Winner, winner dog’s dinner?
May 4, 2020 8:17 AM   Subscribe

New foster dog seems to be a picky eater to the point of not eating his dog food. Should we wait for his hunger strike to end or is there an affordable fix for this? More details inside

We got a new foster dog three days ago and he’s a very cute 14lb terrier mix named Toblerone. Here’s a pic.
The first day, he wasn’t interested in food and doesn’t seem to be very food motivated. He would easily eat these mini training treats though. He wouldn’t eat his kibble (which was provided by the foster org, and is a really nice brand it seems!) so we let him be. He had diarrhea so I was concerned, but the coordinator said this was normal and just keep trying. He drinks water well.

Second day, he continued to have diarrhea off and on, so I decided well, let’s try some rice and eggs since he won’t eat the kibble. He ate that super well! So I think, phew. He’s gonna be ok. That was around 9am.

I offered kibble again and he won’t eat it. Today is the third day, and our coordinator said don’t feed him any treats or other food, he’s just playing us and waiting for better food. It’s been 24 hours since he’s eaten anything. No diarrhea but no poops either because he hasn’t eaten.

We foster with two orgs. One organization didn’t need fosters this month, so we were asked by the second org to help out. Originally we were not planning to, because our jobs just announced pay cuts. The foster org always pays for food and treatment, but I like to give the foster dogs extra toys, food, etc. when we can. The first org would normally just give us canned food if dry food isn’t working, but our second org is tight on funds, so we have to keep trying the kibble. They gave us a huge bag.

Right now, we couldn’t afford to continue to buy canned food on our own for more than a month, although I went out and bought a few cans in case he really refuses to eat.

What should we do? The coordinator says just keep the kibble out all day instead of taking it away after 20 minutes of not eating. They said this is common for small dogs to be picky. We are trying that since yesterday morning. He will take kibble out of our hand and then spit it out somewhere else.

Here’s what we’ve tried and have failed:
- peanut butter, either mixed with food, in a kong with kibble, or on a lickimat, or itself. He doesn’t like peanut butter.
-pumpkin, doesn’t like.
-mixed the kibble with eggs, he eats around the kibble
-warm water in the kibble, he wouldn’t try it
- mix treats in the food, nope.

He even rejects certain treats and human food. But he’s a happy little dog that’s walking fine and has lots of energy to play. It seems he loves eggs and mini meaty treats. Can a dog live off eggs alone? Because I will feed him eggs if so. I don’t really want to set up bad habits for his actual future adoptee though.

Is there an economical solution with getting him to eat the kibble? I have 3 cans of dog food and I’m considering chicken broth to add to his food if he won’t eat today. The coordinator says he won’t starve himself and will eventually give in but... I don’t know... it’s been 24 hours and he still rejects the kibble.

What should we do?
posted by socky bottoms to Pets & Animals (20 answers total)
he’s just playing us and waiting for better food

This. You've given him something he really, really likes (eggs) and he's prepared to wait it out until he gets it again. And no, he can't live on eggs. Leave him with just his own food and he'll eat it when he realises the delicious eggs aren't on the menu any more.
posted by essexjan at 8:33 AM on May 4, 2020 [5 favorites]

He may have a sensitive stomach, since he was also having diarrhea. I’ve found that mixing food with plain white rice helps a lot. I guess it cuts down on the richness of the food. Rice and eggs would certainly be tasty for him! Especially with some cheese mixed in!

Also, have you tried giving him any fruit or veg aside from the pumpkin? That also helps when my dog is having stomach trouble (it keeps her regular — I guess she needs the fiber). She likes apples and carrots best, and any bit of lettuce/salad greens help a lot with conspiration or stool “texture” issues (salad basically works like a laxative lol). She just nibbles on the pieces of apple or carrot through the day, she doesn’t pounce on them like they’re a treat. So I just leave them in her dish until they’re gone. That said, I’m a free-feeder since my dog really only eats when she’s hungry and is a “grazer” and would basically never eat if I took away her food after 15 minutes. It sounds like that might be the case for your foster as well.

When my dog really won’t eat and I know she needs to (for example, when she needs to eat breakfast because I’m taking her to doggie daycare — she is not a breakfast person, especially before morning exercise) my go-tos are a hand-fed slice of American cheese or a can of sardines. She finds those hard to refuse. In general, my dog is a seafood eater — maybe canned fish would go over a bit better with your foster than meat or PB types of protein?

