What Can I Do To Get My Sick Dog To Eat?

There are many things you can do to encourage a sick to eat, although all of the strategies require your patience, time, effort and care; your dog will eventually respond to your efforts to convince him to eat. Still, once your dog has resumed eating, you must be sure he keeps eating, so continue the routine you picked until well after the obvious symptoms of the original problem disappear, whether it was stress, intestinal obstruction or an infectious disease.

Coaxing Techniques

Whether your dog is stressed or is suffering from a medical condition, you cannot let him go hungry for an extended period of time. You will need to coax him to eat. Here are some strategies you can employ:

  • Moisten dry food with a bit of warm water or gravy to make it more palatable.
  • Hand feed your dog, and talk to him as he eats. Stimulate his appetite by stroking his head and neck.
  • Let your dog lick a bit of food off your finger or off his paw.
  • Use an eyedropper (plastic, not glass) to put liquid food a drop at a time in his mouth.
  • Use a tongue depressor, with a few drops of food on the tip, to feed your dog.
  • Put a drop of food on his nose for him to lick off. Do that a few times, and then try to put a drop of food in his mouth

Syringe Feeding

If these strategies fail, rather than risk your dog dying from malnutrition, you will have to consider syringe feeding as a last resort. This means you will be literally force-feeding your dog by pumping food paste down his throat with a syringe. This will be tricky so consult your vet for sound advice. Just to give you an idea, here's how syringe feeding is done:

  • Use a syringe that has a barrel marked accurately, in milliliters (1/1000 of a liter), for volume. Start by force-feeding your dog a very small amount of food, like 1 ml, and try that for several times. If your dog takes that, then you can scale up the volume of food to 2 ml - 5 ml, depending on the dog.
  • Don't use volumes larger than your dog can take in one mouthful, and give him at least a few seconds to swallow what he's just taken before giving him more. For each meal, try to get your dog to take up to 30 ml - 60 ml of food, and up to 90 ml - 240 ml per day. Plan on taking up to 20 minutes per meal, and don't try to hurry; your dog will get nervous, and he will be harder to feed.
  • Observe a totally aseptic technique; that means take all reasonable precautions to avoid contaminating your dog's food with bacteria, which will cause spoilage. Use plastic, disposable syringes for feeding, and wash them thoroughly after each meal; throw the syringes away after one day's use.
  • The high-calorie foods you can use are: meat-based baby food, or meat-based soft foods for hospitalized dogs and cats. In some cases, like with ulcers, you will need to feed your dog a bland diet recommended by your veterinarian. You can also make your own high-calorie food by following one of the many recipes for Duck Soup.
  • A word of caution on syringe feeding: this technique can cause problems like choking or worse, aspiration pneumonia, where some of the food goes into your dog's lungs.

Whatever strategy you use to coax your dog to eat, remember that treats do not fulfill all your dog's nutritional requirements. Therefore, do your best to feed your dog a mixture of good food and the right supplements, especially when he has lost his appetite.