Does Your Rescue Dog Have an Eating Issue?

We offer solutions for common eating issues, from resource guarding to not eating at all.

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While bringing home a new dog is very exciting, it’s also a little (sometimes a lot) stressful. Even if you’ve had pups in the past, every one is different. You may have never had a dog with a food issue before, but some rescues arrive with eating or tummy problems. Here are some of the common ones I see as a trainer, and my recommendations for each.

1. Resource guarding

First and foremost, it’s important to know that resource guarding is not a dominance issue. Your dog does not think she has power over you or the other dogs, it’s that she really likes what she has and doesn’t want to share; this can be especially true with dogs who lived as strays.

If your dog guards her food bowl (i.e. freezes, stares, growls, or snaps if you get too close), start by dropping delicious treats on the floor near the bowl when you walk by. Your dog will start associating your presence with good things, and that will make her less likely to care (and even become excited about) you approaching when she’s eating. For more information, check out my article on resource guarding, or this step-by-step protocol from the ASPCA.

2. Not eating

Some dogs don’t eat when they are stressed out and anxious. One of my dogs, for example, won’t eat for a couple days when I go out of town. If your dog isn’t eating, it’s okay. Put the bowl down for 10 to 15 minutes at feeding times, and then pick it up and put it away. Getting your dog on a feeding schedule can help.

You can also mix in some wet food (if you aren’t already), or plain rice and boiled chicken, in with his food. Making it a little more enticing might encourage him to eat. Once your new dog gets more comfortable, you may not need to add anything.

3. Gulping

On the other hand, some dogs gulp their food, which puts certain breeds/body types at risk for a very dangerous condition called bloat. Your new dog may gulp her food for a variety of reasons, but there are ways to slow her down.

First, if she’s a small dog, get bigger kibble. When Buster the rescue Chihuahua first came to live with us, he would just swallow the small kibble that I was feeding him whole. I switched to a bigger kibble that he had to chew first, and that has really helped. Another option is putting a slow feeder into the bowl. Usually called “gobble stoppers,” they have a suction cup on the bottom with a plastic bone on top that the dog has to eat around. A third option is to get a slow feeder bowl. Outward Hound makes a few different options, and they’re basically puzzle toys dogs have to work around to get to the kibble.

4. Diarrhea

If you get your dog from a rescue or shelter, ask what food she has been eating so you can pick some up and gradually switch to the food you plan to feed her long-term. If that’s not possible, give your dog what you’ve got, but know that this could upset her stomach for a few days, and that’s pretty normal. It’s also normal for a dog to have diarrhea when she’s stressed, and moving into a new home is stressful. If it lasts for more than a few days, or you see blood or white worms or anything in the feces, take your dog to the vet as soon as possible.

5. Big or puffy stomach

Many dogs (especially puppies) have puffy, full stomachs, even if they haven’t eaten anything lately. This is because many rescues have some type of worms. It’s really easy to get rid of the worms, though, just take your dog to the vet and get the needed medicine. That puffy stomach should be gone in no time!

Abbie Mood, Dip. CBST

Abbie lives in Colorado with her dogs Daisy, Sadie, and Buster, and can usually be found outside with one of them. She is a dog trainer and freelance writer who loves to explore environmental and animal rights issues. Find out more about her at abbiemood.com and lifediscoveryproject.com. Follow her on Twitter @abbiemood and Instagram @abbiemood.

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