“My Dog Won’t Eat”. How did it start and what have they tried?

Published by Theo Stewart on

Ozzy should be having a great life living with his lovely family. But one-year old Cockerpoo Ozzy won’t eat and underneath the fluff he is very thin.

It all started last year when he was about six months old.

What could have happened?

There is a good chance this incident triggered it. They took Ozzie on a car journey of several hours. Before they left he was an enthusiastic eater. When they arrived he wouldn’t touch his food.

They had stopped the car, got him out of the boot and put his bowl of food on the ground. Ozzy wouldn’t touch it. Very unusual. They did the same thing again when he arrived and he still wasn’t interested.

Now Ozzy won’t eat unless he is more or less tricked into it. He acts almost like he is afraid to eat.

It is possible that the car journey was traumatic for the pup. He may even have felt very sick. Whatever the case, he may have associated how he was feeling with either his food bowl, his food or both. It’s like they have been poisoned. (There is no proof of course).

This incident may well have coincided with a ‘fear period’.

Ozzy has had thorough check-ups at the vet so it’s very unlikely to be anything physical.

Since last summer they have left his food down all the time but he won’t touch it. They have tried all manner of coaxing.

Eats when distracted

Then accidentally they hit on a way to make him eat!

If they threw his ball he would bring it back and then eat a few bits of kibble from his bowl before the ball is thrown again. This game is a very slow way of getting food down him!

He won’t eat? Let’s try the opposite approach

I found three things they’ve not tried and which I hope do the trick in time – using a psychological perspective.

Firstly, to give food value. Using pieces of food for rewards and payment – not for free.

Secondly, to get him to work for his meals but in very small amounts at a time and ditching the bowl.

Thirdly, to cut out all persuasion or enticing.

Give food value

They will now use little bits of chicken or dried sprats for rewarding him so that he will be getting some nutrition. Each time they feed him by hand, it will only be in return for doing something very simple they ask of him. He’s a very biddable little dog and could find this fun. (This way they know he won’t starve because he will already take chicken in training).

For meals they will feed him several times a day in tiny portions – but not in a bowl. It’s possible the bowl has negative connotations for him which have grown out of all proportion. (The fact he quickly grabs food only after the ball is thrown when he’s distracted adds weight to this assumption).

They will mix his good quality kibble with a small amount of tasty tinned food and feed in Kongs so his tongue has to work. It may be a good idea to vary the tinned to whet a bit of curiosity. They will use a snuffle mat so that he has to forage for his food.

They will sprinkle his kibble over the grass so he has to hunt for it, maybe also inviting a doggy friend for him to go hunting with.

Natural ways of eating

These methods of eating are a lot more natural for an animal anyway. A wild animal has to put in effort for food, food has value – and there is nobody caring whether or not he eats it.

When Ozzy is back to eating with enthusiasm again, they can then re-adjust his diet to the healthiest, most nutritional option.

I don’t expect this to work overnight. It’s experimental so we may need a rethink. I may give clicker training a go as it helps build a positive association with food and gives the dog some control. I will keep you posted!

A couple of months later: ‘When I compare where we are today with where we were then we are very happy. He is definitely eating better.
Making him work for it I think was a good move….
Another thing we did was try different foods. ‘B’ worked well at the start and seeing him was such a relief as he really wolfed it down. Very quickly we started adding in kibble as well.

Different wet foods works, mix a bit of other bits in, eg. scrambled egg, a teaspoon of natural yoghurt, BBQ leftovers. Basically just mix it up a bit…

So, generally much more positive and confident that we will find a route through anything that may derail the current progress.’

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ and is always written with permission of the client. If you listen to ‘other people’ or find instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog it can do more harm than good. Click here for help

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