My dog also doesn’t like PB in general, but if I fill a *clean* Kong from out of the freezer, she likes that. I also give her a Dentastix every night at bedtime which she devours. And she loves liver and air-popped popcorn, for “special” treats.

I wouldn’t worry about him starving himself, but it sounds like he’s having some digestion trouble, and I do think getting him on a regular schedule and a sustainable diet is really important for dealing with that. Long term constipation or diarrhea can’t be good.
posted by rue72 at 8:36 AM on May 4, 2020 [3 favorites]

Maybe try sprinkling a little parmesan cheese on the kibble? My old man dog gets picky about his kibble but he will eat it if I tap a little parmesan on it.
posted by onebyone at 8:49 AM on May 4, 2020 [6 favorites]

he’s just playing us and waiting for better food

Wouldn't you? Kibble is gross -- it doesn't matter what brand it is. Imagine what it takes both chemically and heat-wise to make anything edible take on the consistency of kibble. There's a reason so many dogs have terrible gas and IBS.

I never give my dog anything I wouldn't myself eat (in theory -- she eats raw turkey, but it's human-grade turkey and other human-grade ingredients). I've found this to be a good policy, but of course it costs more than kibble and I recognize that you can't afford to do that.

However, you don't know why the dog isn't eating the kibble. Is he fussy? Maybe. Is the kibble off? Maybe. All you know is he's hungry and he doesn't want to eat it. IMO, starving an animal until it's desperate enough to eat what it doesn't want to eat isn't a solution.

If kibble is truly your only option, have you tried another brand or flavor of kibble? Do you maybe have a friend or neighbor with a dog who could give you a cup to try?
posted by dobbs at 8:52 AM on May 4, 2020 [1 favorite]

He's in a new place, probably still uneasy, and not hungry enough for boring kibble. Are you free-feeding? Maybe just feed at specific times so food will be more interesting. If you can get some jarred gravy, it makes any food very special, 1/4 cup will do. In winter, sometimes I heat it, because I feel bad for the dog only get cold food.
posted by theora55 at 8:56 AM on May 4, 2020

[Fixed pic link]
posted by Eyebrows McGee (staff) at 8:59 AM on May 4, 2020

Mix kibble (and/or canned food) with eggs and rice and gradually decrease egg and rice amount over a week or so.
posted by shoesietart at 9:08 AM on May 4, 2020 [1 favorite]

I would try mixing a little canned food in with the kibble, or as someone said above a little bit of cheese. Sometimes this can help to get them going. I would also leave the food out until he eats it, I don't see a problem leaving it out if he doesn't want it within a certain time frame. He's probably just a little nervous which can mess with their stomachs - just like us.

If he seemed very uncomfortable I would lean more towards getting food in his stomach however I could (boiled chicken, etc) as he might be hungry but too scared to eat (if there was a history of abuse or something). But if this guy seems otherwise happy I would try to more gently get him to eat kibble with the above methods.

He's very cute :)
posted by sillysally at 9:10 AM on May 4, 2020 [2 favorites]

Is the kibble that was provided by the foster org what he was successfully eating before he came to you?
posted by needs more cowbell at 9:30 AM on May 4, 2020 [2 favorites]

he's stressed and anxious and as a result not very hungry (particularly not for ordinary food). Give him time, let him settle in, keep offering the kibble. If it's food he's eaten before, this is not a rejection of the kibble so much as an expression of anxiety.
posted by suelac at 9:38 AM on May 4, 2020 [5 favorites]

If he's got diarrhea sounds like he's got an upset stomach probably due to stress, which is also why he's not eating. Please don't try the whole wait him out until he eats thing, terriers will out stubborn you if you get in a contest of wills (welcome to the joys of owning a terrier) and it's not a great way to start a relationship. I would suggest mixing a little wet food & some canned plain pumpkin (about 1Tablespoon) mixed with his dry food. Pumpkin helps soothe dogs digestive systems & helps with diarrhea & most dogs love it. Slowly fade out the wet food pumpkin mix over a week or two until he's back to just eating his dry food.
posted by wwax at 9:59 AM on May 4, 2020

Put a little something in the kibble. Scramble one egg and add maybe half of it to a few spoonfuls of food, saving the rest for later. Put that down and leave it - don't hover, don't watch, in fact if you can put it somewhere semi-private (but he knows where) do that.

One of the most important things I've learned about dogs is that they read your mood like a blaring radio. Your anxiety about this is going to make the food even more fraught than it might already be just because this is a weird new place and he's still getting his bearings.

