As the saying goes, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink,” the same holds true for the four-legged members of the family. Dogs often operate on a their own internal hunger cues and getting them to eat regular nutritious meals can be tricky. Watching your pooch skip dinner can be disconcerting, but what can you do and how serious is it?
Any time a normally enthusiastic dog who never skips a meal becomes reluctant to eat or refuses food, consult with your veterinarian. This could be a sign of an underlying illness. Especially if refusing food is accompanied by other clinical signs, prompt veterinary attention is warranted. Pet health insurance is an invaluable tool to ensure your pet gets the top notch care they need!
1. Don’t Create a Monster
Commonly, without meaning to, owners can create a picky-eater by coaxing their dogs to eat when they aren’t hungry. Take this example: Spot ate a Milkbone at 3pm, so he isn’t hungry for her dinner. Mrs. Jones is concerned that Spot isn’t eating, so she adds a little of her pot roast on top of the kibble. Spot, of course, eats this with enthusiasm! Over time Spot learns that if he ignores his kibble at dinnertime, he will be rewarded with something even tastier from Mrs. Jones’ plate. In essence, Spot is training Mrs. Jones.
2. Picky Eating Leads to Obesity
The problem with this scenario is that is leads to obesity. Recent studies estimate that over half of our pets are overweight; obviously obesity is a growing problem with significant pet health implications. In the above story, Spot wasn’t eating because his body was telling him he wasn’t hungry. The highly desirable food overrode the lack of hunger and thus he overate, leading to weight gain. This creates a vicious cycle of refusing dog food, but eating treats and human food.
3. Create Healthy Habits in Puppies
Preventing a finicky eater is best started at puppyhood. Get in the habit of feeding regular meals without a lot of snacking or table scraps. Don’t over feed. If food is leftover in the bowl at the end of the day, you are putting too much food in it! Talk with your veterinarian about how much you should be feeding. Often the guidelines on the back of the dog food bags can over estimate how much kibble should be fed. Calorie requirements and metabolism can vary greatly with your dog’s age, breed, lifestyle and level of exercise.
4. Retrain Your Older Dog
An adult dog with a history of finicky eating can be a little more challenging to convert. Especially in situations where the owner has associated feeding treats with love and reward, changing this can be hard. Try to resist using food to equate with love. Instead, have a mini-play session with a favorite toy, or go for a walk and have a cuddle together. Dogs are pretty easy to please! When attempting to convert a picky eater, realize that the first couple weeks will be the hardest. If Roscoe is used to a certain eating arrangement, he will undoubtedly be put off when this changes.
After determining how much kibble your pet should be eating in a day, break this into two meals. Put the first meal down in the morning, allow it to sit out for a period of time, then put it away. Don’t be surprised if he ignores it at first, remember, he is used to getting what he wants! Then allow access to the pre-measured breakfast again at lunch time, again put it away if he continues to ignore it. At dinnertime, do the same thing. Allow a period of time with the kibble available, then remove it. Try to resist doctoring it,as this reinforces he refusal of plain food. Over time she will learn that if she doesn’t eat her meals when you feed them, you’ll take them away! Most dogs will not starve themselves (this isn’t true for cats though!) and will eventually eat.
A finicky eater can be a challenge, but a nutritious diet and healthy body weight are so important to your pet’s health and longevity, that it should be taken seriously. In addition to regular veterinary visits and healthy eating habits, always consider having a pet health insurance policy as an additional way to keep your furry family members in tip top shape.