How to Get a Rescue Dog to Eat

By John Martin - May 3, 2021

Scared rescue dog

Are you worried that your rescue dog is going to starve and get sick? You may be feeling helpless and dejected when your furry friend refuses to eat properly. And being concerned is good.

When your rescue dogs stop eating, it evokes intense concern and worries within the owners. You feel pretty lost. But there is always a reason for their behavior. If you’re wondering how to get a rescue dog to eat, then read ahead.

Reasons Your Dog Isn’t Eating

Abuse or Neglect

There could be a plethora of reasons behind your dog’s behavior and his refusal to eat. You have to keep in mind and understand that rescue dogs aren’t like other dogs. They have usually suffered through trauma, abuse, and neglect and may not even know how to behave otherwise.

Rescue dogs that get to a shelter are still kept in better conditions, but some never even make it to shelters or loving homes.

The conditions of dogs that are neglected or in need of rescue are heart-breaking. It is enraging to think that anyone could harm or neglect such loyal companions to such a degree. The unfortunate reality is that, as estimated, there are nearly 1 million animals that are killed in episodes of domestic violence.

So it isn’t a shocker if your rescue dog acts cagey or if he’s hesitant around you.

That may just be their self-preservation instinct kicking in. They may sadly not be used to a lot of friendly contacts, and it can take time for them to acclimate to you and their new surroundings.

Also Read: Should You Cut Dog Whiskers?

Unfamiliar Environments

When such dogs are adopted or shifted to shelters, they find themselves in a completely new and unfamiliar environment. They may have been used to a different kind of routine or treatment before, which is why they can take months before you see them adjust comfortably.

Before they adjust to you and their new home, they may refuse to eat for a while or may not eat properly. All that is normal, but if it persists for more than 2 or 3 weeks, then a visit to the vet is definitely in order.

You have to remember, they may have suffered from trauma and abandonment from their previous homes. They will take time to trust you and bond with you. They may even be used to long periods of starvation. That can come in between their rehabilitation when they find a loving home. They simply need time and a lot of patience and love before they can settle into a normal routine.

What You Need To Do

You may be feeling compelled to smother your furry friend with a lot of TLC to show your affection. One of the ways we express our love is through food. You may be wanting to feed your poor neglected companion as much as they can stuff, but this may not be the correct approach to have.

Don’t worry, in time, you will be able to spoil and stuff your dog to your heart’s content. But before that, you need to properly train him and get him accustomed to a proper schedule. All in good time.

You should make sure that you have had a visit to the vet’s after you have adopted your dog. Buy the necessary accessories and get him a bowl, a bed, and a leash.

Have your home be ready and prepared before you bring your ball of fur inside. Make sure it is a puppy/dog-proofed space.

Steps You Need to Take

After you have successfully brought your rescue dogs to your home, let them go around and get familiar with their surroundings. But don’t give them a free-roaming pass, that can overwhelm them, and then you will be seeing them pee everywhere.

If your dog seems unsure, nervous, or stressed, don’t force him to do anything, even eat. That can only result in stacking more stress upon him.

Now, for getting a rescue dog to eat, follow these tips.

Start Slow and with Wet Food

Your dog may not be used to eating a lot and more, so it is okay to start slow and let them eat as much or as little as they want to. Don’t be worried if they seem to pick at their food and eat less the first week. Especially smaller dogs tend to eat less, so avoid force-feeding them.

Start with wet foods. That is a good way to get them to eat. A lot of times, they may not prefer dry food or kibble, so it’s best to start with wet and see if they like it.

You can even add warm water to their food or mix warm beef or chicken broth.

Chicken is pretty much irresistible to dogs, so adding chicken broth can increase their likelihood of eating.

As you profess, you can then shift to dry foods or try different varieties and brands before you settle on the best.

Check Mouth for Sores or Infection

Your dog may be hesitating to eat or not eating well because he just can’t. Your rescue dog may be suffering from sores or rotten and damaged teeth. He may even have an infection and could be in pain and unable to eat.

