It doesn't seem to matter what you put in front of him, he just turns his nose up at it. He holds out for what he wants until you give in. He prefers between meal snacks to a regular meal. No, I'm not talking about your child. I'm talking about your dog! Just like children (or adults) dogs can be finicky eaters. Some dogs, like people, are just naturally more finicky and some are allowed to become picky eaters.
Determine Why Your Dog Is Finicky
A dog who has always had a healthy appetite and suddenly begins refusing food may have a health problem. Giardiasis, a waterborne parasite, is a common cause of a dog turning away from his supper dish. A dog who is infected with Giardiasis may go off his feed, have stomach upset with severe cramps, intermittent diarrhea and won't gain weight.
Other gastrointestinal disorders or underlying illnesses can also cause your dog to stop eating well. Oral disease is a possibility. Dogs don't get cavities as easily as humans do, but are prone to gum disease which can make eating uncomfortable. Consult a veterinarian if your dog's eating patterns change drastically.
Dogs who don't eat at mealtime may be getting food from other sources. Does the family slip him table scraps or feed him extra treats during the day? Is the dog rummaging through the garbage cans or eating at the neighbor's house? Take control of his eating by letting the family know that extra between meal treats and bites from the family table are not allowed. Keep the trash cans covered and prevent him from wandering the neighborhood where he can help himself to outside pets' dishes or the neighbor's trash can.
When your dog refuses a food that he has been eating consistently check the expiration date and make sure the food is not spoiled. Check for foul odors. Store dry food in a plastic storage container, or indoors in a dry location. If dry food becomes damp it will form mold and should not be fed to your pet. When part of a can of food is given the rest should be stored in a container in the refrigerator and not left to sit out during the day.
Learn About Dog Nutrition
Educate yourself on proper nutrition for dogs, or get some guidance from your vet. You don't necessarily have to offer your dog the brand your vet just happens to sell and swears is the best. Any high-quality brand of pet food will supply your dog with all the nutrients he needs. Dogs do not need variety in their diet. Too much variety may actually contribute to the pickiness and cause your dog to hold out for something else.
Treats should not be more than 10% of the dog's daily diet. Hard biscuits that clean the teeth are good between-meal snacks. Some dogs will eat vegetables; cooked vegetables will be easier for them to digest than raw ones. Lean, unsalted meats are acceptable. Some like fruit. Avoid feeding your dog refined sugars and fats which lead to obesity and other health issues. Some human foods should never be given to dogs. Chocolate and caffeine are definite no-nos. Seeds and pits of many fruits can be toxic to dogs. Onions and garlic may cause anemia in dogs. If you choose to give him table scraps or human food do some homework on what is safe for dogs. Whatever type of treat you give him do it at scheduled intervals and not when the dog begs for them. Saving treats for after his regular meal may encourage him to clean his plate! You must be in control of his feeding and not feed him at his whim.
Is Your Dog a Finicky Breed?
Some breeds are known to be naturally picky eaters. German Shepherds are notoriously finicky as well as many small breeds including Yorkies, Maltese, Pomeranians and Chihuahuas. With naturally picky eaters you may have to do some experimenting to find what they prefer. Many dogs prefer moist food to dry. Feeding larger breeds canned food exclusively can be expensive, so you might try mixing some water or broth with their kibble. Mix something extra in with his food to make it more interesting. Try adding kibble to canned food to add crunch. Add some meat-flavored baby food or break up a favorite treat, mixing it in well so he can't pick out the goodies. Don't add too much or you may end up with an obese dog. It may take a bit of trial and error until you can satisfy a naturally picky eater.
Make Your Dog's Food Appealing To Him
A dog who has been fed a particular food for a long time and has always been picky about it may not like the taste. Try a different brand or flavor. Buy a small bag at first to test your dog's reaction to it. Always make changes in your dog's diet gradually. Sudden changes may cause stomach upset, vomiting and diarrhea. Mix a small amount of the new food in with the old. Gradually increase the proportion of new to old until he is eating only the new food.
Appealing aromas excite the appetite in dogs as well as humans. Cold food will have little aroma. Add hot water or broth to dry food or slightly microwave canned food so the aroma is more enticing. If you microwave the food stir it well before serving to avoid hot spots.
Females coming into season may go off feed temporarily and males in the "teenage" stage (12 to 18 months old) who are active and energetic may just not slow down long enough to eat a full meal! Try putting his kibble in a treat-dispensing toy so he can have fun working for his food. Alternately, a dog who is not too active may benefit from a short walk or playtime (nothing too strenuous) before mealtime to stimulate his appetite. Feed a quantity of food that is appropriate to the dog's level of activity.
Don't Let Your Dog Manipulate You
Some dogs have trained their owners to feed them what they want. They have learned that if they hold out and act starved the owner will eventually give in. The owner needs to be firm and retrain his dog to eat correctly. Feed your dog at the same time each day. An unpredictable feeding schedule can cause stress and stomach upset. Two feedings a day are appropriate for most dogs although toy breeds may need fed more often to avoid low blood sugar (hypoglycemia). Some large dogs will do well on just one daily feeding if they are in good health and not overweight.
Understand Your Dog's Feeding Habits
Recognize times when your dog is most likely to eat. Your dog may not eat when the house is filled with noisy children, or may prefer to eat after the master gets home. He may not eat around another dog, or may prefer the company of other household pets while he eats. An automated feeder may be used if the dog's preferences don't jive with the schedule of the person responsible for feeding the dog.
Limit the Amount Of Time He Has to Eat
At mealtime put the appropriate serving of food in the dog's dish and walk away. Don't cajole him to eat. Some dogs will use food to gain attention. Put the food away if the dog hasn't eaten in 15-20 minutes. Do not leave the food out if the dog does not eat. After a day or two he will get hungry enough to eat and it won't hurt him to go that long without eating.
It is not a good idea to leave food out all day. Most dogs will only eat enough to be satisfied but some breeds are prone to overeating and may become obese or suffer bloat or gastric torsion. Make other family members aware that you are teaching your dog good eating habits and that unauthorized treats or table scraps are banned.
It's your will against your dog's and it can be so hard to resist those big brown begging eyes, but be firm and consistent. Your dog's health will benefit from having regular eating habits, and your finances will benefit by avoiding health issues and veterinary expenses associated with poor diet and obesity.