How to Get a Sick Dog to Eat

Most people can agree that when you feel sick, you don’t want to eat anything. Dogs are similar to us in that regard. Nausea, pain, and general malaise often keeps dogs from diving into their kibble or wet food with gusto. And when our beloved pets don’t eat the foods they love, it’s a cause for worry. Food, after all, is medicine. So you need to know how to get a sick dog to eat.

Keep in mind that one or two days of not eating is common and no reason for concern. Once your dog is beyond the three-day mark, though, you may want to reach out to the vet to see what you should do.

In the meantime, check out some home remedies for a sick dog that isn’t eating.

short-coated black and brown dog lying down on brown surface

How to Get a Sick Dog to Eat

In the world of vets, the term for dogs who don’t eat is anorexia. Humans know anorexia to be a type of eating disorder, and it’s kind of the same with dogs. There are two kinds of dog anorexia: true anorexia, when a dog loses their appetite completely, and pseudo-anorexia, which is when a dog is hungry but has trouble eating for some reason.

Pseudo-anorexia is often related to disorders or illnesses that affect a dog’s ability to pick up food, chew, or swallow. True anorexia can be caused by poisons or cancer.

Since eating is so important to your dog’s health and recovery, you need to get your dog to eat food. Here are some tips on how to get a sick dog to eat:

  • Visit the veterinarian for more information, especially if you suspect your dog has been poisoned or ingested something inedible
  • Tempt your dog with a delicious smelling food or treat
  • Warm up their wet food
  • Give them chicken broth or bone broth
  • Ensure they are getting enough water
  • Provide comfort, love, and support—and make sure they have plenty of quiet time to sleep
  • As a last resort, you may decide to syringe feed a sick dog

After consulting with the vet, the first step for how to get a sick dog to eat is to try stimulating their hunger. There are many ways to do that, which are discussed throughout this article. However, in the event that stimulating their hunger fails and you are concerned about dehydration, force-feeding your pooch might be best. Call your vet to make sure that is an option.

How Do You Syringe Feed a Sick Dog?

Although it is often considered a drastic measure, you may have to force-feed your dog, especially when they have gone days without eating or drinking anything. Syringe-feeding should be done with the approval of a veterinarian, since the method can cause stress.

The best way to syringe-feed a dog is to use the same kind of syringe you get with liquid medication. Try watered down chicken or beef broth (no salt added) or wet food. If the wet food has chunks in it, throw it in a food processor and pulse until the food is mashed.

Next, follow these steps:

  1. Heat the liquid or food to the temperature of your dog’s body using the microwave
  2. Fill the syringe with the prepared food
  3. Position yourself so that your dog can see you. If you need help holding them down, have someone come from behind. Optionally, you can wrap a distressed dog in a blanket or towel to keep them from thrashing.
  4. Gently open the dog’s mouth, coming in from the side.
  5. Place the syringe so that the food is deposited on the tongue. Don’t place the syringe so far back that your dog chokes.
  6. Close the dog’s mouth and hold their snout to make sure they swallow everything.

Here is a video showing you the process:

What Can I Feed My Dog Who Won’t Eat?

Choosing what to feed a sick dog can be difficult, because you don’t want to choose something that will be thrown right back up. You have to consider the reason your dog is ill to begin with. Make sure your dog has been properly diagnosed by a vet, and listen to their recommendations about what to feed them. If your dog is feeling ill because of an upset stomach, for example, the vet will recommend a bland diet.

In the event that your dog’s lack of appetite is caused by illness, such as cancer, they’re going to require more than a bland diet. Your veterinarian should be able to help you determine what nutrients your dog is lacking, so you know what to feed them.

That said, there are many foods to feed your dog when they are sick that are easy to digest and nutritious. Here are some of the best foods and why:

  • Chicken and white rice
  • Shredded chicken breast
  • Baby food
  • Bone broth
  • Fish
  • Sweet potato
  • Pumpkin
  • Boiled eggs

Let’s look at the benefits of some of these foods for sick dogs.

Chicken and White Rice

The all-time favorite home remedy for sick dogs everywhere: chicken and white rice. This is the ultimate bland meal—and a powerful combo. Yet, while this meal has little flavor, it is nutritious. Any dog that is vomiting, lacking an appetite, or suffering from diarrhea should find chicken and white rice appetizing. Plus, this meal will soothe a nauseous belly.

