I think most of us at one time or another have faced the issue of their dog refusing to eat. There are many reasons a dog will turn their nose up at their food dish.
The first one that comes to mind is when we adopted Bailey. We got her from a couple that could no longer care for her and when I picked her up all the lady gave me was a bag of hideous doggy outfits and some chicken jerky that immediately went in the garbage. I didn’t think much about it at the time. I took Bailey home, introduced her to our cats and let her get acquainted to her new surroundings. As the day went on it occurred to me that I had no idea what this little dog ate. Later that day, I got a call from her previous owner who wanted to see how she was adjusting. While we were on the phone I asked what kind of food Bailey ate. I was appalled to hear this woman tell me that they always had a hard time getting her to eat dog food so they just fed her whatever they were eating when they ate. Really???? I thanked her, assured her that Bailey was doing well and quickly ended the call. Needless to say my first thought was, “Well, no wonder she wouldn’t eat dog food when she had access to table scraps!”
So, here became the first challenge with our new little family member. That night I tried to feed her the high quality dog food that our previous dog ate. She was having none of it! The next day we went to the vet to have her checked out (something we always do with a new pet) and while we were there I explained the situation. Our vet told me to try different canned foods, gradually mix in dry food, over time reduced the amount of canned food and increase the dry. If that didn’t work we were going to have to start cooking her meals since she was used to human food. The veterinarian emailed me a few recipes that night. I was not looking forward to having to cook for Bailey but I was willing to do whatever it took to get her to eat. So, we started with the canned food idea. It’s been many years but I don’t recall her being too impressed with the food that looked the closest to human food but she seemed to be interested in the pate’ variety. Still getting her to eat in those early days was a chore. Since she didn’t seem to want to eat alone, we would feed her in whichever room we happened to be in at the time. This led her to getting breakfast in our bedroom (sometimes even in bed) and dinner in the family room. A practice we continue to this day. It took a lot of time but eventually we had success! Now she will eat anything you put in front of her!
Another reason a dog won’t eat is that they are ill. There are signs you can look for to see if this is the case. The biggie is energy level. If your dog is not eating and seems less active than normal or lethargic to you then it’s time for a trip to the vet. The one thing that always raises a red flag for me when one of our dogs is refusing to eat is when they also refuse “jackpot” treats. These are the treats that they will do just about anything to get. In our house, if somebody refuses a piece of meat (chicken, steak, etc.) we know something is up. We can also be pretty sure something is up if they turn their nose up at cauliflower (both of my dogs are nuts for cauliflower). Sometimes it’s simply a case of an upset tummy and a few meals of chicken and rice will do the trick but in my book it’s better to be safe than sorry.
A less common reason was brought to my attention a few weeks ago when someone in a Facebook group I belong to shared about how their puppy mill survivor was refusing to eat. The dog was on medication and quickly learned that they were hiding pills in his food and his treats so he just stopped eating. The owner relayed that he was now afraid of her anytime she tried to feed him. They had already found another way to get his medication into him but were very worried that he still wasn’t eating. So many people at this point would say, “Well, he’ll eat when he’s hungry.” Depending on the dog this may be true but when you are dealing with a dog who has a lifetime history of abuse and neglect, not to mention other health concerns you can’t just wait for them to get hungry and see if they will eat. Puppy mill survivors rarely trust humans and it takes a lot of time to build that trust once they are in a loving home, so she was terrified that they had set him way back in his progress. I gave her a couple of options to try.
First, have someone else in the home feed him. If she was the one giving him his medication then maybe having her husband feed him for a while would build up the trust again. Especially if he is associating her with getting a pill. I also told her to try cooking up some chicken and rice with some other yummy goodies like homemade gravy to drizzle over the food.
Again, there are many reasons a dog might refuse their food so it’s up to us to pay attention to the signs. Sometimes you have to become a bit of a “doggy detective” to figure it out. It never hurts to reach out and ask for advice either.
Learn more about puppy mill dogs at National Mill Dog Rescue