If he hasn't eaten by tonight (or has but you're still seeing diarrhea), if you can get your hands on some plain yogurt and/or canned pumpkin, try adding two teaspoons of each to a modest amount of kibble. It'll help with diarrhea, and even though it smells gross it also smells compelling. Again, put it somewhere semi-private and ignore it.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:59 AM on May 4, 2020 [3 favorites]

My asshole dog occasionally would not eat his food from time to time. He's also a terrier. Here are a few strategies that might work:

- Make a little of the good stuff (scrambled eggs, rice, chicken, small bit of canned food) and put it UNDER the kibbles, in a relatively deep bowl. The deep bowl is the key to avoid eating around the kibbles.
- Pour some warm unsalted broth over the kibbles, nuke in the microwave until basically soft food.
- Smash the kibbles up with a rolling pin in a plastic baggie until they are of smaller size. This worked surprisingly well for my dog who did not like the size/texture of the kibbles.
- If you have a pan and are willing, scramble the kibble in with an egg.
- Feed kibbles like treats for every little thing, if you have lots of time on your hands. Make a big deal out of it, with pets and "good boy"s.
posted by juniperesque at 11:19 AM on May 4, 2020

A lot of small dogs have bad teeth, are you and the rescue sure he CAN eat kibble? Try soaking it and see if he can eat it when it's soft. Don't leave soaked kibble out all day in the heat though, it will go bad.
posted by fshgrl at 11:23 AM on May 4, 2020 [1 favorite]

Freeze dried beef liver, crushed up and sprinkled on top of the kibble like it’s fancy salt. I’ve never met a dog who didn’t go wild for freeze dried beef liver.
posted by Weeping_angel at 12:13 PM on May 4, 2020

A pheromone collar helped with this issue with my 9-lb rescue dog.
posted by aniola at 2:00 PM on May 4, 2020

Seconding juniperesque and fshgirl. Could be disliking the kibble or teeth issues. Make it softer and/or add a very small amount of something the dog likes. Coat the kibble with the delicious stuff, or you can soak it in water. If there's a food toy it likes, add some kibble along with the treats (softened if that works). And be sure to tell the foster org about this (for my dog we had to change brands of food permanently and that solved it).
posted by Red Desk at 1:25 AM on May 5, 2020

For my picky eater, I make a slurry with wet dog food (just thin it out with some water) and pour it over her kibble. I also will supplement with salmon oil, although you have to be careful with that as it can make their stools runny. They also make "toppers" for dogs -- packets of gravy/moist food specifically for pouring over kibble, but I find them to be expensive and no more effective than the wet food slurry.

I've tried several brands and flavors of food with her and the only kibble she consistently ate without modifications was of course the very expensive prescription food she was on for a stomach issue. Even the various modifications need to be changed up - she really seems to crave variety. I also think she's a grazer at heart, but unfortunately we can't leave her food out all day or our two constantly ravenous cats will eat it.
posted by misskaz at 4:23 AM on May 5, 2020

Thank you all for your advice! I would mark more as best answers as there’s some good things that we’ll definitely try. He ate his kibble today! Parmesan cheese was the trick (we had it on hand) and then adding warm water to it and letting it sit. I think he does like the softer texture. His teeth look good, but we are not sure what food he used to be fed as the org has no information on him. I think he was found as a stray. I was so mad at myself for possibly messing it all up by giving him rice and eggs but it looks like we just needed to find the right combo. I will definitely try the other suggestions as well if he stops liking the parm kibble. I’m glad to know that there are other picky eater dogs out there! he has been a very good dog and is really opening up, and now he finally is eating some. I’m so relieved. Thanks again.
posted by socky bottoms at 6:39 AM on May 5, 2020 [1 favorite]

About a year ago, our 20lb terrier was getting pickier and pickier about his food. After reading this comment from biscotti, I switched to Pro Plan (chicken specifically) and never looked back.
I feed my own dogs Pro Plan. After over a decade of being a dog food snob, I realized that I was a hypocrite in using science for all my decisions except what I fed my dogs. I switched from the "better" dog foods to Pro Plan (which is developed by veterinary nutritionists, tested in feeding trials, including the longest feeding trial ever performed, and has NO cases of dietary DCM associated with it), and my dogs have never done better. There is a reason the overwhelming majority of show dogs are fed Pro Plan.
posted by Short Attention Sp at 6:49 AM on May 5, 2020

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