Keep in mind that nauseous dogs may also start dry heaving and retching when their stomach is empty. Hunger will only further the nausea. So give them something plain and easy to eat to help them feel better and give them some energy.

Once your dog has gotten around to eating chicken and rice, consider adding some other mashed veggies, blueberries, and other nutritionally dense food options.

Shredded Chicken Breast

As you already know, chicken (or turkey) is great for dogs. Not only does chicken get a dog’s mouth watering, it is also bland enough for dogs with an upset stomach. Again make sure the shredded chicken breast has no seasonings or salt. You also shouldn’t add oil.

The easiest way to make shredded chicken breast for your sick dog is to bake a few breasts at 350 degrees F for 30 minutes. Use a foil-lined baking tray so the chicken doesn’t stick to the pan. Keep an eye on the breasts, making sure the meat cooks through during the 30 minutes. There should be no pink when the chicken comes out of the oven.

Drain oil off the chicken before using two forks to pull the meat apart. The chicken should be soft enough for this. If it gets too tough, don’t feed it to your sick dog.

Baby Food

One of the reasons baby food is recommended is the smell, which is irresistible to dogs. Let them smell the baby food to see if it stimulates your dog’s appetite. Another reason to try baby food on your dog? It’s easy to eat and digest. Just make sure you don’t use too much baby food. While this kind of food is great for kick-starting a dog’s appetite, baby food may be too high in fats and sugars to be healthy in larger portions.

Also, your dog might like it so much that they become more picky once they feel better.

Bone Broth

Does your dog suffer from dental issues or an inflammation in the digestive tract? Dry bone broth. You can find organic bone broth at the grocery store. Some places even have bone broth specially formulated for pets. Another option is to make your own. Add in some dog-friendly vegetables, like carrots, pumpkin, and sweet potato. Even celery and potatoes can be added when diced up small enough.

Bone broth is highly nourishing, helps with hydration, and can even settle an upset stomach. If your dog is having trouble keeping whole food down, you can try giving them some bone broth with a syringe or dropper to stimulate their appetite.

Fish

An incredibly appetizing scent for dogs, cooked fish is also beneficial. Salmon, cod, haddock, and flounder are all great options for dogs. Make sure the fish is thoroughly cooked and deboned before serving your dog a small amount. Again, you don’t want to go overboard. Too much fish may upset their stomach further.

Fatty fish, like salmon, are also a wonderful source of omega-3 fatty acids. For dogs who refuse to eat out of depression, a healthy dose of omega-3s could do them a world of good.

Pumpkin

Pumpkin is an excellent vegetable that is easy to digest and contains many vitamins your dog needs to stay healthy, including vitamins A, C, magnesium, and iron. You can try giving your dog a tablespoon of unseasoned canned pumpkin. Optionally, find a kabocha pumpkin at the supermarket to steam or roast. Avoid giving your dog pumpkin pie filling, as this contains sugars and additives that do not benefit your pooch.

Boiled Eggs

Cooked eggs, whether they are boiled, scrambled, or made into a dog-friendly omelet, are an excellent source of antioxidants, vitamins, protein, and calcium. Plus, eggs are one of the most digestible and bioavailable foods around. Even a small serving will help your dog feel better.

This video explains some other remedies and foods for sick dogs:

How Can I Stimulate My Dog’s Appetite When Sick?

You don’t want your sick or dying dog to go without nutrition for too long. Getting them eating and energized is important, particularly when the vet has prescribed them medication.

Your pet may also need time to relax. Remember how irritated you get when you don’t feel well? Your dog is most likely experiencing the same emotions. So be gentle when you coax them to eat.

Next, consider these tips for stimulating a sick dog’s appetite:

  • Try a home-cooked meal. As mentioned earlier, there are some foods you can give a sick dog that are easy to digest and keep down. You can look up some inspiration for veterinarian-approved home-cooked dog meals to help you decide what ingredients to use.
  • Put Karo syrup on the dog’s teeth and gums. If you have a sick or terminally-ill put that refuses to eat, you can smear a little Karo syrup on their gums. Doing so will help with blood glucose levels and may make your dog feel hungry enough to eat.
  • Tempt with broth and other tasty treats. Warmed chicken broth, goat milk or cottage cheese, baby food, and other tasty morsels might get your sick or dying dog eager to sample something new. Anything that smells delicious could entice your dog to give a lick; and once they’ve had a taste, their hunger might be stimulated enough to eat a whole meal.
  • Add unflavored Pedialyte to your dog’s water. When your dog has had vomiting and diarrhea or just came home from surgery, put some unflavored Pedialyte (or a similar beverage) in their water bowl. Pedialyte has electrolytes and salt to help them feel more hydrated. Keep in mind, dehydration can often lead to a lack of appetite.

