Feeding your rescue dog & other handy hints

Congratulations on becoming the proud owner of a new rescue dog!

Taking on a rescue dog is not always plain sailing, but providing a forever home to a dog in need will be one of the most rewarding experiences you have undertaken. Dogs who have never lived in a home environment or have not lived in one for some time can take longer to settle. Some may have experienced upheaval or trauma (e.g., illness or death of their owner), or they may have been given up because the previous owner has not been able to afford or cope with medical or behavioural problems. It is up to the new guardian to help them feel at ease with their new way of life and ensure that they become a much-loved member of the family. 

Following our guide will help you develop a bond with and create a happy home for your new addition, but don’t forget that good rescue organisations have their own support resources (some have their own behaviourists and veterinary personnel) and will be on hand to help with any queries or concerns.

Bringing your rescue dog home

Some rescue organisations will transport your dog to your home. If this is the case, the guidance in this section can be applied to the first car journey you embark on with your new friend. Even if you don’t own a vehicle, make sure you acclimatise your dog to car travel, as it may be necessary in an emergency.

It is a legal requirement for your dog to be safely restrained in the vehicle, either behind a properly fitted dog guard or within a suitable crate. A canine seatbelt harness is an alternative, but unless your rescue dog is used to one, either of the former options would be safer.  

Make sure the rear of the vehicle or crate is lined with plastic, because your dog may be excited or nervous. Voiding the bladder or bowel is natural when a dog is over-stimulated. Place some newspaper on top and then some comfortable, absorbent  bedding. Don’t put food and drink out as this will most likely end up all over your vehicle and/or dog during transit. It’s generally wise to make the journey home on an empty stomach in case of motion sickness (although a ginger biscuit can sometimes help). If you have a long journey, make some stops for water, but be very careful to keep your dog safe and secure whilst doing so. Too many ex-street dogs have tragically been lost or injured jumping from the vehicle into the road during a comfort break because they have not been properly restrained.

Make sure you have a well-fitting, escape-proof collar (and harness if your dog is accustomed to wearing one)  and a suitable lead (extending leads are unsuitable for urban areas as the catch can fail). An identification tag (and microchip) is a legal requirement.

Safety first

As well as ensuring your rescue dog is transported safely, both on the first journey and subsequent trips, there are other safety aspects to consider.

In the home, make sure your dog is well-supervised so that you can prevent him/her from eating and drinking things he/she shouldn’t or damaging dangerous items such as electrical cables. If you have young children, make sure toys and games with small parts are put away. Your dog’s toys/chews should be stowed away too so that   they can be played with under supervision, and this is especially important if you own other dogs to avoid confrontation over their valuable resources.

Make sure your dog’s food, treats and training rewards are kept in a secure, airtight container to prevent unauthorised access! Gorging can result in bloat, which is potentially fatal, and improperly stored dry goods can harbour mites (which when inhaled can make your dog very itchy). Be prepared - stock up with food that your rescue dog is familiar with beforehand.

Human foods must be kept in dog-proof cupboards too; especially grapes, raisins, chocolate and onions - all of which are harmful to dogs. Medicines must also be kept well out of reach. In addition to dog-proofing your home, you will also need to make sure the garden is safe. Good rescues perform home-checks so that any hazards within the home or garden can be rectified prior to arrival. Dogs can still wriggle through surprisingly small gaps and scale high fences, so it is best to ensure that visits to the garden are closely supervised to begin with so that you can check and double check for any potential escape routes.

Tip: Make sure gates are locked because visitors or family members may forget to close them or be unaware that your dog is outdoors.

Early days

Although you will be looking forward to many happy years together with your dog and eager to start to make a bond, it’s important to respect that your rescue dog may find the new environment unsettling to begin with. Dogs who have been institutionalised to some degree in kennels for long periods, and imported strays (who may have come straight from the street to their new home after a long, stressful journey) will likely take longer to adjust. Some dogs are naturally outgoing and will soon make friends, but others are more reticent and will need more time and patience whilst they adapt to the new people, noises and smells, and possibly other pets (either your own or those in proximity within the neighbourhood).

Before arrival, a cosy bed or crate placed in a warm, quiet place should be prepared. The rescue centre may allow you to take a blanket or favourite toy so that your dog has something that smells familiar. Crates should never be used for punishment. If your dog has not been used to one, you will need to take the time to ensure this is a desirable, calm place for relaxing, sleeping, or enjoying a snack, chew or meal in peace, and not a jail! Depending on your dog’s temperament, he/she may either sleep a lot whilst decompressing, or possibly display some anxious behaviours such as pacing and crying. Quiet reassurance is generally what is required, and it can take several months rather than days or weeks for a rescue dog to properly feel at home, so do not expect too much too soon.

