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Ask a Vet: How can I address my senior dog's lack of appetite?

February 28, 2010 | 11:15 am

Have a non-emergency question about your pet's health?  Dr. Heather Oxford of L.A. veterinary hospital California Animal Rehabilitation (CARE) is here to help!  In this installment of Ask a Vet, Dr. Oxford has some tips for reader Doris on helping her dog cope with appetite and arthritis issues.

Dog food Doris' question: How can I increase my 13-year-old, 3.2-pound male Chihuahua's appetite? He is on daily Metacam for painful arthritis. [Editor's note: Metacam is a pain-relief medication for animals.] He sleeps on a heating pad on very low. He had all his teeth removed last year due to very bad gum disease. The only thing he seems to like is chicken and he will skip several, twice-daily regular meals.

[Doris notes that her dog's problems seem to have increased since his mother, with whom he had a strong bond, died last year.] Would getting another girl puppy Chihuahua help to keep him company? I have tried to give him more TLC and attention, but still he is a very poor eater.

Heather Oxford, DVM: Although it is possible that your pup is mourning the loss of his mother, a serious medical condition may be causing the decreased appetite.  I have seen this many times in practice, and sometimes the signs of illness were present but not recognized due to focused attention on the ailing older pet. 

Your veterinarian should examine him and test blood, urine, thyroid and blood pressure. These tests make up a senior screening panel which should be performed annually after age 8. Since your little guy is taking Metacam, the blood and urine components should be tested every 2 to 4 months per your veterinarian.

If he is still in pain despite being on daily Metacam, more should be done. X-rays and/or a thorough orthopedic examination are essential for determining the extent of arthritis and which joints are affected.  His lack of appetite may stem from his pain level, and may even be worsened by continuing the Metacam on a not-so-full tummy. Start him on glucosamine/chondroitin and high-quality fish oil supplements from your veterinarian for his arthritis. Ask your veterinarian about quality products containing milk thistle and SAM-E for maintaining a healthy liver also.  Keep in mind that there are many other alternatives for pain management of arthritis such as acupuncture, homeopathic remedies, rehabilitation (just like physical therapy for us humans), and even changes in the diet. 

When dogs are in pain or even just not feeling well, their first reaction to other animals is defensive aggression.  That said, the problem may not improve and might even get worse by adding on to the family.  So you'll want to find out if there is a medical or physical condition that can be helped before jumping in with a new puppy. If all tests are normal and his arthritic pain is successfully addressed, take him along to meet any potential little sis, and let him decide. 

To submit your question for Dr. Oxford, just leave a comment on this post and look for her answer in an upcoming installment of Ask a Vet!

About our vet: Dr. Oxford received her bachelor of science degree at Bowling Green State University, Ohio.  She also received a master's of public health degree in epidemiology from Emory University and went on to work at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. She then went to the University of Tennessee, College of Veterinary Medicine, where she received her doctor of veterinary medicine degree.  She practices at California Animal Rehabilitation and is also certified in veterinary rehabilitation and acupuncture. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, Wade, and German shepherd, Tess.

Photo: Cans of dog food sit on a grocery-store shelf. Credit: Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

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