Feeding Canine Picky Eaters

I have had dogs all my life, and they have all been robust eaters. I now have a dog with the opposite issue. She is a very fussy eater, and she will sometimes just refuse to eat her meal. What can I do for her?

nutrition-dog-picky-eaterBecause dog foods are so palatable now, it is not as common to find a canine picky eater, but it can happen. We, as pet owners, can help to create a fussy eater by taking advantage of the huge variety among dog foods – different kibble flavors and sizes, different textures and flavors among canned foods, pouches of semi-moist food, and freshly packaged meals in the refrigerator section of the grocery or pet store. For some dogs, too much of a good thing (i.e. lots of food variety) is not necessarily a good thing!

As long as a dog is not ill, either with a chronic illness like kidney disease, or with an acute illness like a respiratory infection, he can actually survive for over a week without eating. Most dogs will not hold out very long before their survival instinct kicks in and they take your advice to eat what is offered.

One approach is to offer food at a morning meal time, leave it out for 15 – 30 minutes, then take it away until the next meal. At the next meal, do the same. Whatever is not consumed is removed. This approach works best with dry kibble. If you offer canned food, it is best to discard what is not eaten in order to prevent illness from spoiled food. Unfortunately, this means wasting food. To reduce waste, offer just a small amount of food per meal, gradually increasing to an appropriate meal size when the smaller volumes are eaten consistently.

It may be that the dog really does prefer a particular texture or flavor of food. For these dogs, once you identify what they like, stick with that formulation for consistency’s sake. For the semi-moist and canned food eaters, offer very small amounts at any one time. For a dog who is willing to eat dry, but just not all at once, it is reasonable to measure out the entire day’s portion all at once in the morning since it won’t spoil. Yet another option is to utilize a preferred canned food formulation as a “top dressing” on dry kibble. Some canned dog food has a gravy component that may enhance its use as a way to increase the dog’s interest in meal time.

I worry that my dog isn’t getting enough calories. Can I supplement her dog food with table scraps?

One important consideration in dealing with a canine picky eater is to resist the temptation to begin feeding human food willy-nilly from the table. These are dogs that are even more difficult to transition back to balanced dog foods. It is actually quite difficult to balance a dog’s long-term ration when feeding them home-prepared food. Over time, taste preferences may emerge that lead to deficiencies of particular nutrients. Also, there are no commercially prepared supplements for dogs that are proven to provide the balance necessary for home-cooked meals.

“Resist the temptation to begin feeding
human food willy-nilly from the table.”

While relying only on human food for canine sustenance is not a good idea, there are some human food options that can increase the appeal of a dog’s ration and encourage the dog to eat the food with the preferred nutrient profile. Be sure to check with your veterinarian to determine if any of these suggestions are OK for your dog, and to verify how much you can add in a day without risking weight gain.

  • No-salt-added chicken or vegetable broth.
  • Fresh or frozen water-based vegetables (green beans, broccoli, cauliflower, lettuce, etc.).
  • The occasional dry-scrambled egg.
  • Air popped popcorn (no butter or salt).

One last consideration for dogs who are fussy eaters. Wild canines, like foxes and wolves, do not eat “3 squares a day.” Their eating pattern revolves around food availability and they may not even eat every day. There appears to be a segment of the domestic dog population that simply eats when they feel like it. These dogs may simply not eat on the schedule we have chosen for them. It may be argued that having such a dog – one who is not a voracious eater but who “grazes” – is a blessing. Owners of canine gluttons can barely imagine what it must be like to have a picky eater!

This client information sheet is based on material written by: Robin Downing, DVM, CVPP, CCRP, DAAPM

© Copyright 2014 LifeLearn Inc. Used and/or modified with permission under license.

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