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Thursday, 5 March 2009

Poor eater

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


  1. Hello Wendy
    sounds like you have a very sensitive boy there! I work with animals using essential oils and herbs as their medicine and we know through our work and the work of many scientists that the sense of smell is extremely important for most animals, to recognise what is good for them and what isn't(and your boy is very clearly using this to tell you which foods are good for him and which aren't). I appreciate what you're saying about having tried everything food wise, so please forgive me for asking if you have tried a raw diet with him?If not, I'd suggest that you do, just to see how he responds.
    Also if I were to see him in a professional capacity, one of the remedies I would try is peppermint herb, which may help to relax the stomach muscles, so I'd say for now, how about you making a cup of peppermint tea, allowing it to cool, and putting it in a bowl to see if he's interested in sniffing/ drinking it?If he likes it, I'd say just make sure every day that there is a bowl of peppermint tea available next to his bowl of water that he can choose to drink if he wants (no harm will come to him or the others). I would also be seeing if he'd have something like Barley grass/ wheat grass/ spirulina/aloe vera, all of which are full of nutrients to keep his system as well as possible in this cruicial time of development of his adult body.
    Also all animals are very sensitive to the emotions of those around them, so if possible you need to stay as relaxed as you can at his meal times, or he may pick up your (understandable) anxiety about him eating, which may actually put him off eating little Jack Russell Lulu has been off her food a bit recently and I have had to just put her food down in whichever room she's in, and leave her, crossing my fingers that she will eat, rather than watching her....this seems to be working and she's back to asking me for food at meal times and eating in her old usual place...not quite sure what started her strange behaviour, but glad that we seem to be turning a corner.
    I do hope that you can find something that he will eat , and that all gets resolved soon!

    best wishes

  2. Thank you for your comments. SOMETIMES he will eat raw food - but not chicken! We do just put his dish down, without fuss, and amble off (viewing secretly from afar).This week he devoloped a taste for raw mince which lasted 2 days!I have everything in my fridge/freezer! He will sometimes eat a Bonio biscuit but you know even with these he has to SMELL everything so thoroughly! The peppermint tea went down like a lead balloon I'm sorry to say. But thank you for trying. Wendy

  3. Have now discovered he will eat FATTY things - Breast of lamb but not diced lean lamb. Toast with lots of butter but not without etc.Wendy

  4. Some years ago we had the same problem with a rescued English Setter.

    Like yourself we had all the blood tests etc and all came back AOK!

    Sam was loosing weight and yet he still refused to eat. He would have a good sniff at the food but walk away. Again as with yourself we tried everything.

    Sometimes he would let us hand feed him (ASDA soft white buns with margarine on) other times he refused them point blank.

    His poor tummy was shrinking - and Sam was getting used to not eating - he did not seem bothered at all about food!

    It is also important not to make food an issue when your dog is being like this (as hard as it might be) try to not show your anxiety - or follow them around with food trying to tempt them.

    We tried the Vitamin B1 (no joy) some foul smelling tonic (used in the horse world) prescribed by the Vet (no luck).

    Along with the Vet we came to the conclusion that the answer was in Sam's head (but we did not have very long to get him eating) he was still loosing weight.

    I would make him drinks with glucose in - to try and keep his energy up. He would not drink milk!

    One night out of desperation I cooked some diced lamb. Whilst the lamb was still warm - I placed it down on the floor - and walked away.

    On smelling the lamb Sam got up off his bed and went to investigate. I kept well out of the way.

    From a distance I saw him sniff and pick up a portion. Over the next few minutes he ate the lot. He then went back to his bed. I never said a word.

    The next day I did the same but added some crumbed bread - once again he ate the lot.

    It took us several weeks changing the lamb for chicken (of which he had previously turned his nose up at). In all of this time I just left him to it - and said nothing.

    Some times we did get set backs because of the diet he was on, he did get a poorly tummy at times - but he would still not eat proper meals at this stage.

    Gradually his appetite expanded and he started to (could not believe it) bark for his food - and the diet then changed to a correct diet.

    He began to fill out and lost that gaunt look.

    One meal time he was so impatient he stuck his head into the almost empty biscuit sack, and went running aroung the kitchen wearing it..

    I know how both upsetting and frustrating it is when your dog will not eat.

    I hope things improve for you.

  5. Just to let you all know that Rex has improved a little. We believe he will always lack interest in food but as long as we get something inside him each day we try not to make an issue about it. Rex enjoys a minimum of two good walks each day and loves coming away in the motorhome. He seems to eat some chosen morsel for a couple of days and then go off it but we persevere! Royal Canin SENSIBLE tiny tiny kibble has proved interesting as he will eat approx two small palmfuls a day - but not the larger kibble. Hey ho I don't care as long as it goes down! This week he has managed stewing steak (cooked - won't entertain it raw) 3 days in a row and then a whole slab of Turkey Naturediet the next day. Today food is not on his agenda - just that superior 'eat? what me? not on your life look!' I guess he just wants to be a doggy supermodel!!!!

  6. I also have an anorexic dog and know how frustrating it can be. Mine also gets colitis! He has buscapan when he needs it and Brewers yeast every day (2 tablets x 2 wrapped in cheap ham) I am able to leave his food down all day and he eats a mouthful now and then. I don't stress about keeping to the rule of always feeding the same thing everyday as I found that my dog would happily go almost 2 weeks without eating! I feed a premium quality complete as the main of the diet, soaked to make the gravy smell and add meat, today it's fresh fish! Somedays I miss the kibble altogether and just give a little meat. After 15 years I still don't get an empty bowl.

  7. Thank you all for your comments. Thought I would give you a brief update. Firstly let me assure all of you that I talk to the vets in my veterianary practice REGULARLY! Lamb is still favourite with Rex and we have had him on Antepsin, Zitac and Metronidazole! Just swapped the Metronidazole for Salazopyrin but have had to use the Buscopan (which is a life saver) more now so we are back for a review next week. Rex came to us, as a puppy, with Campylobactor and was a poorly lad for a long time so heaven knows what lasting damage that caused. He clearly suffers after eating [tummy shrinks and goes hard] so not suprising he is wary, it's very sad. He is 2 years old now and has a glossy coat, bright eyes, fab teeth, clean ears etc but although strong, is a thin lad. A previous post suggested Addisones - trust me as a long standing Std Poodle owner that test was top of my list! All our dogs are insured so cost has never been an issue there just seems so little info available for this type of problem.