Let Them Eat Grass

There is a lot of science behind dogs eating grass. So if you’re wondering how to get a sick dog to eat, you might want to take them for a quick jaunt outside. See if your dog is tempted to chew on grass.

Grass contains chlorophyll, which acts as an antioxidant and is full of vitamins. The pigment can also bind to heavy metals and remove them from the bloodstream. Additionally, dogs chew on grass for digestive aid. Since grass is full of fiber, eating grass assists with constipation and diarrhea.

The other reason dogs like grass? They want to soothe an upset stomach. Grass can induce vomiting in dogs, cleaning out their stomach.

Just make sure the grass your dog is eating won’t worsen the problem. Lawns that have been treated with herbicides, pesticides, or environmental fertilizers or toxins are unsafe for consumption. Try to provide your dog with a fresh patch of untreated grass.

If your dog tends to come down with an upset stomach often, you may want to consider growing a patch of dog-safe grass for them in a pot. That way, your dog can get a natural source of roughage whenever they want.

short-coated brown dog lying down

Why Is My Dog Not Eating and Acting Weird?

Having gone through all the ways to tempt a sick or dying dog to eat, you might be wondering what would cause a lack of appetite in the first place. There are always reasons for why a dog won’t eat including:

  • Illness and infection
  • Oral disease
  • Vaccinations
  • Unfamiliar surroundings or travel
  • Stress
  • Behavioral issues
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Mourning the death of a companion
  • Old age
  • Recovering from a surgery

Some of these causes behind a dog’s lack of appetite are far more serious than others. Keep a lookout for symptoms that your dog may be exhibiting, as refusal to eat could mean cancer, infection, pain, kidney failure, and liver conditions. Similarly, oral tumors and gingivitis can affect a dog’s ability to eat.

If your dog doesn’t seem to be in pain and is drinking water but rather visibly anxious, depressed, or stressed, this too can affect their appetite. Make sure you are feeding your dog somewhere quiet and comfortable. Keep them away from other aggressive animals if they are timid, and make sure they are receiving plenty of positive reinforcement.

Get Well Soon, Pup

Hopefully, you now know how to get a sick dog to eat. When your four-legged companion is feeling under the weather, it is normal for them to turn their nose up at food. However, nutrition is vital to recovery, so you need to stimulate your dog’s appetite with things like baby food, chicken, and bone broth. Once you have their interest, whip your dog up a plate of white rice and chicken to get them eating.

Since lack of appetite can be a symptom of serious medical conditions, don’t wait too long to see a veterinarian. A vet can give your dog an accurate diagnosis and medication, if needed.

FAQs

How long can a sick dog go without eating?

When dogs are healthy, they can go 3-5 days without nourishment. However, this is never an ideal situation. If your dog is sick and doesn’t want to eat after 2 days, make sure you call the veterinarian for advice. Make sure your dog is also drinking water. Not eating is one thing. If they aren’t drinking, they will quickly become dehydrated, which is even worse. You may have to force them to drink water if they go too long without it.

Dog not eating for a week. What do I do?

Not eating for a week is not normal. If your dog hasn’t eaten for a week, the first thing you should do is schedule an appointment with your vet or bring your dog to an emergency vet, if you haven’t already. Next, you should stimulate your dog’s appetite with something tempting, like a delicious-smelling food, such as chicken or warmed broth. In the event your dog still refuses to eat, you may need to use a syringe to feed and hydrate them.

Why is my dog not eating but acting normal?

There are a few reasons why a dog isn’t eating but acting normal (and not sick). First, your dog could be experiencing gastrointestinal issues. There are many stomach conditions that could prevent a dog from eating, so you may need to schedule a trip to see the vet. However, the more common causes are routine change and pickiness.
Have you moved recently? Give your dog some time if you think they are stressed or depressed. Do you spoil your dog with human food? Don’t. Give your dog regular dog food only and see what happens.