Saturday, November 2, 2013

Tips for Getting an Old Dog to Continue to Eat Enough



       In 1999, my husband and I occasionally rescued a dog or two just before our county's scheduled euthanization days.  Often, we would rehabilitate the dog and find it a new home. Sometimes, we would either experience a long term medical problem with the dog, which required injections or medication, and then we would keep him for his lifespan, here on the farm.   We don't do anymore rescues because now our county only euthanizes dogs with terminal issues, and because many other groups now rescue such dogs.  (We also have enough rescue dogs, cats, horses, and other animals to keep us, and our animal vets busy enough. )

             Jared is a Siberian Husky purebred who was rescued from our county's pound one hour before scheduled euthanization.  His story was that an individual bought a Siberian puppy and took it with him in his truck to jobs while working, and fed him through the Wendy's drive up window.  As the dog grew and became larger, he not only didn't really know he was a dog, but he became harder to handle while living in a truck. He was eventually placed at the pound.  Several families took him and found he either wouldn't eat dog food for them, or that he would howl incessantly or that their yards were too small for him.   Time was ticking and his chances were up. I was pretty confident that this beautiful dog, who was only about a year old, could be fairly easily rehabilitated.  We took him home, and were very attentive to him, and began to educate him as to the normal life of a dog who lives outside with access to a kennel.  At the time, our total lands on our original farm comprised ninety acres and our home was in the middle of that. . Jared howled so much that our neighbors complained !    Jared didn't seem to sleep outdoors, or indoors either.  In those first weeks I resorted to taking him for runs in the front seat of my husband's diesel truck, where Jared would nod off immediately.  When I parked the truck, he stayed asleep there. Eating was also a difficulty.  Normally we feed a good quality dry dog food and use a couple of tablespoons of alpo or a similar brand to encourage the picky eaters or to administer oral medications.  Jared wouldn't eat either.  We decided to let him go a few days and "get hungry", in order to put him on the type of food that was best of him both from a nutritional and dental standpoint.  I think he would have starved.  At that stage he would not eat. The vet couldn't find anything wrong with him and suggested we transition him from the Wendy's drive up window.  Jared enjoyed a single burger from the drive-through window. As I recall, he isn't a big fan of mustard, but is quite fond of ketchup and even the onions.  He also polished off the remaining chili chips and cheese I had ordered.  The young woman at the Wendy's drive through in Richmond was Russian, and she thought that Jared was an arctic wolf.  She was actually fearful as she gave us our food through the window.


             It took several years for Jared to realize that he was a dog like our others, and that he could eat somewhere other than Wendy's.  Over time, the howling diminished.  Each November, despite the fact that we'd had him neutered, Jared would escape from our farm to run his own Iditerod of sorts.  He isn't very good at finding his way home, and so, if he gets out, we must look for him.  This can be challenging in a place where hundreds and perhaps thousands of acres are wooded and sometimes mountainous, and occupied by wild animals like bears and potentially coyotes.  Each year for three years, we found Jared, a great distance from our home, but we located him each time and brought him home. After that, he would leave annually, either from the kennel or out the gate, but these would be local trips. He knew where he lived and would cooperate in coming home afterward.

            Jared has continued to be a picky eater and stays quite slim. He remains a beautiful dog.
            This year, Jared is thirteen years old, and although he looks wonderful, we know that he is nearing the end of his lifespan.  We are supplementing his food with glucosamine and chondroitin which we purchase from Sam's Club, as joint and hip issues can be common with large breeds.  He saw the vet recently and there are no obvious medical issues.  He continues to be a picky eater and has a bit less muscle than he did in earlier years.
            I wanted to share with you some of the tricks we have been using to keep the appetite of our "most challenging customer".

      Although we try hard to adhere to the plan of a good quality dry food, as he still has healthy strong teeth and we need to keep these clean, we are doing the following things to encourage him to start eating.

 1.  Make sure that a picky dog always has a clean dish.    Make sure they have plenty of clean water, because a thirsty dog will often not eat.

2. Sometimes an elderly dog needs his tastes piqued by a small squirt of ketchup on the few tablespoons of soft food you place on the top of his dry.  (Get him his own bottle.)

3. Don't use garlic salt, but occasionally dogs will eat better or will be convinced to eat if you shake a small amount of garlic powder on their food.   (No crushed garlic or garlic from jars because this can give them diarrhea.)

4. Try not to resort to feeding "people food" as this is much too low in calcium for dogs and will cause difficulties in the long term.  A little on the top of a meal might induce your picky dog to eat.

5. Check any supplements you give with the vet before adding them.  Our vet is okay with our adding a glucosamine supplement which actually was intended for human beings.  We do it because we found a formulation that is cheaper and because we do this for all our dogs who are age 8 and older.

6. Never give a dog any form of chocolate, even ice cream.   Chocolate has theobromines which can cause lethal arrhythmias in dogs.

7. Don't give treats to a dog who is picky.  Give him affection instead.   Treats will cut down what he eats at meals.

8. A dog with a new onset lack of appetite may have a parasite or a new medical problem.  If this is the case, take him to your vet.

9.   Some dogs are very sensitive.   Make sure your dog food is fresh.  Look at expiration dates.   Some dogs should have a smaller bag of food they will consume completely in a shorter period of time.  Often, the huge bags of food are best left for people with multiple large dogs.

This was how Jared looked at about six.  He is thirteen now, and looks the same, though thinner.

               This morning I poured a half a can of dollar store mackeral over his food in order to get him to eat it.   Your vet also has some rather expensive high fat and high carbohydrate canned food which they will sell for animals who need to eat but are exhibiting reluctance to do so.
              May all your furred and feathered friends be doing well as we anticipate another Winter, and soon.


Gorges Smythe said...

I'm glad you mentioned the calcium. Our little Dachshund eats only people food (well, almost only).

JaneofVirginia said...

Thanks for posting, Gorges. Yes, dogs have surprisingly high calcium requirements for size, and this is a big consideration when making your own dog food, which many of us may need to do in a financial collapse or if we were isolated from our normal supply chains of dog food.

lotta joy said...

Living in a puppy mill for three years and only given "slop" thrown in the cages, we were surprised when Beau would NOT eat. The vet said to give him three days and he'd eat. Right. WRONG.

Joe spent an additional three years crawling on his knees, following Beau under the table, etc., just to get him to eat out of his hand!

I'll never understand the conundrum. Last month, I started to sprinkle smelly salmon onto his food, as I did our 17 year old dog. They eat first through odor attraction, and this is finally working.

Mamma Bear said...

Beautiful dog Jane! We have a picky eater too. She is one of our livestock guardian dogs, half Great Pyrenees and half Austrian shepherd. Some days she just won't eat and the goats will grab her food if I don't remove her pan from the barnyard fast enough. I have found a couple of raw eggs mixed in her food will usually get her to eat. I've never thought to giver her ketchup. I bet that would even discourage the goats (maybe).

JaneofVirginia said...

Lotta Joy, It's interesting that dogs with difficult beginnings seem to be some of the dogs with eating issues later. I am glad that we both found a way to help our dear dogs to eat.

JaneofVirginia said...

Mamma Bear, Thank you. We think he is pretty adorable. We have a young border collie who would eat anything we presented as food, so long as we said "Go ahead". It's amazing how different they all are.