Dogs who have never lived in a home environment or who have spent a lot of time in kennels will need toilet training. Allow plenty of opportunities to go outside to urinate/defecate, and don’t rush your dog. Toileting puts dogs in a vulnerable position, so be patient and allow lots of sniffing time. Reward your dog when he/she performs with food, play or praise/affection depending on which is the greatest motivator. Different dogs have different preferences, but almost every dog finds the Arden Grange Tasty Paste a perfect incentive. As previously mentioned, first forays out into the garden are best done on the lead, and your dog should not be let off lead on walks until you have established a solid recall and know that he/she is not going to disappear and/or chase/intimidate other animals or people.

Try to stick to the rescue centre’s feeding times as far as possible, at least for the first week. This will make it easier for you and your new dog to get into a routine and help with toilet training. Eating stimulates the digestion, and most dogs like to defecate within 5-30 minutes following a meal to clear the digestive tract ready for the incoming food. Don’t exercise heavily after food, but a gentle stroll or potter in the garden is fine and will usually get “things moving”. Make sure fresh water is always available.

Tip: If your dog is a reluctant drinker, filtered water may be preferred. This is because water from different areas can taste very different to dogs, and unlike us, they have special taste buds just for water that are finely tuned.

Sweet dreams

To help your dog to follow a peaceful bedtime routine: -

1.  Ensure the bed is in a quiet, draft-free, warm place and encourage your dog to use it to nap during the daytime too. Close curtains/blinds at night and be aware that unfamiliar noises outside can take time to get used to.

2. Placing the bed close to yours may offer some security if your dog is feeling uneasy. If this is not possible and your dog is distressed, don’t leave him/her to cry or bark – offer some comfort and company and then try leaving the room once settled. You may need to alter your own sleeping arrangements at the beginning (perhaps bedding down on a sofa or camp-bed, so you can be close-by).

3.  Make sure your dog has had a chance to go to the toilet before bed. Nighttime disturbances may still occur, but in time, this should reduce and eventually cease, especially if you wake early for morning toileting opportunities. Once you know your dog better, you may be able to adapt mealtimes to suit the individual’s digestion time.

4. Chewing can help dogs to feel more relaxed, as this is an appeasing behaviour that helps relieve stress through the release of endorphins. Allowing supervised access to a safe, appropriate chew before bed may help your dog to settle.

5. Lack of sleep can disrupt dopamine production. Dopamine is a hormone that creates feelings of pleasure and reward, and it is important in a training context since it can motivate your dog to repeat a behaviour. It drops naturally at nighttime, but a bedtime Arden Grange Crunchy Bites, which contains ingredients that are naturally rich in dopamine, and support dopamine production within the brain, can help your dog sleep well and wake up well-rested, alert and responsive. It may also avoid nighttime hunger-pangs and acid build up as a result of an empty stomach.

Tip: Dogs like music (especially Classical and Reggae) and something restful playing in the background can have a calming effect (as well as mask unfamiliar noises outdoors such as foxes). A pheromone diffuser or spray could be beneficial too.

Think dog!

Most dogs love to play, but they don’t always enjoy the same games. Some prefer toys they can fetch; others prefer toys they can chase or tug such as a flirt pole or knotted rope. Take the time to discover your own dog’s favourite/s. Exercising the mind is just as important as physical exercise.

Some rescue dogs may not have been well socialised and may be understandably fearful of the unknown. Think about all the elements which make up our modern world - traffic, other animals, the noises and smells of the town and countryside and the sight and touch of lots of different people. Don’t expose your dog to too many new experiences too quickly. It can take up to 72 hours for stress hormones to settle down after a negative experience. If further negative experiences occur before your dog has relaxed, stress hormones build up higher and higher, which can then result in fight or flight behaviours. Try to make each new excursion pleasurable, take food rewards and/or toys, and allow your dog plenty of sniffing time around trees/posts etc. Sniffing helps dogs  to make sense of the world around them and is an incredibly stimulating and enjoyable activity.

Your rescue dog will be dependent on you, but it is important not to encourage over-dependence. This can lead to separation anxiety and its associated disruptive behaviours. Start by leaving your dog for very short periods (when he/she is settled) and gradually work up to longer absences.

Feeding your rescue dog

Dogs like routine. Feed at the same times and in the same places to begin with - ideally using the diet that the rescue centre used for familiarity for the first week or two (unless it is being poorly digested or completely refused). Don’t panic if a meal is not finished; exploring can often take precedence over food in the early days.

