Hunger strikes and other naughtiness

Weary Parent: “There are starving kids in Africa who’d love to get that for their dinner”
Kid with fussy appetite: “Give it them then, ‘cos I’m not eating that muck!”

Beanie’s recent stomach bug – or more accurately our reaction to it – turned her into a very fussy eater. During her illness, we became so desperate to see her fill her belly that we kept trying different foods until we found something she’d eat. This was usually hand cooked chicken and rice. The illness cleared up quickly, but her taste for quality food remained, and she showed absolutely no interest in dog food. We spent a small fortune buying different brands of wet and dry food, but she reacted to each of them as though we were offering her a bowl full of smelly poop. Actually that’s not true – I suspect she could well have been tempted to nibble at poop, but she definitely wasn’t going to lower herself by eating expensive dog food. When we mixed chicken with the dry food, she carefully picked out the chicken and left the rest; when we poured gravy over it, she licked off the gravy and spat out any rogue kibbles that made it into her mouth.

Virtually all the online advice for dealing with this kind of thing goes something like this:

  • Put the food down for a limited time (say 10 mins), then take it up regardless of whether it’s been eaten or not
  • Offer only the dog food as treats
  • When the dog gets hungry enough, it’ll eat

That’s all very well with an adult dog, but it didn’t sound like a good idea to try it with a young puppy that needs fuel for its rapid growth. We were giving serious consideration to going for an entirely home-cooked diet (there are plenty of guides online) when a visit to the vet brought us back to our senses. The vet assured us that no harm would come to Beanie even if she abstained from food for four days, and in all likelihood she’d cave in and eat whatever we put down within three days. We’d just have to harden our hearts to the emotional blackmail that beagles do so well!

It was a pretty tense time, but the vet was right. Beanie abandoned her hunger strike some 40 hrs after her last home cooked chicken and rice meal. During the fast, we changed her dog food twice more. Originally she’d been on Pedigree Chum dry puppy food which is cheap and readily available, but does seem to contain a lot of filler. To assuage our guilt at starving our pup we bought a bag of IAMS. Selling for nearly twice the price of Pedigree, we assumed that this would be a much better quality food, but a short Google session revealed that even this contained a disturbing amount of filler and additives. Finally we came across the Burns brand. This is basically a well balanced home-cooked diet in kibble form. It seems to be well regarded in all the reviews we found, and although it isn’t sold in supermarkets, we discovered a local pet shop that stocks it.

Of course, doggie mealtimes still aren’t quite what they could be. Being a superstitious type, I’m now doomed forever to repeat the procedure that first got our pup to eat, for fear that the hunger strike will suddenly resume:

  • Attempt to stir up some excitement about the meal by raising the pitch of my voice and behaving in a manner that would cause acute embarrassment if anyone, even my partner Susan, happened to see it.
  • Put a handful of kibble in one of our breakfast bowls (not the dog food bowl, which Beanie knows never contains anything edible)
  • Pour in a little water, then heat in a microwave for a few seconds. After draining off the water, you’re left with a handful of slightly warm kibble that’s moist on the outside, crunchy on the inside and smells a little more than it does in its dry form.
  • Whip up even more excitement as the bowl is presented, and stand ready to overcome pauses in consumption by hand feeding.
  • Praise lavishly as each mouthful is consumed
  • When the bowl is finally empty, repeat the whole process again

What’s more, Beanie’s 40 hours of extreme hunger inspired her to new levels of naughtiness. She now dives into the dishwasher the second it opens to lick the dirty plates, clambers onto the kitchen table even when all the chairs are pushed in tight (it’s just not possible I tell ya!), and uses her toys to disguise chewing attacks on the furniture (“Just playing with my toy, move along, nothing to see here… Oops I think my teeth just slipped onto the chair leg…”) In short, I think she’s really starting to get in touch with her inner beagle.