Like sick people, sick dogs often don’t feel like eating. A therapy such as chemotherapy may be making them nauseated, for example, or they’re just too weak for their appetites to kick in. It’s a particularly vexing problem because a very sick dog needs his food to keep up his strength as he fights the disease.

Try the following if your old friend becomes sick and has lost his lust for eating.

•Keep dry dog food in a treat jar rather than its original package, and feed your dog from there. Dogs often feel treats are “better” than their regular food, because it’s not really about the taste of the food. It’s that the dog’s owner is treating him special by going outside the daily routine to make things nice.

•Feed your friend on one of your own dinner plates. Chloe, a shy Greater Swiss mountain dog we fell in love with, ate significantly more when her victuals were served to her on the china from which her family ate. (It’s very important for dogs to feel they’re part of the pack.)

•When you eat, keep the dog’s bowl or plate of food next to you on the table.
As soon as you finish, give the dog his meal. We have found that nine times out of ten, the dog will eat when he has been refusing food before. (But once you start this routine, you can’t go back to feeding your dog the old way—it’ll be too hard to retrain him. That’s why you should save this trick for a serious medical condition.)


If a grave medical situation arises, with or without a change in weight, significant dietary modifications will often be required as an adjunctive therapy to other medical interventions, either to help change the course of the dog’s disease or to at least slow its progression and improve quality of life.

This is not the time to switch to a diet off the Internet or on a friend’s recommendation out of desperation. In such cases, a veterinarian must be involved to ensure that nutrition is an integral part of your dog’s medical care. One reason is that if a dog has a serious illness, the levels of nutrients he will need more of—or less of—often won’t be found on store shelves or, for that matter, in your pantry.

He may have to follow a therapeutic diet that is specifically designed with his condition in mind and is available only at the doctor’s office. It is as if the food he eats becomes prescription medicine.