In addition to knowing the brand and product name of the dog’s usual diet and timing and frequency, it is also helpful to know whether dry food has been fed soaked (and if so, for how long), and the quantity fed at each meal in grams per day. The optimal intake may vary when your dog is in a home environment. Kennels can be noisy, busy, stressful or over-stimulating for some dogs, and they may not need as much food if they are much calmer in their new environment. Other dogs might need more if their activity level increases significantly, but the original quantity should provide a reasonable starting point.

Ask the rescue organisation your dog’s weight and usual attitude towards food. This will help you to establish what is normal or not when he/she comes home. For example, if you think a few unwanted pounds might have crept on, when you weigh your dog, you will know how exactly how many; or if you think your dog is fussy, he/she may just have a naturally low appetite and perhaps fare better with smaller more frequent meals.

Be wary of feeding very high protein and/or high fat dry foods if your dog is known to have been malnourished prior to arriving at the rescue centre. These will be far removed to what he/she has been used to and may be too rich, at least at first. Once your dog has acclimatised, you can then gradually start introducing your food of choice. A 7-day transition is usually ideal, but you can take things more slowly if your dog is known to have a sensitive digestion, or more quickly if the original diet is not proving ideal.

Street dogs may not be used to regular meals served in a bowl. Scatter-feeding or spreading the food out on a low tray can encourage them. They may also like to hunt down small piles of hidden kibble. It is not unusual for them to eat very little one day and make up for it the next if they have had to scavenge and are used to periods without food. Conversely, some are delighted to have food on tap. A slow-feeder can be helpful for over-enthusiastic eaters, and there are lots of different designs to suit different eating styles.

Some dogs prefer interactive feeding toys, lick mats (for wet food), snuffle mats (for dry food) or puzzle feeders to conventional bowls.

Arden Grange can help you to select an appropriate product and feeding volume based on the following: -

Age - More calories and nutrients are required for growth than adult maintenance, meaning that a 10 kg puppy, who has a significant amount of height to gain, will need more food and a different nutrient profile to a 10 kg adult dog. The benefit of the Arden Grange life-stage diets over all age diets is that nutrient levels and the number of calories supplied by each nutrient can be tailored specifically for the requirements of the dogs that the product is primarily intended for, rather than to encompass a much broader market. The Senior diets are ideal for older dogs who are slowing down and will benefit from a less energy dense product with more joint support.

Breed/size – Large and giant breeds have a slower metabolism than small and medium breeds, and the Arden Grange Large Breed diets are formulated with this in consideration. They also have bigger kibble, and higher levels of glucosamine, chondroitin and MSM to support the joints, and more cranberry for urinary tract and dental support. L-carnitine is included to help convert fat to muscle, as well as support the heart and brain. The Arden Grange Mini diets have very small kibble, ideal for little mouths and dogs with a delicate eating style.

Average daily amount of exercise – Arden Grange produce diets for working and sporting dogs as well as dogs with a lower or average activity levels, and the Performance is an especially good product for energetic or busy dogs due to its extra supportive elements which include green tea and quercetin (to help keep free radicals in check), taurine (which is good for the heart, but also helps calm the nervous  system by reducing stress related adrenaline spikes) and L-carnitine (more commonly known for its benefit to the heart and as a metabolism booster, but it also benefits the brain in that it helps protect the nerve cells from damage).

Temperament – All of the Arden Grange products have attributes that make them popular with canine behaviourists, such as the inclusion of cranberry (a rich natural source of antioxidants). Stressed dogs produce more free radicals (unstable atoms that can cause damage to the cells, including those of the brain). Antioxidants are an important protective measure since they can neutralise free radicals by giving up some of their own electrons, creating a natural "off" switch. This helps break a negative  chain reaction. The Arden Grange Adult Salmon & Rice is particularly good in terms of psychological support as it supplies more tryptophan – to help manufacture serotonin and melatonin (important for mental wellbeing and a good night’s sleep), extra Omega-3 fats – great “brain food” and more of the amino acids lysine and arginine – which influence neurotransmitters involved in stress and anxiety.

Appetite – Appetite issues are common in rescue dogs and can range from very picky eaters (who have perhaps been too used to people food in their previous home) to those with a voracious appetite (who maybe making up for lost time due to too little food in their past life). Arden Grange has this covered with low fat dry foods such as the Light Chicken & Rice and Partners Sensitive canned food – which have more generous feed portions, and concentrated foods such as the Prestige – which allow optimal nutrition to be provided in smaller portions. The Lamb & Rice is also often successful in tempting a discerning eater, as it smells very appealing to dogs. There are many factors affecting a dog’s perception of palatability, ranging from taste and smell to “mouth feel” (i.e., the size, shape, density of a kibble).

