First I have to say that I’m no vet or scientist and can only offer advice as a foster mum of 45 dogs over the last 5 years. Also can I add that my friends will find it hilarious that I’ve been designated the dog food expert for Starlight Barking as I can’t cook!
The Lemnos shelter, where most of my foster dogs have arrived from, is in the middle of nowhere and the farmer in the next field is paid by the municipality to look after the dogs. His caring skills extend to plonking a big bucket of sawdust like kibble into their kennels, topping up their water bucket and then maybe scoops the poop……if he remembers.
Fotini, Vaggelio and Maria, who you’ve probably all now met on Instagram, are the only 3 volunteers. They visit when they can but often this is only once a week.
When your dogs arrive in the UK, you will probably be shocked to see their ribs showing and your immediate instinct will be to smother them with love and offer them every treat under the sun. Please don’t – because this will almost immediately give them an upset tummy. There will be plenty of time to spoil them later.
We suggest slow and steady, especially in the first few days. Later you can up the recommended portion sizes to let them gain a bit of weight (but do keep an eye that their waists don’t disappear or you won’t be the first Lemnos owner to find yourself with a chubby over weight dog).
On the journey to the UK with Animal Couriers they will have been fed small portions of a tried and tested kibble for sensitive stomachs, usually James Wellbeloved.
Once they arrive with me – in the past I used James Wellbeloved kibble for both my own dogs and the fosters but have recently discovered Bradshaws. https://www.bradshawsdogs.com/
They are the first not-for-profit dog food company, founded by a gentleman who had rescued a dog from Romania. For every 12k bag you buy they donate a 6kg bag back to Starlight Barking which is then sent back to the Lemnos Shelter to supplement the poor quality kibble that the mayor provides. Our dogs have the Salmon-Sweet Potato & Asparagus blend and you can feel and smell the quality – so much so that it’s easy to use for treats. Yes – it’s more expensive than supermarkets own brand but the sense that you’re giving a quality food to your own dogs, whilst giving back to help rescue dogs is a really good feeling.
The first days, whatever kibble you decide to use, we recommend feeding twice a day in very small portions in their crate. If you have other dogs please ensure your new dog is fed privately. In their kennels, unless shared, they have never had competition for food and food aggression can arise even with their new owner.
Rescue behaviourists will suggest keeping a portion of kibble back as treats and feeding by hand for a few minutes before each meal time.
As the first week progresses you can start upping their portions. Still twice a day, and using the kibble as training treats, remembering long term you don’t want a chubby dog. As long as you can always see a clear waist you’re doing it right. This statement will clearly make you laugh and cry in your first week when you see your little waif before you. You can’t ever imagine them fat, but it really is a common problem over- feeding them with kindness.
Treats are the next hurdle and the first thing which will give a jippy tummy. Even yummy natural food like chicken and ham should also be off limits in the first weeks. Their little tummies can’t cope immediately with such good quality pure food and the results are either squidgy poos or explosive diarrhea.
Fiona and I have lost count of the number of poorly tummy conversations we have had during the first weeks with worried new owners.
For us it’s a bit bit like the Slimming Club confessional.
Us: “So you’ve stuck to the feeding advice and haven’t given them any bought treats.”
New mum and dad: “Absolutely – no treats – just a pig’s ear- he really loved that!”
The absolute worst thing of all is to give the dogs any treats or rawhide chews made in China. Please Google for reviews and see why.
Dentastix is another real no-no. They don’t affect all dogs in a bad way but when they do it’s violent. Again please read the reviews, (not the Pedigree Petfood reviews – but the real ones). Despite the clever marketing, the content of those chews is really undesirable and is no way to start your dog on his new healthy life with you.
I changed all our dogs to the natural veggie chews – Whimzees – 10 years ago – the foster dogs love them and they have one a day. I don’t give them to them for a couple of weeks after their arrival but have never had a squidgy poo ever.
I found the cheapest place to buy them is Pet Planet https://www.petplanet.co.uk/ be careful as they come in 3 different sizes. Your local pet shop will also be selling them.
If you do use Pet Planet – please consider making your order via Easy Fundraising – it’s a free app and if you select Starlight Barking every time you order your dog food Easyfundraising make a donation. It costs you nothing and Lemnos shelter will be the beneficiary. (There are 100s more outlets on this app and every time you shop Lemnos shelter dogs will benefit).
Also after a couple of weeks I give them all a peeled carrot every day. Half the dogs love them the other half will drop the carrot and give that look: “Really?”
I also start adding a couple of florets of cooked broccoli to their meal each day. This was a recommendation from a homeopathic vet many years ago and one bit of advice I’m convinced works, especially helping anal glands.
All the shelter dogs seem to go mad for eating grass when they arrive.
They’re all also arrive very thirsty. It’s all quite normal. As is their instinct to hold on to their pee and poo. Eventually after a few days this will all calm down as you establish a routine.
Do watch out for digging and eating earth and drinking from puddles both of which can cause explosive tummies. Also, as a precaution I always wash my dogs feet after a walk, particularly as they walk through farm fields that have been sprayed with all sorts of unknown nasties. We had a spate of sickness and diarrhea with local dogs recently, several of whom ended up quite poorly at the vets – all had been walking in the same area.
Sorry – this isn’t meant to scare anyone – we just think it’s better to be forewarned of the pitfalls when out walking.
If your dog does have a bout of diarrhoea, provided they look well enough in themselves, then the quickest remedy is to starve them for 24 hours. Yes – it’s as equally horrid for you as they look at you pleadingly, but it really does work. Next meal after 24 hours should be plain boiled rice. Yes – you will get an even stranger look. Then the next meal rice mixed with a tiny bit of chicken or their usual kibble. This usually fixes the problem tummy but please don’t ever worry alone. Fiona and I are just a phone call away and would prefer you call us anytime you are worried even if it’s just to check all the above.
Although quite expensive, reindeer antlers are an investment for chewers and last for ages. I would definitely recommend buying these direct from the pet shop so you can see exactly the shape you’re getting and you feel comfortable with this. As with all chews your dog should never be left alone and you will need watch out for sharp points appearing as they get down to the last part of the antler.
Once you’re happy that their tummies are settled you can start to introduce the food which you plan on being their permanent food. I use a mix of Harringtons wet food (and they do really good discount codes on your first order) and Bradshaws’s kibble as above. Lots of Lemnos dogs are now on a raw diet. Your local pet shop will also give you best advice.
We hope this helps – and please remember we are here for you anytime, especially during the settling in days.
Good luck everyone and thank you all so much for helping even more shelter dogs.