The decision to switch your dog to a raw diet is an exciting one.

Let’s be honest, you’re pretty pumped.

You’re enthusiastic and empowered because you know the truth about commercial dog food. You’ve done the research. You know the benefits. You know what to expect and you’re prepared.

You’re excited to be feeding a true ancestral diet to your furry friend because he’s going to be healthier and happier. He’s going to be the epitome of health, what any dog should be – he’s going to be a primal pooch!

Dog with bowl in mouth

Photo credit: Fuzzy Gerdes via Flickr

Next thing you know, you’re standing there, scratching your head saying , “WTF” because your dog isn’t even remotely interested in the awesome raw meal in font of him. He takes a few sniffs, gives you a weird look and walks away.

Now what?

Don’t be discouraged, this happens to many new raw feeders! The problem is that your dog just doesn’t know what to do with it. He’s eaten commercial, processed pet food his whole life and his new raw meal looks and smells quite different.

Did you know kibble is sprayed with fat and other substances to make it more appealing for your dog?  Raw food has little odor compared to kibble. Initially, your dog may not realize this is food.

How do you deal with this?

There are basically two ways: patience and  the use of a few disguises.

The old adage, “picky eaters aren’t born, they’re created” applies in this situation. Some dogs will wolf down anything while others are more picky. Most dogs become picky eaters out of habit, mostly because their owners allow them to.

Patience and a Little Bit of Tough Love….

It’s important that you be extremely patient when making the switch. Once you’ve put the raw meal in front of your dog, walk away. Let him figure it out. Give him about 15 minutes or so. If he hasn’t eaten it yet, simply (without emotion) pick it up and put it away.

Provide it again at the next meal. If your dog still refuses, continue this process until he or she caves in and decides to eat it.

Don’t worry, you’re dog will not die. No dog will intentionally starve itself. When they get hungry enough, they’ll eat it.  I think the longest I’ve heard of a dog refusing to eat is around ten days. Now this is the extreme and is probably not likely for most dogs. I’d guess the average to be anywhere from 1-3 days.

Now, whatever you do, don’t give in and don’t provide other food in the meantime! No training treats, table scraps, rawhide, or other dogs chews or treats. If you provide something else, it will take longer for your dog to cave in.

Many people try to feed raw for a day or two, then give up because they feel bad depriving their dogs. You’re not depriving you dog.  You’re providing food to your furry friend, it’s he who is choosing NOT to eat it.

What you’re doing here is reinstating your position in the pack. You’re the alpha and you tell your dog when and what to eat. Your dog doesn’t get to decide what he or she eats – if he does, then he wins and you lose. He also doesn’t get to decide when it’s time to eat by barking, whining, or pestering you.

This tough love will teach your dog to follow the rules of the house. If you can win this battle and be respected as the leader of the house during feeding times, your dog will continue to show you respect in other areas.

Another crucial tip to remember is NOT to make a fuss if you’re dog doesn’t eat. Don’t coax him into eating. Don’t throw fearful or nervous energy out there. Don’t baby talk him and provide love and affection. If you do so, you’re just reinforcing his uncertainty about the new food and letting him know it’s okay to refuse his meals. On the other hand, you’re not punishing him either. You’re just staying calm, neutral, and indifferent.

All you can do is be strong and trust that your dog will not starve himself.

The only exceptions to the tough love rule:

Specific dogs or breeds that can develop or already have low blood sugar or other serious pre existing health conditions. And puppies. These dogs shouldn’t go without food for more than 24 hours.I would consult with your holistic veterinarian to see how long you can safely withhold food.

Above all, make sure you have a strong support system.

Lean on other raw feeders or ask the advice of those that have been there before. Don’t known any other raw feeders? No worries, use this list to find online forums, groups, and Facebook groups you can join.

 A Few Raw Food Disguises, Tips & Tricks

I happen to be with the tough love methodology.

However, if you’re having trouble with this or want to try some other options, there are a few simple things you can do to food to entice your dog to eat.

  • Sprinkle a little parmesan cheese on top
  • Add low sodium chicken or beef broth
  • Lightly sear the meat (only if it’s boneless – do NOT do any cooking, no matter how light, to meat with bone in it). Once your dog eats the meat you can try giving it to him raw next time or wean him onto the raw meat by searing it less and less each time. Cooking you’r dog’s food is not ideal but if you do it for a day or two until he accepts raw, it won’t cause any harm.
  • Sprinkle a little garlic salt on top

For those  concerned about the safety of garlic read this and this. Garlic received a bad rap after a study demonstrated garlic could cause oxidative damage to red blood cells – but in excessive amounts. Based on the study, you’d need to feed 5 full heads of garlic to a 75lb dog before showing any adverse effect on red blood cells. Remember: everything in nature has the potential be toxic is certain amounts. Garlic in moderation has a large list of health benefits. But if it makes you uneasy, try something else as a topper instead.

Most people successfully feed chicken at first – anywhere from two to four weeks before trying a different protein. It seems to be the meat of choice for dogs new to raw because it’s easily digestible and doesn’t cause stomach upset.

If you’re dog eats one day then doesn’t eat again, it could mean you’re changing up the meals too quickly. Let him get used to a particular protein for at least two weeks before trying a new one.

What kind of raw diet are you feeding?

  • Premade raw dog food
  • Homemade Prey Model Diet
  • Homemade BARF Diet

If one isn’t enticing your dog to eat, try another.

The point here is to get your dog used to eating any kind of raw. You can always adjust the format later. This is exactly what I did with my dog. I fed him commercial raw food for a few weeks then switched over to a homemade raw diet without any issue.

Some dogs may be more apt to eating ground mixes with other ingredients like fruits and vegetables first. Other’s won’t. The only way to know is to try.

Above all, Hang in There!

Remember, dogs can become addicted to junk food just like we can.

As a pet parent, you are in control of your dog’s health. Our dogs don’t live in the wild making decisions based on instinct anymore. They live in our modern world and don’t necessarily know what’s best for them.

It’s your duty to be a firm pet parent and feed food that is healthful. Please comment below and share any tips or tricks you’ve used when first switching your dog to raw.

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