interesting yums and queasiness.
posted by Fantods at 12:06 AM on April 25, 2016 [3 favorites]

Chicken and cottage cheese (for protein) and rice has been our sick old dog food for a few old dogs now. Do the calcs on the protein intake provided by the chicken and cottage cheese, or get your vet to do it for you.

Quantify those treats and milk-bones, too.

A known side-effect of Previcox is loss of appetite. How long as she been on it, relative to the feeding problems?
posted by the Real Dan at 1:04 AM on April 25, 2016

How about some sardines, since she liked the tuna? My dog is 16 and has started to become picky too, but this is one of the few things she's never turned down.

You can get them in small cans so there won't be waste if she gets bored of them, and the omega-3's will be good for her. Maybe you could try canned mackerel or anchovies? (All in water of course)

You can also give her fish oil. It's anti-inflammatory and especially helpful if her joints are aching from arthritis.
posted by mysterious_stranger at 1:31 AM on April 25, 2016 [2 favorites]

My 15+ year old pup also had kidney failure. Seconding that it can cause nausea, which might add to decreased appetite. Our vet said Prilosec (the OTC human kind) was safe if we wanted to try it; she had dosing guidance available. There's also prescription renal failure diet, but our vet said that lots of dogs don't like it, so we opted for home-cooked goodies. (Again, you'll want to check with your vet that what you cook at home gives adequate nutrition). Kidney failure can also cause changes to the gums and mouth ulcers--is it possible that your girl is having pain in her mouth that makes her avoid crunchy kibble bits?

Some things that worked for us:
- Rice/oats/pasta cooked in chicken/beef broth, with nibbles (ground chuck, bacon, peanut butter, fried egg) mixed through
- Scrambled eggs (some whites, more yolks)
- French toast (no maple syrup...)
- Fatty canned tuna
- Dog ice cream/frozen yogurt
- Kraft mac-n-cheese
- Tapioca/rice pudding with milk
- A combination of any of the above, in smoothie form, or made into ice cubes

I'd also add that if your pup doesn't respond to the solutions you try and really isn't interested in food, it may be a good idea to check back in with your vet. Our vet told us that with kidney dogs, especially older ones, often do okay, until suddenly they don't, so an extreme change in appetite might go along with a shift in kidney function. Feel free to memail me if you like. Lots of sunshine and snuggles to your girl.
posted by stillmoving at 2:07 AM on April 25, 2016 [3 favorites]

Did your vet discuss calcitriol with you? This can help the dog feel better and slow kidney decline. Kidney failure dogs are often recommended to take famotidine (Pepcid) to help with GI comfort, but this should be discussed with your vet. Renal failure and hypertension go hand in hand, and most renal failure dogs also need blood pressure management to slow kidney decline. Sadly, so many vets are simply not up to date on what can be done for renal failure, you may want to have a consultation with a vet who has a more complete renal failure protocol.

That said, dogs in renal failure need high quality protein, I would try a prescription renal diet (the Royal Canin and Purina ones seem to be very palatable). And remember that NO diet is helping her if she won't eat it! I would get her eating well, even if it means going back to the foods she was eating before, rather than let her go without eating.
posted by biscotti at 6:08 AM on April 25, 2016

Is the reason for the low protein diet because eating too much protein will prevent discomfort? Or is it because it might hasten her kidney failure?

I don't want to tell you to do anything that would harm your dog. But I would talk with your vet about whether you're moving into a phase of your dog's life that, if she were human, we might call "hospice." And if that's the case, I think it's okay to give her whatever she wants, for as long as she has left, even if it's not healthy or good for her or nutritious or whatever.
posted by decathecting at 7:23 AM on April 25, 2016

My picky dogs will eat the dry food if you mix in gravy, made from powder or else from can. Enough to give it flavor.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 7:37 AM on April 25, 2016

At some point, even with dogs who are supposed to be on special diets, you give them what they'll eat. There's also a prescription a/d critical care food that is for dogs and cats that some dogs will eat when they will eat nothing else.

I've used nutritional yeast, bonita flakes, seaweed flakes, baby food, dehydrated liver, braunschweiger liver sausage, and even chicken nuggets cut up and sprinkled over food I actually wanted them to eat. All of them worked for a time with most dogs.

But I'd check if it's a stomach issue - maybe a pill would help.
posted by answergrape at 8:37 AM on April 25, 2016

Try heating the food. As dogs get older their sense of smell fades, heated food smells more. You may want to poach some chicken thigh cut them into pieces & hand feed them to her.

