6 Appetite Stimulants for Dogs

By Sarah Wooten, DVM

A change in a dog’s eating habits, either up or down, is a clue that something is not right with your dog. When a dog refuses to eat out of the blue, he is telling you that he doesn’t feel well, either physically, mentally, or emotionally. There are many things that affect a dog’s appetite, such as dental disease, undiagnosed pain, stress and anxiety, upset stomach, infectious disease such as worms or influenza, or cognitive dysfunction.

In humans, we know that taste decreases with age, and humans on cancer treatment say that nothing tastes good. The same may be true for our canine companions. When your dog doesn’t eat, it is important to visit your veterinarian to figure out what isn’t right, and fix it. If it is going to take some time to resolve the underlying issue, then an appetite stimulant may be indicated to support your dog on the road to recovery.

When Can Appetite Stimulants Help My Dog?

Appetite stimulants are indicated when a dog refuses to eat long enough that it impacts his health, consistently does not consume enough calories to support a healthy weight, is on a medication (such as chemotherapy) that decreases appetite, is recovering from an illness and needs appetite support, or to help a dog eat a new diet. Dogs with kidney disease, for example, can have underactive appetites that lead to weight loss, or may not want to eat their therapeutic kidney diet. An appetite stimulant can help in this case to get the dog the nutritional support that he needs. There are several options that your veterinarian can suggest, including pharmaceutical, natural, and holistic options.

Ways to Stimulate Your Dog’s Appetite

Rotisserie Chicken

For a sick, debilitated, or geriatric dog who is picky about eating, one of the easiest (and cheapest) options to try is tempting him to eat rotisserie chicken. We all know how good rotisserie chicken smells in the grocery store when we walk by—and it smells even better to dogs. Even the pickiest eater will often gobble up his food if you doctor it up with a little white meat from a rotisserie chicken. Do not give dogs the bones or skin from a rotisserie chicken, and if they are instructed to eat a low-fat diet, only feed the white meat portions. Other easy strategies to try to increase appetite include hand-feeding and microwaving the food to warm it up.

Acupuncture

Acupuncture, while it cannot cure a condition, is known to reduce pain, inflammation, and nausea. Dogs with decreased appetites due to medical conditions such a diabetes, kidney or liver failure, inflammation of the pancreas, or hormonal conditions, such as Addison’s disease, are known to benefit and have an increase in appetite after acupuncture sessions.

Mirtazapine

When natural options stop working, it is time for pharmaceutical intervention. Mirtazapine is a common drug that is prescribed to dogs who have a decreased appetite due to other conditions that make them feel queasy, such as kidney disease or cancer, or medications such as chemotherapy. Mirtazapine acts on the central nervous system and increases serotonin levels, so it is important that it is not given to dogs who are on SSRIs (selective seratonin reuptake inhibitors).

Meclizine

Meclizine can help with appetite in some dogs. Meclizine is an antihistamine that is known to reduce nausea due to vertigo. If your dog is not eating due to nausea, there are several other medications available, such as maropitant, a common drug available through your local veterinarian.

Ghrelin Receptor Agonist

There is a new medication on the market for dogs that mimics the effect of ghrelin, which is the hormone that makes a dog or a person feel hungry. The medication binds to ghrelin receptors and signals the brain to cause the dog to feel hungry.

CBD Products

Finally, for those of you living in states where it is legal, CBD (cannabidiol) products manufactured for pets are exploding onto the veterinary scene. The benefits include reduction of pain and increase in appetite. It is important to note that CBD from hemp is not THC, and marijuana is toxic to pets. Ask your veterinarian for product recommendations.

It is important to note that these suggestions do not replace medical advice. If your dog is not eating and you have not seen your veterinarian, you should make an appointment to rule out serious underlying health issues that are causing your dog not to eat.

3 Remedies for Upset Stomach in Dogs

Katherine Smith, DVM, CVA, CVSMT

 

 When you have an upset stomach, you probably reach for ginger ale or crackers to settle your tummy. But what should you do when your dog’s stomach is out of sorts?

Here’s some information about the causes and symptoms of upset stomach in dogs and tips for how to make your pup feel better with natural remedies. 

Common Causes of Upset Stomach in Dogs

There are many reasons your dog may have an upset stomach, though there’s one common cause: they ate something they shouldn’t have, says Kathy Backus, DVM, at Holistic Veterinary Services in Kaysville, Utah.

“Dogs are curious like kids; they’re always putting things in their mouth,” she says. “Vomiting and diarrhea are signs that a dog’s body is trying to expel something that shouldn’t be in their system. In a healthy dog, it’s a protective mechanism of the body that’s totally normal.”