Weight status – The Arden Grange diets mentioned in the Appetite section can also benefit the overweight and underweight dog respectively due to the lower and higher calorie content. Many over-weight dogs are greedy, but a surprising number are fussy. This is often because they have eaten too much of the wrong types of food in the past, and the high palatability of the Partner's canned food ensures it is usually very well accepted in such   cases, and ideal to get the appetite back on track either alone or in conjunction with suitable dry food. When helping underweight dogs to make up a deficit, the key factors are that the diet is readily eaten, well digested  and that the correct number of calories are consumed for the dog’s ideal weight. The higher calorie products such as PremiumPerformance and Prestige are often very suitable for this purpose.

Neuter status – Unless you have rehomed a young pup or an adult female who has only recently had a season (and the rescue organisation has advised waiting for her to hormones to settle down for a few months before spaying) your rescue dog will likely be neutered. Hormonal changes can cause the metabolic rate to decrease (meaning that calories are not burned so quickly) and can also increase a pet’s voluntary appetite. These changes do not however happen overnight, and most young and/or energetic dogs can be fed as normal. Older, less active / neutered dogs may benefit from a lower fat diet if reducing the intake raises concerns regarding hunger. Arden Grange does not produce a diet specifically for neutered dogs, but the Light shares some of the same supportive elements. This product has a dual feeding guide and can be used for weight maintenance as well as weight loss.

Particular likes/dislikes – Just like us, dogs have foods that they really enjoy, and also some that they are not keen on. It is important for your rescue dog to derive pleasure from eating. Many owners like to offer variety and many dogs appreciate this. The Arden Grange adult maintenance dog foods all have a similar energy density so have the same (or similar) daily volumes, making it easy to mix and match if you wish.

A few tips are as follows: -

1. Introduce one new product at a time, and do this gradually over the course of a week. This makes it easier to determine which food is the culprit if one of them isn’t as well tolerated as the other/s. The varieties include Chicken, Lamb, Salmon, Pork and White Fish (the Chicken, Lamb & White Fish have size-specific options too).

2. Don’t offer too much variety, especially with dogs who are known to be a little choosy as this can make the  issue worse. I would also keep aside one food (which has a novel protein source), so that if your dog were to develop a food sensitivity in the future you would have a diet within the Arden Grange range with alternative ingredients to use.

Once you know that a particular food agrees, you can then rotate foods as you wish be it by meal, by week or by month etc.

Additions to the main diet – One of the main causes of unwanted weight gain is eating too many extras. Training your rescue dog is important, and food rewards are usually an integral part of this. Vets generally recommend that treats do not provide more than 10-15% of a dog’s daily calorie intake. This is to avoid unbalancing the main diet. If you need to feed more treats at the outset, use some of the kibble for a lower value reward, saving other foods for when higher value payment is needed. The Arden Grange Crunchy Bites however (although marketed as a treat), are in fact complete and balanced in their own right, so can be fed at any proportion providing the main diet is suitably reduced. As a general guide, simply weigh the amount of any dry treats you would give on an average day and deduct this amount from the usual daily volume of the main  diet. If any of the treats have a significantly higher fat (or oil) content listed than the main diet, then reduce the allowance a little more (or consider a treat that has a comparable or lower fat content). For wet or fresh treats, reduce the dry food by about 17.5g for every 50g portion.

Special requirements – Some rescue dogs may have nutritionally responsive medical conditions and will need a diet which provides the appropriate support. Leishmaniasis for example is sadly very common in dogs imported from countries where sand flies are prevalent, and dogs with this condition require a low purine diet. They may also require restricted phosphorous and sodium if the disease has caused renal deterioration. If your dog has any special requirements, listen carefully to the dietary advice provided by the rescue organisation and do not deviate from this unless advised by your vet. Although Arden Grange do not produce veterinary diets, we can offer help with a number of medical issues via our nutrition advice service*.

*Seek your vet's advice first

If your cat or dog is unwell, we always recommend that you seek your vet's advice first. We do not supply prescription diets, and whilst our recipes may be beneficial to many animals, we must highlight that they are not  a substitute for veterinary intervention in the case of a sick animal. We are however, very happy to liaise with your vet and offer guidance (if safe and appropriate to do so) in the event of your pet suffering from a nutritionally responsive medical condition.