You can up the calories of what she will eat. You may want to try Satin Balls an unfortunate name but very effective. Start with small ones & work up though as a sudden increase in fat intake can cause the runs. You can use these as high calorie treats, or as one of her meals (or mix with her meals) once she's used to eating the mix, usually for long term weight gain you look to supplement this with more balanced food, but in your case you may not be as concerned. There are some other recipes at that link there too I haven't used those ones but they might help as well. \

As the kidneys can't process potassium the levels in her blood will get very high if you aren't careful, this will lead to serious heart problems. So you'll want to leave the molasses out as it's high in potassium & swap the oats for plain cheerios as they are mostly corn not oats . Avoid foods high in potassium & too much dairy & avoid brown rice or whole grains, white rice is fine. . My mother has kidney problems & this is the first thing she was told to watch out for.
posted by wwax at 9:18 AM on April 25, 2016

Chicken. Poach or roast some breasts or the whole bird and rip it into chunks.
Gravy and juices from roast meat also tend to go down well.
Scrambled eggs.
Ham, sausage, turkey, potato chips, cheese, her favourite treats, anything cut up small and sprinkled on as an appetising topper.
Tripe-based tinned dog food.

Being fed by hand or from a toy can be more appealing than from a dish on the floor.

I'd stop trying with the kibble all together; the mere suggestion of a kibble can cause offence, it can seem and then you've soiled and wasted whatever other food you mixed it with. You can maybe leave some in a separate dish with a topper mixed in case she does want to pick at it.

Definitely ensure nausea isn't causing the problem.

Thank you for caring so much for your best girl. Wishing you luck. I've been through this and it's so frustrating.
posted by mymbleth at 1:31 PM on April 25, 2016

Teeth? Has the vet checked her teeth? Dogs with bad teeth will eat soft foods (mashed potatoes, pumpkin, sardines) much quicker than kibble. Maybe she loves milk bones so much that she'll put up with some pain to eat them. Please have her teeth checked if you haven't already done so
posted by donaken at 9:29 AM on May 2, 2016

Thanks everyone. Lots of good ideas/responses. It's not a teeth issue; she loves and eagerly eats carrots and milk bones. Last night's dinner, for instance, was hand-fed carrot sticks and snap peas. And 15 kibbles, fed one by one until she refused. She turned down everything else. I keep a smorgasbord in the fridge and rotate. She'll eat something one day, turn it down for three days, then eat it again. No 'splaining this girl.

Among the things I tried:
Gravy powder (NO, but then I realized I bought country gravy, which is peppery. So could be worth another try with plain brown gravy).
Mac and cheese. I tried Annie's shells and cheddar, nope not even one bite.
Tuna in oil. Big success.
Satin balls. Success the first couple of days, then no. But we offer her one every two or three days, it must be cooked, and sometimes she'll eat it. We have discovered in the process, however, that she does like cornflakes straight up.
PB/Total squares. Another byproduct of the satin balls, we just mixed Total flakes with crunchy peanut butter, and pressed it into a square Tupperware. We offer her bites periodically. Again, she'll be interested in one day, turn up her nose for a couple of days,and then again be interested.
The satin balls was a useful experiment. It had many ingredients I could try out on her. For instance, she liked cornflakes but not Total flakes. She liked the raw ground beef in the beginning, but ultimately he prefers it cooked. Hard-boiled eggs were a favorite, and she loves the eggshells. So I recommend trying some variation of those.

I offered her an Aussie Bite a week or so ago, and she gobbled that right up. These are available at Costco, and in smaller packages at regular grocery stores. But they are expensive. If you search for copycat recipes, that's what I did. I made a batch and she will rarely turn them down.

We have found no panacea, but your feedback really helped to expand our repertoire. What works is to make the time to always be able to offer her a half-dozen options. And we can never just sit a bowl in front of her. She always requires more attention than that. She responds well to hand feeding, especially in bite-size portions. I literally will scoop a bit of goopy wet food in to my fingers and she will eat it that way, but not if it's in a bowl. I'm not fighting her on this. Whatever it takes to get calories on board. Oh and with regard to the Previcox, she's been on it for years, so I can't really attribute her loss of appetite to that. Thanks again!
posted by AnOrigamiLife at 2:42 PM on May 25, 2016

Returning now five months later to share with people in a similar situation that we have discovered something that has worked for almost two months. It has been a yuuuge success. First we tried a gruel of wet food and water, which was pretty popular, but not consistently so. And then: Kibble smoothies! We added a nutribullet to our kitchen earlier in the year, and one day when we had a variety of untouched wet food, kibbles and pumpkin and other random things, I decided to throw it all in the bullet. She lapped it right up! We make it a bit like thin pudding. We add 1-2 cups of kibbles to a bowl, cover with boiling water and let sit overnight. In the morning, we scoop it into the bullet and add a savory ice cube (e.g., chicken broth, carnitas juices) and more water and blend. We pour it back into the bowl and then, and here's the best part, she eats it all by herself. Sometimes a little, sometimes a lot, but always some. We augment with shredded chicken and snap peas and Beggar Dog heart treats, which are 45 calories each. She's back to a healthy weight and doing as well as she can for being almost 16 years old.
posted by AnOrigamiLife at 2:16 PM on October 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

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