Our Standard Poodle is 21 months old. He is a calm, sweet natured lad but has always been a very poor eater and seems to have a very sensitive sense of smell. He really sniffs every morsel! We have tried EVERY food, and combination of food, known to man (so please don't go there!) and had blood tests, x-rays, ultrasound scan and urine tests. Sometimes his tummy is very
'tight'. My vet suggested Buscopan (last resort) to see if it made a difference - not for long term use - and it does seem to help a bit although it's early days.
Is there anything I can do to stimulate his appetite more? I know there are tablets for cats but apparently not for dogs. What about the homeopathic route? (We have 2 other dogs who would eat for England......and beyond, so cannot leave food down.)
Wendy Peacock, by email
We lay great store on seeing empty plates after serving a meal to the family, and the same applies to dog bowls. Finishing a portion of food is perceived to be a sign of health, and your dog has been given a clean bill of health by your vet after various investigations.
I wonder what your dog’s waistline is like? Can you see his ribs? Does he look well or under-nourished? I often have owners tell me that their dog eats very little, yet bodyweight is stable and the body condition (how that weight is being carried) is good, ie the dog does not look thin. Some individuals simply do not need the quantity of food recommended – the rate at which their body works is slower than might be expected, especially after neutering.
That leaves two possibilities. One is indicated by your question ‘Is there anything I can do to stimulate his appetite more?’ We all have different kinds of appetites for food. Small dogs seem to favour the grazing approach, viewing every piece of food with suspicion, whereas the Labrador sees the need to polish off a bowl of food, whatever it might be! Although your dog is a standard poodle, it may be that his appetite is more like that of a small dog and he simply will not naturally eat with gusto as you might expect.
I do feel, however, that exercise plays an enormous part; after all, logically if one is burning off energy then there will be a consequent increase in hunger and the urge to tuck into a bowl of food. You describe your standard poodle as being calm - I wonder whether that means he is a bit of a couch potato! I would therefore make sure he is on a good plane of exercise, not necessarily a route march every day but two or three walks of twenty or thirty minutes.
Appetite varies between individuals, and the sight of a full bowl of food can over-face a dog, or human, with a poor appetite. Instead, try splitting the daily ration into two or three smaller meals.
There is also the question of titbits. Is your dog eating between meals? Sounds silly, but I often catch myself telling my children (now 12 and 14 years old so fairly sensible) not to spoil their appetites before supper by snacking (on fruit, I hasten to add). It can be easy to fall into the trap of feeling pleased to see a finicky eater having a biscuit or other titbit because he did not eat his meal an hour earlier, when in fact this could be taking the edge of his appetite before his next scheduled meal, as well as unbalancing his diet.
If a dog really will not eat individual meals, then encouraging grazing is a stand-by solution except that, in your case, you cannot leave food down because of the other dogs. I often advise owners to use nuggets from the daily ration as titbits when trying to instigate weight loss if they cannot break the titbit habit, so that there is no net increase in energy eaten. For your dog, this could be a way to ensure he eats his allotted portion over the day but it could also reinforce the problem with eating meals.
There is also the possibility of this being a behavioural problem. Food is often used as a manipulative tool by children and adults, and I feel it can be a way for dogs to exert dominance over their owners. I will be interested to hear what a behaviourist thinks.
Alison Logan, vet
Owners are very often concerned about their dog’s eating habits, but as long as the dog isn’t excessively thin or losing weight there is probably little to worry about. Some dogs are just not as interested in food as others. This may be due to breed related differences of priority; Labradors are notoriously greedy, but Collies are more interested in running around. It may be that they experienced pain after eating when they were young, or had a series of gastrointestinal upsets that made them wary of food. Trying to overcome a lack of appetite by offering different kinds of food will often make the situation worse, as the dog learns to hold off eating in order to get attention or better quality food. This is probably not the situation with your dog, but it is worth mentioning as a warning to others.
If you are concerned that your dog is ill, or he is losing weight, there may still be some more obscure problems that are worth investigating. One is a condition called Addison’s disease. This can cause weight loss and loss of appetite, but it is not picked up on routine blood tests. Dogs with Addison’s may experience pain after eating, which makes them wary of what they eat. Another issue is food intolerance or allergy; he may get abdominal pain after eating because he cannot digest his food or he is having an immune response to it.
Buscopan works by reducing intestinal cramp; it isn’t an appetite stimulant. Buscopan would not affect appetite in a normal dog. If this drug helps your dog it implies that he has some ongoing abdominal discomfort that needs to be investigated and sorted out.
I suggest that you review the situation with your vet and consider asking for a referral to a specialist for further investigation. There is no point giving an appetite stimulant unless you are sure that the dog is genuinely healthy; the drug will only work temporarily and you could make your dog ill.
Jon Bowen, behaviourist