Fussy dogs can drive us crazy. We might try 20 different foods, we beg and cajole…but sometimes nothing seems to work.
While most dogs eat well – even too well, considering more than 50% are considered overweight or obese by their veterinarians – there are always some that just don’t have a good appetite. Certain dog breeds, like huskies and great Danes, can be famously fussy eaters.
If you have a picky eater, keep in mind that the ideal body condition for any animal is what most of us would consider a little too thin. But research has shown that animals of many species (including humans!) live longer and have fewer chronic diseases if they stay slim.
However, if your dog’s appetite has recently decreased (whether suddenly or gradually), a veterinary visit is in order. While a day or two of fasting is normal for many animals, there are numerous health issues that can cause anorexia (not eating) or inappetance (eating less). These include infections, dental disease, gastrointestinal, heart, kidney or liver disorders, cancer, certain hormone abnormalities, many medications, recent vaccination, pain, and stress – to name just a few.
Food likes and dislikes are formed early in life, but weaning your puppy onto a varied diet produces adults with broad food preferences.
Feeding a variety of foods right from the start reduces the chance that your animal will become finicky, and avoid both the “monotony” and “novelty” effects. It can also help avoid the development of food allergies, which tend to occur in animals fed the same food for a long time.
Tips and tricks
If your vet has given your dog a clean bill of health, there are quite a few tricks that can help you overcome her pickiness. (These tips can also help you transition her to new foods.)
- An animal who is hungry at mealtime is more likely to eat what is offered, so don’t use perpetually full bowls or feeders that allow 24/7 snacking. Individual feeding at timed meals will give you the best results, as well as allow you to assess how much your fussy companion is really eating – especially important in multi-animal households.
- Stick to a regular meal schedule, so she learns to anticipate food at those times.
- Never feed your dog from the table; this only encourages “holding out” for something tastier.
- Try a different brand or flavour of food. The “novelty” effect may help stimulate her appetite.
- If feeding wet, raw or homemade food, warm it by adding a little hot water. Warmth increases the food’s odor, which stimulates appetite. (Never microwave pet food; it can create hot spots that will burn your animal’s mouth – which definitely won’t help!)
- Feed smaller amounts more frequently.
- Move the food bowl; it may be in a location that your dog just doesn’t want to hang out in.
- Increase your companion’s exercise level; it will increase hunger.
- Top the food with plain meat baby food (chicken, turkey, lamb, ham) – just make sure it doesn’t contain onion powder.
- Mix lightly browned, unseasoned meat into the food, or use as a topping.
- Sprinkle grated or powdered cheese on top of the food.
- Give treats only after your animal has eaten a good meal.
- Use “tough love” – if your dog or cat hasn’t eaten her meal in ten or 15 minutes, pick it up and put it away, then offer the exact same food at the next mealtime.
The “monotony” and “novelty” effects
Here are two other influences can impact canine appetites:
1. The “monotony effect” is seen when animals gradually decrease consumption of a familiar food.
2. The “novelty effect” is when dogs or cats enthusiastically eat a new food the first few times it is offered, but reject it after a few meals (usually right after you buy a 50-pound bag or whole case of it!).
Veterinarian Dr. Jean Hofve has researched pet food and feline nutrition for more than 16 years. She has written extensively and has been interviewed on radio and television about pet nutrition, supplements and the commercial pet food industry. She is an industry advisor to AAFCO and co-authored Holistic Cat Care with nutritionist Dr. Celeste Yarnall.