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How to entice a sick pet to eat

Did you know that cats and dogs can develop life-threatening illnesses by not eating for a day or two? Healthy pets who miss more than a couple of meals may be in danger of liver, kidney and other serious health problems - especially cats! Sick pets are even more at risk, especially if the pet is on medication that should be taken with food. Contact your veterinarian if your pet suddenly stops eating or dramatically reduces the amount of food s/he is eating.

Can she smell it?

Dogs and cats rely on smell to determine if food is palatable. The stronger the smell, the more likely your pet is to eat the meal. This is especially true if your pet has a respiratory infection – like people, cats and dogs with head colds have a hard time smelling and tasting food.

Look at your pet’s face. If he has a lot of discharge from his nose and/or eyes, gently clean his face with a damp, warm, soft cloth. Many pets will start eating right after you wash their face.

Kick up the smell factor…

  1. Heat wet food for 10-30 seconds in the microwave (check the temperature before offering it to your pet). Stir in a teaspoon or two of warm water to smooth out the consistency and temperature.
  2. Add a couple spoonsful of tuna, salmon, mackeral, anchovies or another fish product to your dog’s or cat’s food. Avoid giving too much canned fish, as the salt and other preservatives can be harmful. A small amount to entice a sick pet to eat is usually ok.
  3. Warm up baby food, especially meat flavors like turkey or beef. Buy small jars so that it won’t get moldy before you use it up. Dogs also might like fruit flavors like apple or peach.
  4. Smear a small amount of the food across your pet’s mouth or offer the food in your hand for the pet to try. Once she discovers that it is actually food, she may start eating out of the bowl.

Note: please check with your veterinarian if your pet is on a special or restricted diet before adding the foods suggested above.

Do you know how to force-feed if necessary?

Some pets start eating on their own after being force-fed a small amount of wet food. Talk to your veterinarian to see if force-feeding is recommended in your case, and how to correctly force-feed your pet. Pets can choke or aspirate food into their lungs if force-feeding is done incorrectly.

Is his tummy upset?

Antibiotics and other medicines can cause an upset stomach. If your pet is on medication that has been prescribed to be taken with food, take care to follow the instructions. Offer food 10-15 minutes before giving the medication, so that your pet’s stomach will be coated before the medicine arrives.

If your pet is vomiting, please contact your veterinarian for help in stopping the vomiting before continuing to try to feed your pet and/or give medication.

Does she just need comforting?

Some sick pets will eat only if someone is nearby and/or petting them. Try cuddling or holding him to see if your pet just needs a little comfort and attention.