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I have a very elderly dog (border collie mix), who is on her last legs. She is getting pretty weak, lost 20% or more of body weight, doesn't seem to have a whole lot of joy in life, but doesn't seem to be in pain, can walk and perform waste excretion functions more or less normally. She has months to go at best.

It's like "the chicken or the egg". We don't know if her appetite is poor because she's weak, or if she's weak because she's not eating enough. (She also has a mass of unknown type in her abdomen, vet isn't sure, and doesn't think it makes any sense to pursue diagnosis or surgery). At any rate, it seems like it'd be good to persuade her to eat more.

We have tried many things. And she'll like something for a few days or a week, and then turn her nose up at it until we discover something else. Bread seems the most reliable, especially sourdough and crackers. And of course she eats better when hand-fed. So we seek advice on general strategies or specific foods. Obviously long-term healthfulness of diet is of little importance, e.g. we've considered feeding her (non-chocolate) ice cream, but apparently too much dairy can be bad.

  • Its worth getting here teeth checked out, even if extraction is probably not an option on a dog on her last legs. Dogs tend to be stoic and not show it, but our elderly terrier eats a lot worse when he has dental issues – Journeyman Geek Jun 4 at 0:33
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I experienced the same problem with an old dog of mine. I feel your pain and it's very sad to feel so helpless.

The thing that worked for us was changing to canned food (she only ever got dry food before getting this old). We bought only 1 - 2 cans of the same brand / flavor and switched flavors after each can (which at that time lasted 3 days).

  • With age the senses fail more and more. I'm sure you already heard that we can only taste 5 basic flavors and all the rest is our nose tricking us into tasting aromas / smell. Canned food has a stronger smell than dry food, so our dog found it more appealing.
  • I guess canned food is softer and easier to digest as well. At least most canned foods have a higher meat content than cheap dry foods, which is better for your dog.
  • We had to store the open can in the fridge during summer time. Make sure you let the individual serving get back to room temperature before feeding her. Cold food smells less, can cause stomach aches and put her off eating even more. You can microwave it for a few seconds, then thoroughly stir it before serving (if you don't mind your microwave smelling of dog food).

Another aspect is that old dogs aren't as active anymore and therefore need less nutrition. As long as you cannot feel her individual vertebrae, she is still fine.

Other ideas that hopefully help you:

  • Mix half a portion of dry food with a little bit of water and half a portion of wet food. By changing the flavors of the canned food, you can trick her into eating her regular dry food.
  • There are "dog gravy" and "dog sausages" (about as thick as an arm and the consistency of canned food, but meant as a treat) that you can mix with her regular food to make it more appealing.
  • If there's a butcher around, ask them for waste parts they cannot sell for human consumption. Cook those bits without any spices to make them easier digestable.
  • You could make a bone broth and mix it with her food. It's very healthy and contains a whole lot of nutrients, but is a lot of effort to cook. Put big marrow bones into a pot, barely cover with water (don't add any spices) and let it simmer for 4 hours. Some people claim it needs to simmer for up to 24 hours, but after 4 hours most of the nutrients already dissolved into the broth.
  • Most dogs, especially working breeds like border collie, enjoy pleasing you. You can use this by doing very simple obedience training several times throughout the day and very generously rewarding her with food. The goal of these "trainings" is not to actually train her, but to get her into a positive mood and eating more than she would normally do. I advise against too much physical activity during those trainings because she might refuse eating when she needs to pant too much.
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    Thanks. I'm afraid we can easily feel her vertebrae. She is literally skin and bones. She often has difficulty getting up in the AM, but after that she moves pretty well and even enjoys chasing the ball a little. 20% weight loss is probably an understatement at this point. The only comfort is that we may not face the dilemma of "is she in pain, is it time to put her down". We fully expect to look down at her bed one morning and she is simply not breathing. But maybe it won't be that easy. – RustyShackleford Jun 3 at 16:26
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    I digress. Thanks for suggestions. Wife has tried most, but there are definitely some add'l ideas here. Wife has roasted chickens for her and given her the skin and stuff we don't eat. Hand-made food from ground turkey and carrots. Hand-fed her ChipsAhoy. We'll try some of your ideas. Thanks again. – RustyShackleford Jun 3 at 16:28
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Our old dog ( 5 lb) with no teeth and no appetite likes yogurt mixed with sour creme and half and half. I mix up several ounces at a time and keep it in the refrigerator. I have added crushed cookies. I have recently added small bits of canned dog food . She eats better now than a month ago.

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  • We thought about ice cream, but googled that milk-type dairy (as opposed to yogurt etc) would cause digestive upset. – RustyShackleford Jun 4 at 0:27
  • The vet suggested yogurt . Actually it has been about 3 months ,no problems. – blacksmith37 Jun 5 at 0:10

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