Refusal to eat prescription food

Veterinary diets work, but they may lack palatability 

Chronic diseases such as kidney disease, diabetes, skin issues and urinary stones may be managed through prescription dog foods. Prescriptions are important because these foods are made to combat specific illnesses, and nutrition can be a powerful healthcare tool. 

Even nutrition-savvy owners might not recognize all the ingredients. And they can be expensive. But — and this is what matters most — they can help you get control of a chronic illness. So, they’re worth a good old college try. 

Your next obstacle is often your dog, who might look at the food, then you, sending a clear message that says, “I’m not eating this stuff.” These ingredients are not always tasty. But don’t give up right away. We have ways to convince your dog to still eat prescription food. 

Switch brands

Years ago, choices were limited; but today, several manufacturers make acceptable prescription formulas, and most offer a money-back guarantee. If your veterinarian only carries one brand, and your dog turns up their nose, then return the food to the clinic or manufacturer and request a prescription from your veterinarian for another brand of that prescription diet. Many online retailers carry prescription foods — often in a bigger variety than your local veterinary clinic. 

Plus, if for example, your diabetic dog is struggling with weight loss, there might be multiple prescription formulas that fit their needs. Even if two prescription diet types have the same flavor, one formulation may be actually more appealing to your dog than the other (such as Hill’s w/d, r/d, or Metabolic). 

Try canned 

We’re pretty hard-wired into choosing kibble, but for most picky eaters, canned food is more palatable due to the stronger odor and meatier flavor. 

“Many prescription canned foods come in multiple textures, with both a smooth pate and a chunkier stew with bits of meat and vegetables in gravy,” says Kate Basedow '13, a licensed veterinary technician. Some dogs greatly prefer one texture over the other.

Wet foods are especially beneficial for dogs with kidney disease or urinary issues, and for dogs with a tendency to become constipated on dry food. “The downside to canned food is that the increased water content makes it less calorie-dense, meaning that large dogs need a lot of it,” says Basedow. 

Some dogs might need as much as five 12-ounce cans a day to meet their calorie needs. You can offset the increased cost by mixing canned and dry prescription food — using the dry food for the calories and the canned food for increased palatability.


In many prescription diets, you have at least two choices in flavors, such as chicken or lamb. We don’t need to tell you to try the other. 

But you may not realize that the chicken dry and the chicken wet may taste just different enough that your dog accepts one of them. If they need canned but won’t eat it, you can always add water to soften the kibble.

Add water and heat it up

“To increase the natural aroma of the food and tempt your dog to eat, add some water and let it soak in. Hot or warm water is even better, or you can pop the moistened kibbles in the microwave for a few seconds to warm it up and bring out the scent even more,” says Basedow. 

Canned food can also be warmed up in the microwave or mixed with some extra water for increased scent. Test food with your finger to make sure it isn’t too hot for your dog’s delicate tongue.

Make mealtimes fun 

Our dogs love to work with us, and melding mealtime with playtime or training time can make you dog more enthusiastic about eating. 

“Working for their food increases its value,” says Basedow. “If you act like the prescription food is something special that your dog has to earn, they will be more interested and get into it. Start by asking them to sit or do an easy trick, then make a big deal of praising him and offer a single kibble as a reward. Do this a couple times, then start increasing the amount of kibbles each time. Often once they have eaten a couple mouthfuls, their appetite is stimulated, and they will then finish the bowl.” 

For canned food, you can offer a little bit of food on a spoon as the reward. 

Puzzle toys are another option that some dogs love. Food that is hidden in a funky contraption must be tasty, right? Pour kibble into a rolling ball or stuff a hollow toy with canned food and let the games begin. 

Don't give up

If none of these options work, ask your veterinarian to help you formulate a home-cooked diet for your dog or see if they can recommend a veterinary nutritionist who can do that. 

In addition, your veterinarian may prescribe an appetite stimulant like capromorelin oral solution (Entyce) to trigger your dog’s appetite. These medications are intended for short-term use but can be very effective for jump-starting your dog’s recovery. 

This article has been reprinted with permission from the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine’s DogWatch newsletter, published by Belvoir Media Group. When you become a member of the Riney Canine Health Center, you will receive a free subscription to DogWatch.