These are a few (of many) things that can trigger an upset stomach in dogs:

  • Ingesting something that they shouldn’t
  • Bacterial imbalances within the digestive tract
  • Chronic conditions such as food sensitivities

Symptoms of Upset Stomach in Dogs

The most common signs of upset stomach in dogs are diarrhea and vomiting. If your dog is nauseous, you may also see him eat grass to soothe his stomach or try to induce vomiting, says Jody Bearman, DVM at Anshen Veterinary Acupuncture, Madison, Wisconsin.

Watch for other signs of upset stomach in dogs, such as:

  • Decreased appetite or loss of appetite
  • Fatigue
  • Drinking less water
  • Seeming depressed
  • Looking uncomfortable and stretching more often (like they are attempting a downward dog)
  • Gulping to combat reflux
  • Licking their lips, the air, or objects

When to Call Your Vet

Monitor your pup’s symptoms. If your dog is consistently uncomfortable, or if the signs worsen at any point, call your veterinarian.

Watch for these signs:

  • Increasing discomfort
  • Vomiting or having an episode of diarrhea more than twice
  • Blood in their vomit or stool
  • Toy or other foreign object in their vomit or stool
  • Weakness or collapse

These can all be signs of something more serious, including pancreatitis, stomach bloating, a severe allergic reaction, or internal parasites.

If you realize that your dog has eaten something he shouldn’t have—a plant, food, toy, or chemical—you should seek immediate veterinary care.

If your primary veterinarian is unavailable, call your local emergency veterinary hospital. They will be able to advise whether your pet needs to be seen or whether you can continue to monitor him at home.

You can also call the ASPCA Animal Poison Control hotline at 888-426-4435 for a fee. They can also determine a poison’s level of toxicity and recommended care for your dog.

3 Remedies for Upset Stomach in Dogs

It is crucial to consult with your veterinarian before administering any home remedies to soothe your pup’s tummy troubles. If your veterinarian recommends at-home monitoring, these are a few ideas you can ask them about trying while you are at home with your dog.

Fasting

When your dog’s stomach is trying to get rid of something, it can be helpful to stop putting more things in their stomach for 12-24 hours, Dr. Backus says. “If the gastrointestinal (GI) system is having a tough time, you don’t want it to digest things.” 

Fasting may seem simple enough, but it’s important to speak with your veterinarian first because some dogs (particularly small breeds or those with prior health conditions) cannot tolerate fasting as well as others.

If your veterinarian does recommend fasting, ask whether they would like you to start a bland diet (and what they recommend) after the fasting period is complete.

Ice Cubes

When your dog is vomiting or has diarrhea, you want them to stay hydrated, but giving him too much water may make his stomach even more upset, Dr. Backus says.

Monitoring your dog’s water intake and discouraging gulping is important. Offer your dog ice chips to help encourage drinking.

If your dog can keep down small quantities of water or ice chips, you can gradually increase the amount and how often you are offering the water and ice.

Canned Pumpkin

When fighting indigestion and upset stomach in dogs, 100% canned pumpkin is a favorite of many holistic veterinarians.

“It has a low glycemic index, so it slowly absorbs, which helps with upset stomach and digestion,” Dr. Bearman says.

Make sure to get 100% canned pumpkin, not pumpkin pie mix, as you don’t want to feed your dog spices and other ingredients, she says. Check that there are no ingredients listed other than pumpkin (such as sugar or sugar substitutes).

According to Dr. Bearman, smaller dogs (approximately 5 pounds) can be fed one-half teaspoon of canned pumpkin, while larger dogs (approximately 75 pounds) can be fed 1 tablespoon.

Is Upset Stomach in Dogs a Sign of Food Allergies?

An upset stomach every once in a while can be normal in a dog, but if it happens often, it could signal that something is wrong in their GI tract, says Randy Aronson, DVM, of P.A.W.S. Veterinary Center in Tucson, Arizona.

If digestive upset is a frequent occurrence for your dog, discuss the possibility of a food allergy with your veterinarian. When food allergies are diagnosed in dogs, it is often an allergy to a protein source, which is why a more “novel” protein (one that your dog has never eaten) may be recommended.

There are many options on the market, but examples may include beef, buffalo, venison, or lamb.

How to Help Prevent Upset Stomach in Dogs

To help your dog maintain a healthy gut, consider giving them a prebiotic and probiotic, Dr. Aronson says. There are both prebiotics and probiotics that are made specifically for dogs, some of which are available over the counter. Be sure to ask your veterinarian if they have a particular brand recommendation.

Always talk to your veterinarian first to find out the best course of action.