Any sudden changes in an elderly dog’s behavior should be treated as a serious issue. Unfortunately, a sudden loss of appetite in a dog that is 15 years old is often a sign of severe disease.
That said, if your 15 year old dog has stopped eating, there are plenty of things you can do to help.
This is why we have written this informative guide, which will explain some of the many reasons why senior dogs stop eating and the best things dog owners can do to help their older dogs through this problem.
Table of Contents
- Why Do Senior Dogs Stop Eating?
- What Should You Do if Your 15 Year Old Dog Will Not Eat?
- What Will a Veterinarian Recommend if it Is Not a Life-Threatening Emergency?
- For More Information
Why Do Senior Dogs Stop Eating?
Before we explain what you should do when you notice any changes in your older dog’s appetite, we will quickly go over some of the many reasons why senior dogs refuse to eat their food.
While it is always important to seek out a proper diagnosis from a veterinarian, the following are some of the common reasons why 15 year old dogs often stop eating:
- Side Effect of Prescription Medications – The dog is experiencing discomfort and a loss of appetite due to a medication they are taking. Certain antibiotics and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are known to interfere with a dog’s appetite, especially if it is in its senior life stage.
- Serious, Age-Related Diseases – A wide range of diseases are more prominent in senior dogs. Unfortunately, one of the most common symptoms of many diseases is a refusal to eat, which can worsen the dog’s condition. Liver disease, pancreatitis, diabetes, heart disease, and numerous types of cancer impact an older dog’s appetite.
- Dental Issues – As dogs age, they become more susceptible to dental disease and other oral health issues. In many cases, pain localized to the dog’s mouth will make it difficult for them to eat their dry food. This often causes the dog to stop eating altogether. Damaged teeth, inflamed gums, and more could all be why your older dog is not eating their dry dog food.
- Canine Cognitive Dysfunction – Unfortunately, many senior dogs suffer from age-related cognitive decline. Canine cognitive dysfunction, or CCD, is a type of dementia that can alter a dog’s behavior in various ways, including their willingness to eat.
While there are numerous other reasons why your old dog might refuse to eat, those mentioned above are some of the most common and serious explanations.
That said, there are other reasons older dogs stop eating, so you must ensure that the issue is diagnosed correctly. Some causes of loss of appetite in senior dogs are pretty mild and can be treated with simple adjustments.
What Should You Do if Your 15 Year Old Dog Will Not Eat?
While the actions you take will depend on the specific reason why your dog is not eating, you must react in the following way:
Speak with a Veterinarian
If your senior dog has refused to eat for more than 24 hours, you should speak with your veterinarian immediately. As described above, a complete refusal to eat could signify a severe medical issue.
At such an old age, dogs are incredibly vulnerable to many life-threatening health issues. When these situations occur, time is of critical importance—acting fast could be the difference between life and death, especially if your dog is suffering from a digestive system issue, like a blockage.
When you visit your veterinarian, describe your dog’s behavior as accurately as possible. Is the dog just less hungry, or are they completely refusing to eat? How long has it been since they last ate? Is the dog losing weight? Do they have other symptoms, like vomiting, diarrhea, or lethargy? Is the dog also refusing to drink water?
All of this information can help your veterinarian make an accurate diagnosis. After a thorough assessment, your veterinarian can assess and diagnose the issue. If it is an emergency, they can discuss options with you.
If, on the other hand, it is a mild issue, like an upset stomach or a side effect related to a medication your senior dog is taking, they will be able to explain ways you can help your dog regain their appetite.
What Will a Veterinarian Recommend if it Is Not a Life-Threatening Emergency?
Fortunately, there are several ways to help older dogs regain their appetite. If the reason why your dog is not eating is not linked to an urgent medical issue, the veterinarian may recommend one or more of the following strategies:
- Dietary Changes – One of the easiest and most effective ways to help your older dog regain their appetite is to transition them to more age-appropriate dog food. Older dogs have different calorie and nutrient requirements than younger dogs and often prefer foods with softer textures and other flavors. For example, if you usually feed your dog dry kibble, try switching to canned food or wet food or adding a small amount to their dry dog food.
Your veterinarian might recommend trying out a new food catered to the needs of senior dogs.
- Increasing the Dog’s Water Intake – Another common reason why dogs refuse to eat is they are partially dehydrated. When dogs do not consume enough water daily, they can lose their appetite.
Senior dogs often need more water than their younger counterparts, who tend to urinate more frequently. It is possible that supplying your dog with plenty of fresh water throughout the day could kick start their appetite.
- Ensure Your Dog Is Getting Enough Mental and Physical Stimulation – Even though senior dogs need to slow down, they still need daily exercise and plenty of mental stimulation. If they do not burn enough calories daily, their appetite will suffer.
A lack of mental stimulation can also result in depression, which is surprisingly common in senior dogs. Just because your older dog is not as enthusiastic or energetic as they once were, does not mean that their life should be completely free from excitement. Consider slow-paced walks in new areas and day trips to dog-friendly beaches and parks.
- Reducing or Altering the Prescription Medications the Dog Is Taking – Many senior dogs are on some form of medication to help them with age-related health issues. It is not uncommon for them to lose their appetite due to a side effect of a prescription drug they are taking.
Your veterinarian may recommend dialing back the amount of medicine your aging dog is taking, spacing out doses, or even trying a different medication. You should only do this per your veterinarian’s recommendations, but it can help some dogs regain their appetite.
- Prescription Appetite Stimulants – Veterinarians can prescribe appetite stimulants like prednisone to increase your dog’s hunger and thirst. Unfortunately, many of these medications have unwanted side effects, but they can be helpful in serious situations.
- Raised Food and Water Bowls – In some cases, an elderly dog will struggle to eat due to joint pain. Aside from prescribing pain-relief medication, one of the easiest ways to help your older pooch is to purchase a set of raised food and water bowls. This way, the dog will not have to bend and strain to access its food bowl.
You mustn’t ignore your dog’s lack of hunger or refusal to eat. While this is true for dogs at any age, it is imperative when a dog is in their senior years. By acting quickly, you can help ensure that your older dog continues to enjoy a good quality of life.
For More Information
For more information about common health issues among older dogs, consider reading the American Kennel Club’s guide to senior dog care – How to Watch for Signs of Health Problems in Older Dogs.
Hill’s Pet Nutrition also has a helpful guide that can help you recognize issues that could reduce an older dog’s appetite – 8 Common Health Problems in Senior Dogs.
Finally, the American Kennel Club also has a dietary guide for senior dogs that could be helpful if you own a 15 year old dog – Best Dog Foods for Senior Dogs.