This is a major worry for lots of dogs owners when thinking about putting their dogs in kennels. It may arise from having a bad experience in which their dog lost a lot of weight when kennelled in the past. It's perfectly understandable, and some dogs, despite being in a nice kennels where stress is kept to a minimum, will pine for their owners and go off their food. So, when this happens, what do we do?
To be honest, its a vary rare occurrence here because we are a small kennels, and therefore it is generally quieter than your average kennels. We also have a good staff:dog ratio (1:7) which means all the dogs get plenty of attention and playtime. This means most dogs will not have a problem eating, as they are happy and also get to work up an appetite with all the playtime! However, we do have techniques in place to get dogs eating again if they go off their food.
We have two meal times here at Woodland View, which can be useful because it gives the dogs two opportunities to eat each day. Each dog has a care sheet on the front of their kennel, which not only gives us the name, age, medical conditions and emergency contact information for each dog, but also lets us record when, what and how much a dog eats. This helps us monitor their food intake and flag up any under-eaters. A record is also kept on when the dog goes to the 'toilet' and if it is normal or not, and of course if they are sick. It is very important to distinguish loss of appetite through pining from a dog being ill and not wanting to eat.
The first thing I will do when a dog refuses food for the first time is to use DAP therapy to provide comfort and reassurance (see previous article on Reducing Stress). An assessment of the dog's stress levels is done and changes are made to reduce stress where possible (i.e. move to a quieter section of the kennels, increase exercise and playtime).
If our stress reduction techniques fail to bring back appetite, and a dog refuses a second meal, we then try different varieties of food. Sometimes a small amount of wet food added to the dog's usual dry food can be enough to tempt them. I find feeding Chappie to dogs who usually eat dry food only, is often tempting enough to get them eating again, without having any 'runny bottom' related repercussions!
Warming the food can also help to encourage eating, perhaps soaking biscuits in warm water, or adding warm water to mashed up wet food to make a thick meaty gravy to mix with the biscuits. I find this can be helpful and most dogs find it hard to resist when food is warm.
If a dog still refuses to eat, I am not averse to hand feeding. I have had to do it a few times and I often find that when hand fed the first few mouthfuls, most dogs will have a go at the rest on their own. Of course lots of praise and fuss follows! I've never had to hand feed for more than a couple of days, by then most dogs are feeling much happier and so their appetite resumes.
Once a dog's appetite has properly resumed and they are eating without encouragement or prompting, we then get the dog back onto their normal food and normal way of eating. After all we don't want to send them home eating a completely different diet and needing to be hand fed!
All the dogs Ive dealt with are usually eating well before the hand feeding stage. However if not, I have some more 'tricks' up my sleeve. When I worked as a veterinary nurse we often had to deal with poorly dogs who continued to refuse food. Often one of the nurses would be sent out for a fresh cooked chicken or sliced ham which we'd hand feed to them. Also, making a meaty paste with tinned dog food and warm water and syringing into the dogs mouth can be an option when all other attempts have failed. Of course if this fails, veterinary advice would be sort and the owner contacted.
Above all, the thing to remember, is that a good kennels should take it seriously when a dog refuses to eat. Sometimes simply giving the dog their normal food and thinking 'they'll eat if their hungry' doesn't suffice. I myself have childhood memories of picking our emaciated family dog up from the boarding kennels and having to hand feed him back to health, so I understand the worries that owner's have. As you can see we have a clear plan of action to get dogs eating again, which has never failed.