Even if you have had a visit to the vet before you bring him home, if the behavior persists, then go for a thorough check again. Wait a couple of weeks before you make sure.

Give Your Dog a Little Space

Yes, you got that right. Giving him too much attention and constantly being around him can also be a reason that he’s hesitant to eat in front of you. He could just be conscious and may not be used to it.

That’s not to say you have to leave him unattended for stretched periods. Simply give him some space or leave him in a quiet place when you give him food. He may feel more comfortable eating without any presence, and with time, he will surely get comfortable enough to eat around you. But needing space can be or cannot be a need for your dog. It is worth to give it a try, though.

Correspond Feeding with Training

It may be that because his feeding isn’t synced with the training, he simply may need to be trained in corresponding to feeding. He may need you to start simple training with his food bowls at mealtimes.

You could give simple instructions like sit, down, eat, wait, etc. and correspond his feeding with training.

Give Your Dog Company

Yes, your loyal companion may need some time alone to adjust, but it could be the opposite, too!

He may need you there to feed comfortably. So, make sure to be near or be around when you give him the food.

Or you could even eat with him. Not the same food, of course, but sync your mealtimes. He would feel comfortable and more inclined towards eating when he would see you eating and enjoying your food, too.

Dogs observe, and they can learn to mimic, use that to your advantage.

Add Chicken

Chicken is usually reserved as a treat, but if, in the beginning, they aren’t eating, then you could use chicken.

Add boiled chicken, without any spice, to his food. Or add warm chicken broth, that works as well.

You could even give him canned chicken or other canned food, but that is not a permanent solution, and canned food should not be a regular thing. It is not as healthy as regular fresh food.

Adding pieces of chicken to your dog’s food will give him an enticing aroma and may compel him to eat.

But you should use it only until your dog is eating normally and regularly. Otherwise, they can get quite spoiled, which would then later interfere in their training.

Aside from chicken, you could even use scrambled eggs. Sometimes dogs can prefer scrambled eggs too.

Also Read: Can Dogs Eat Eggshells?

Create a Routine

It is crucial that you get a proper and regular routine down for your dog. That includes playtime and workout and even his meal times.

That will go a long way towards improving his bond and trust and will keep him well-behaved.

Make proper schedules and be on time. That will give the dog a sense of normalcy and discipline, two things that they would need after going through abandonment and neglect.

Check For Medications

Suppose your dog is on some kind of medication. That could be interfering with his appetite too. Make sure and consult a vet when you get him on or off medications.

A lot of medicines cause a lack of appetite in dogs, and that could be another reason that your dog isn’t eating.

But that problem can easily be solved after he gets off the medications.

Also Read: How Long After Flea Treatment Can I Bathe My Dog?

Change the Variety

You may not think so, but with numerous brands and varieties of food available, it could get difficult to pick the best fit for your dog.

Some brands offer dog food with variations of ingredients. You have to decide what ingredients you would need and what you would avoid for your dogs.

Change them up if your dog doesn’t like the ones you got for them.

Petsmart even lets you return opened packs of food solely because your dog could refuse to like the food you got for them.

You will ultimately find the one that your dogs love, although it may take several tries.

Add Supplements

If nothing seems to work, then you could add supplements to your dog’s food. Some like Nutrical are very effective and work well when your dog seems to have no appetite.

Final Thoughts

Even if your dog seems to go a day or 2 with barely any food, you should not be sick with worry unless that behavior persists for longer than two weeks.

Dogs usually would not willingly starve themselves to the extent of getting sick. They may be taking time to adjust and get used to you and the new home.

You need to proceed with a lot of patience and understanding and help them eat. It may be frustrating and worrisome, but sooner or later, your dog will start to eat. Hand feeding them may work in the beginning but make sure to not continue with it as that could become a bad habit soon.

All in all, keep giving them love that is what they need the most.