how to get a rescue dog to eat

10 Ways on How to Get a Rescue Dog to Eat

Most rescue dogs will be suffering from extreme stress, so they will usually refrain from eating. This is why knowing how to get a rescue dog to eat isn’t easy.

They will be aloof, scared, and potentially aggressive. This is normal, so to speak, due to what the canine has gone through.

Many of these canines have been rescued from abusive homes, the streets, and negligent breeders. Just imagine dealing with that environment and being taken away to a new facility. It’s stressful, and dogs won’t understand why it’s happening, which adds up to their confusion. 

If you’ve recently adopted a rescue dog, you have to give it time to adjust. Arriving at a new home is an overwhelming experience. Paired with patience, the following tips will help encourage the dog to eat:

How to get a rescue dog to eat

1. Know what your dog likes

how to get a rescue dog to eat

Each dog is different, so it’s essential to know first what your rescue dog actually wants. You can do this by testing your dog’s preference. Try handing out different food flavors and see which one your pooch will eat.

Dogs that have been rescued from poor environments are often unfamiliar with high-quality dog food products. By giving them options, you can see what food the dog prefers.

This may take a lot of patience and trial-and-error. Take note that dogs that have never tasted kibble will not usually gravitate towards it. You can try wet food and soft treats first to establish your adopted dog’s palate.

2. Make it smelly

Next, you can maximize your dog’s sense of smell to encourage it to eat. Try offering fish-flavored food and see if the dog will be enticed to eat.

If you have plain kibble at home, you can spice it up with a few drops of fish oil. You can warm it a little bit in the microwave for a few seconds to unleash the smell of the dog food.

Allow the rescue dog to sniff and discover the food on its own.

3. Start small

how to get a rescue dog to eat

Feeding a rescue dog isn’t easy, and a lot of dog food may go to waste if you give an entire serving. I suggest starting with a few pieces of kibble and see how the canine will react. You can offer it with your hand or place it on the floor so the dog can eat on its own volition. 

Also, some rescue dogs could be emaciated and extremely malnourished. Canines with this condition shouldn’t be fed very large amounts in one sitting. You have to start small until the doggo gains weight gradually.

So why can’t I feed a malnourished dog a large meal in one sitting? The large amounts of food will lead to refeeding syndrome, which will shock the dog’s body. It will lead to various complications, which will be detrimental to the canine’s health.

4. Consider starting with human food

If the dog still doesn’t eat any dog food products, you can switch to human food instead. As I said earlier, some rescue dogs may not be familiar with dog food products. Many that were rescued on the streets scavenge on trash cans for leftovers.

Human food like boiled potato, banana, steamed chicken, and low-sodium broth may get the dog eating. You can slowly mix this with dog food products until you’ve introduced the new diet to your doggo.

Take note that not all human food items are safe for canines. The likes of chocolate, processed bacon, macadamia nuts, and grapes are potentially toxic to dogs.

As much as possible, start with boiled or steamed meat slices without flavoring. 

5. Keep it warm

dog bones, puppy, pet

Dogs don’t like cold and stale food. Rescue dogs can start eating if you offer them warm food instead. You can easily do this by pouring hot water into the kibble and stirring it. Let it cool down until lukewarm before offering it to the rescue dog.

You can also reheat dog kibble in the microwave for a few seconds. However, you should never put it in the microwave for too long as the food ingredients may react harshly to the intense heat.

6. Stay quiet and calm

When trying to feed a rescue dog, you should keep the environment calm and quiet. These dogs are often stressed and jumpy, so a sudden sound may put them off from eating.

I suggest bringing the dog into a quiet room and letting it stay there while adjusting to your home. You should also feed the dog inside the room since it’s more familiar to them than other parts of your house.

Moreover, you should remove dog tags on the canine’s collar. It might clink to the dog bowl and produce a sudden sound that will scare the doggo from eating.

7. Don’t leave the dog alone

dog, cute, animal

Staying beside the rescue dog may give it a sense of safety. Watch as the dog eats and don’t make any sudden noises or movements.

Your dog will also realize that you mean no harm. It’s a great way to earn a rescue dog’s trust, especially if it came from an abusive owner.

Monitoring a rescue dog is very important, especially when it comes to their feeding. You should monitor the dog’s eating habits for the next three days to see if it will stop eating again. This will also give you a better idea about what your dog wants and doesn’t want.

8. Follow a feeding schedule

Dogs are beings of habit. Your rescue dog will have an easier time adjusting to its new diet if you have a specific feeding schedule. Adult dogs can be fed twice a day, but those with health problems may need frequent feedings in small servings.

You have to strike a balance between your dog’s feeding preference and its needed nutrition per day. When in doubt, you can ask the vet for assistance in formulating a feeding schedule for your rescue dog.

9. Make food available

dog food, dog bowl, dog kibble

It will help to let a small amount of food available on the dog’s bowl during the first few days. This will let the dog eat when it’s hungry. It will also let you introduce dog food without forcing the canine to consume it right away.

Free-feeding is a double-edged sword, though. You let your dog get used to it, and it will soon demand food past the feeding schedule.

The key here is monitoring your dog. Once you see signs that your dog is eating and liking the food, you can start feeding at a specific time.

The time outside feeding schedules can be used to play with the dog or perform some training drills.

10. Ask the vet

Lastly, the veterinarian will be your bosom buddy in raising a rescue dog. Each dog is different and so are their diet needs. The vet’s advice will help you provide the right food to encourage the dog to eat.

Aside from that, emaciated rescue dogs require a special diet to regain their health. You need close supervision from the vet here to ensure that the pooch will fully recover.

Moreover, the vet can provide suggestions so you can motivate the dog to eat. This can be a lengthy process, so patience is necessary.

Are you planning to adopt a rescue dog? In this video Jackie of In Ruff Company tells us five common mistakes to avoid:


Frequently Asked Questions

Q: How long does it take for a rescue dog to adjust to its new home?

A: Each rescue dog is different, so it may take a few weeks up to six months for the canine to adjust. Expect a rescue dog to be aloof and poorly behaved during the first weeks. The dog is still stressed and trying to make sense of the sudden change in its environment.

Q: How much should I feed a rescue dog?

A: This depends on the overall health condition of the dog. If it’s perfectly healthy, you can feed it the same amount you would for an adult canine. It’s measured by bodyweight together with factors like age, activity level, and breed.

Q: How do you settle a rescue dog at night?

A: Many rescue dogs will try to sneak into their owners’ bedroom. However, you shouldn’t tolerate this. The moment you let the dog in, expect them to sleep beside you the whole time. It’s best to start out as you intended to continue.

Q: Do rescue dogs remember their past?

A: Yes, dogs can recall their past memories, but whether how long and how clear is still a mystery to experts. Still, it’s observed that they react to triggers they have previously experienced in their old homes. This is also the same reason why many rescue dogs don’t trust other people easily.


Final words

Knowing how to get a rescue dog to eat is requires patience. The doggo will refuse to eat for some time, but it’s important to give them their sustenance. Keeping the feeding calm, appealing, and delicious should help a lot in the process. You can also call the vet for advice on how you can approach feeding your rescue dog.

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