Appetite Stimulants for Dogs

Sarah Wooten, DVM
By Sarah Wooten, DVM. Reviewed by Veronica Higgs, DVM on Jan. 24, 2024
black and white border collie lying on the floor

A change in a dog’s eating habits is a clue that something isn’t right. When a dog refuses to eat out of the blue, he may be 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, parasites such as intestinal roundworms, infectious disease such as influenza, cognitive dysfunction, and more.

When your dog isn’t eating, visit your veterinarian for an exam. Determining the underlying reason your pet is not eating is an important step in improving their appetite. However, depending on the cause and treatment plan, your vet may recommend an appetite stimulant to help support your dog on the road to recovery. 

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What Are Appetite Stimulants for Dogs?

Appetite stimulants are as they sound—things that stimulant the appetite. This is typically medication or techniques used to help encourage your dog to eat more or feel hungry.

Treating the underlying cause of the pet’s anorexia is crucial, and appetite stimulants may be a part of that treatment plan.

When Do Dogs Need Appetite Stimulants?

Appetite stimulants may be used 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 or surgery and needs appetite support

5 Appetite Stimulants for Dogs That Veterinarians Recommend

1. Boiled Chicken or Other Special Treats

One way to help stimulate appetite is to entice your dog to eat by offering his favorite treats, making a special snack like boiled chicken, or warming up his food.

For a sick or geriatric dog that’s picky about eating, one of the easiest (and most affordable) options to try is tempting him to eat chicken. When giving your dog chicken, make sure it’s plain (with no seasonings or spices), skinless, and boneless.

Chicken and other food toppers can often be added to a dog’s food to help him gobble it up. Switching from dry kibble to canned food can also often be an easy way to improve your dog’s appetite.

Other easy strategies to try to increase your dog’s appetite include hand-feeding to coax him to eat and microwaving the food to warm it up, which can make it smell more appetizing.

However, use extreme caution when warming food in the microwave, as it can quickly become too hot or have pockets of extreme heat. Heat it in short, seconds-long bursts and always check it with your hand before feeding to your furry friend.

2. 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 as 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.

3. Mirtazapine

When decreased appetite is secondary to a medical condition, your veterinarian may recommend medication to help. Mirtazapine is a common drug prescribed to dogs that have a decreased appetite due to conditions that make them feel queasy (such as kidney disease or cancer) or medications (such as chemotherapy).

Mirtazapine was initially developed as an antidepressant in humans.  However, it was found that weight gain and increased appetite were side effects, which is why it is often used in dogs as an appetite stimulant.

4. Maropitant (Cerenia®)

Maropitant (Cerenia®) is not technically an appetite stimulant, but it’s an anti-nausea medication and, as such, may help improve a dog’s appetite. 

Often, dogs that won’t eat are feeling nauseous even if they do not actually vomit. Antinausea medications can be useful to help them eat more consistently. Other antinausea medications your vet may recommend include ondansetron and meclizine.

5. Entyce® (Capromorelin)

Entyce® is a ghrelin receptor agonist, meaning it increases the production of growth hormone signaling to the brain to stimulate the appetite. This makes the dog feel hungry.

Can CBD Help a Dog’s Appetite?

Talk to your veterinarian for guidance before giving your dog CBD to help with appetite. According to The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), there’s not enough scientific evidence to suggest that CBD can help dogs. There are likely better appetite stimulants for your dog than CBD.

When To See a Veterinarian

It’s stressful when your dog won’t eat. Anorexia can occur for a variety of reasons—sometimes a dog is just a picky eater, but other times he may have a serious medical concern.

In general, if your otherwise-healthy adult dog hasn’t eaten for more than two days, reach out to your vet. If he’s experiencing other symptoms in addition to not eating (such as vomiting, lethargy, or diarrhea), contact your vet right away.

Likewise, if your dog is young, old, or has known medical conditions such as diabetes, missing even one meal can be significant and you should contact your vet to discuss what’s going on.

Your veterinarian may want to see your pet for a physical examination to check for any obvious underlying causes, such as dental disease or abdominal pain. They then may want to run some diagnostics such as blood work or X-rays to get a better idea of the issue and how to treat it. Part of that treatment plan may include appetite stimulants.

Featured Image: Elayne Massaini/iStock / Getty Images Plus via Getty Images


Sarah Wooten, DVM

WRITTEN BY

Sarah Wooten, DVM

Veterinarian

Dr. Sarah Wooten graduated from UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine in 2002. A member of the American Society of Veterinary Journalists,...


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