Reluctant raw eater-DNM

With the wealth of information on the internet about the benefits of raw feeding, and the huge growth experienced in this sector of the pet food market, more and more people are experiencing that “light bulb” moment – realizing that our pets are not designed to eat heavily processed, biologically inappropriate foods, and that Mother Nature knows best.

So they embark upon their research, check their budgets, maybe even invest in a new freezer, and stock up on pre-made raw meals, or meat, bones, offal and other natural bits and pieces to feed their dogs.

Diligently they chop and dice and blitz and grind (perhaps gagging a little at the blood and the smell but trying to do the best they can for their best friend) to prepare a delicious, tasty looking raw meal, before placing it proudly before their dog – only for that dog to look up with a quizzical stare as if to say “What the….?” and walk off in poorly disguised disgust.

Crestfallen at this less than grateful response, many will give up.  The new cleaver will rust and that freezer ends up on CraigsList.

Sound familiar?

So what can one do to encourage the reluctant dog that raw really rocks?

The first and perhaps most important thing to bear in mind is that despite Mother Nature’s best intentions, some dogs just don’t like raw. That’s it.

No amount of cajoling or pleading or copious tears will get some dogs to enjoy a bone. It may sound daft, but I’ve known many dogs who clearly consider a bone to be too much like hard work.

By nature, dogs are lazy scavengers and some dogs have this down to an art form. Unless their meal is in the right bowl at the right time at the right temperature (preferably with no one watching them) they will not eat. They’ve been raised a certain way, and have come to expect a certain level of service at meal times.

The next important fact to bear in mind is that cats and dogs can “imprint” what they perceive to be food.

A pet raised to eat biscuits for every meal may only recognize those biscuits as food – everything else to them is an unknown and usually not to be trusted. Dogs and cats recognize the shake of a kibble box, or the sound of a tin opener, as a sign that meal time is here; they can’t read a clock but know exactly the right time and sounds that indicate dinner is served.

Any break from this routine can be regarded with suspicion, but fortunately that lovable lazy scavenger attitude means this is the general exception to the rule: most dogs will wolf down anything on the floor – be it in a bowl or dropped inadvertently by mistake. I truly believe that my first dog Maggie actually thinks her name is “No-Leave-it!”

So it can be a little difficult to persuade a pet that this “new” food in their bowl is, firstly, food, and secondly, that they are allowed to eat it.

A couple of tricks I’ve learned:

Just walk away!

Put the bowl and new food down and walk away.

Curiosity will usually get the better of them, and if you’re not staring at them as though the food is yours (and therefore not to be touched), they are more likely to investigate.

If they don’t eat it, leave it ten minutes before picking it up, putting it in the fridge and trying again next meal time. They’ll soon get the message that unless they eat when it’s there, it’ll soon be gone again.

A little spoon can go a long way

Put a little on a spoon and feed the new food in treat-sized portions to start with, before gentling leading the cat or dog to the bowl where – surprise surprise – there is a big portion of these treats to be eaten in one go. “What luck!” thinks your pet, and you’re off to a great start.

Put their noses to work

If you’re feeding DIY raw, why not try cooking the meat first?

This not only changes the texture to something that your dog might find more palatable, but releases the smell and the juices which can often encourage the more reluctant dog to eat. If you then wish, you can then slowly reduce the amount of cooking time until your dog is eating the food totally raw.

If you’re using pre-made commercial foods, I would recommend you only cook the food if you’re positive that any bone in the food is very finely ground; otherwise you may find that there are sharp pieces of bone which can become brittle after cooking. If you’re not sure, I would take the precaution of just searing the outside of the food slightly in a pan. Sometimes the smells coming from the stove will entice your dog to eat!

Don’t forget the organs! Find out why they’re an important part of the raw diet. Click Here!

Time to play!

Try treating mealtimes as playtime.

Put the food in a Kong, for example, and make them work for it. Pets love play and if there’s food involved (of any sort) then all the better. Many agility and working dogs are fed in this manner as it provides them with mental stimulation as well as dinner. If you’re going out for a while, try freezing the Kong with the food inside to make it last even longer.

Use their favorite disguise

If your pet has a favorite “treat” food, try sprinkling a little on top of any new diet to encourage them to eat.

Once they start eating, they often don’t stop and barely notice that dinner has changed. A little cheese or a spoonful of natural yoghurt can be great for this, and can be discontinued after a few days once the pet has become used to the new food.

Picky, picky

Cats prefer their food very fresh. Anything else will result in a withering stare. Remember, dogs have masters, cats have staff. You know your place. Try again, and do better this time.

Yummy! (no, not really) You try!

Lastly, and something I’ve been guilty of trying on more than one occasion to my shame, treat the food as yours.

Yes, I really do mean letting your pet watch you putting spoonfuls of the new diet to your mouth, pretending to eat it, and then offering it to them.

I’ve learned the hard way that anything I eat, they will also eat if given the chance. Seeing you enjoy it can encourage them to do the same. Just don’t get sidetracked. I heard of a lady the other day who was in the process of giving her dog its regular pill medication only to be interrupted by a phone call. After the call she could no longer find the pill, only to then discover she’d absentmindedly eaten it herself whilst chatting to her friend!  You know who you are….

There are a few other species specific things to remember:

  • Dogs will generally not allow themselves to starve (remember the “scavenger” description above…) and will usually eat even after refusing a few meals, however much they may not enjoy it.
  • They’re also known to occasionally self-regulate their meals times, and may miss a meal because they just don’t feel hungry, or they’re still full from the meal before, or it’s too hot, or they’re just not in the mood right now, thank you very much.
  • Don’t stress too much about this either, as you can create a vicious circle – dogs are very intuitive, and if you get stressed about them not eating, they will get stressed and continue not eating, making you even more stressed, and so on.
  • Cats are different. They should not be allowed to skip too many meals as they can suffer serious illness as a result.  If your cat refuses to eat too often, see the vet.

One final word – persevere!  

Don’t give up too quickly, and remember that your pet can be like a child: they learn very easily how to play you, and they probably have you wrapped around their tiny paws.

Don’t start switching brands or proteins every time a meal is left uneaten – they will start to expect something new every meal time, and you’ve just created a monster!