Our previous piece offered a few tips for trying to nourish a pet with a failing appetite. Utilize all the old cues your pet would traditionally experience at mealtime, taking advantage of every subtle sound and smell to make the experience seem familiar and open the door to hunger. Recall how your own appetite surges when you glance at the sign of your favorite restaurant or hear the clink of silverware.

When preparing meals for your pet, pay close attention to her likes and dislikes. Her appetite is like yours: when you’re ravenous, you can eat and enjoy almost anything. When your appetite is unwell, every little flaw in the food is a big turnoff. If she only likes a certain brand of food, get it. If she only eats the white meat, do it. If she needs a drop of gravy on it, drip it. But check with the veterinarian first, to ensure that your gourmet touches aren’t going to worsen the preexisting illness. A patient with kidney or liver disease might gobble down meat, but that would make her feel worse in pretty short order. Pets who suffer from pancreatitis may be tempted by higher-fat foods, but this sort of indiscretion could cause irreversible damage. Under your vet’s guidance, however, be creative. Experiment with different brands, flavors and mixtures. Food that smells more is often more appealing to dogs and cats. Add a tablespoon of juice from a can of chicken, a teaspoon of yogurt, or another type of food that your pet was always trying to steal when she was well. Consult your veterinarian first!

On the other hand, food is generally not significantly changed by warming, adding water, or blenderizing, so you can usually feel free to doctor it up in those ways. When warming food, make absolutely sure that you’ve mashed out any unpredictable hot spots. These come from microwave heating and can cause painful, memorable burns in an unsuspecting pet.

Now, at some point, heating and thinning and adjusting the flavor with approved foods might fail. Don’t wait too late to ask your doctor about medical approaches to appetite. Aside from treatments used for nausea and heartburn, there are a couple of compounds that seem to affect the hunger center itself. Like every other pharmaceutical, these can have side effects, so discuss the topic thoroughly with your doctor. In some cases, a feeding tube might be appropriate.

What if your pet still won’t eat? When all other options have been exhausted, most vets will agree that it’s better for the patient to eat something bad for her than nothing at all. It might eventually become necessary to throw that doctor-recommended diet out the window. This decision can have very serious consequences: it’s meant to improve quality of life for a starving pet but usually comes at the cost of shortening the remaining days. Use a light touch when adding unapproved foods to the diet, and always keep your doctor in the loop with what you’re doing.

Dr. M. S. Regan