Dinner Dilemma: Picky Eater or Hidden Issue?
Short of serving pizza and nachos, do you find that you struggle to serve your fur-kids meals that they will eat zealously? I daresay, overall, most pups are anxious to chow down and will usually eat whatever is presented to them. In that case, the more important thing for you is ensuring the food you're serving is the very best you can afford, filled with the required nutrients and void of all harmful and unnecessary ingredients. It's also important to notice when and, if possible, why your pup has become picky. While sometimes it can just be boredom from the same-old-same-old, other times it may be due other extenuating circumstances or even a medical issue in need of attention.
When "Take Away" Is On The Menu
You and I both know that there are just times in our lives (some more than others) when the thought of eating just doesn't appeal. (Well, personally I can't think of a time like that, LOL) But, that can happen to our pups too. Experience with my own fur-kids over the decades has proved this to be the case with nearly every one of them at one point or another. Whether there's something going on in the house that they've sensed and are reacting to, or if, like Jacob-Milo who just decides at breakfast, "meh, not right now thanks", I've learned to be patient. Instead of piling on "yummy stuff" to try to entice them to eat, remove the plate completely. Wait a while and try again. Sometimes it may even take a day, but what you'll find is that, eventually, the plate gets gobbled down with relish (and I don't mean the cucumber kind, LOL) after a little while.
Couch Potatoes Listen Up!
So, your pooch may not be the most active fur-kid on the block. Besides the fact (and that's for another upcoming story on obesity) that weight control could become a problem, his appetite won't be stimulated as easily or quickly if he's sedentary. Sitting around all day, gazing out the front window and snoozing isn't good for any of us, 2-leggeds or four! It's no surprise that the more action our bodies get, the more fuel they will want. By taking a brisk walk once or twice a day, everyone will receive the benefits. Not only will it do mom and dad good to get moving and breathe in a little fresh air, but by amping up the exercise just a little, you'll notice your pup's appetite increase, heartily tucking in to din-din when it is served.
Of Course A Topper Will Be Tops
Who doesn't love the gravy, bearnaise sauce, croutons, and all those other yummy add-ons that come with our salads and entrees? There is a plethora of these "toppers" out there for dealing with "picky" puppers too. But beware!!! While this may solve an immediate problem of coaxing your pooch to eat, remember that they're going to get used to having this served every time (I know of what I speak!) and you're often adding unnecessary calories and fat to the meal.
[My picky eater, Jacob-Milo, has become a shredded parm addict. I had to be away from home for a few days, and to persuade him to eat, my husband sprinkled shredded parm over the plate. Well, that did it! Three years later I am still trying to wean our "pork pie" boy off the stuff.]
If you must resort to toppers, try to choose one that offers as much nutritional value as possible and perhaps cut back slightly on the "entree" food your feeding to offset.
The Games We Play
At times, we need to resort to silliness to engage a pup who has lost interest in eating. I don't know about your house, but around here, if a morsel of anything is dropped on the floor, a swarm of 12 scrambling paws comes charging to the kitchen like a stealth of ninja! Of course, that means that a couple other tidbits need to be dropped to be sure everyone gets in on the action. But, for a picky eater, this may be the way to fool the fur-kid into eating. Naturally, depending on the size of your pooch, this may not be a viable solution. After all, who wants to drop the 10 cups of kibble that a large breed dog needs, all over the kitchen floor?
We all need to be in tune with our pups on every level possible. That includes understanding the size of their appetites. It seems logical to assume that small dogs would have small appetites and large ones the opposite, right? But, that won't always be the case. In our house, in fact, we have three levels of appetite in three relatively same sized pooches. When we recognize that our pups are individuals, just like humans, we can adapt to their needs better. Knowing how much to feed each fur-kid is also a key.
Check The Tags With The Maitre'd
Have you noticed that your pooch's tags clink on the bowl or plate you're offering them? That may be the problem causing them to avoid going to the bowl. Simply removing the collar or changing out the style of container you're using may be one of the simplest problems solved. If your pup is tall, the strain to eat from a bowl on the floor may be a deterrent and changing to a raised feeding station may be the solution. Your baby's' breed will make a difference too! Flat faced pooches, for example, need a wider, more shallow bowl to eat from. Are you using old, worn out plastic? GET RID OF IT AS QUICK AS POSSIBLE! There may be un-humanly-detectable odours that are putting your pup off. But, the toxins and bacteria lurking in that container are even more worrisome and dangerous and will eventually make your fur-kid sick! And, while on the subject -but kinda off topic-, not only plastic containers, which often contain BpA, can be dangerous, so can ceramic and stoneware with highly porous surfaces (where bacteria will hide) and possibly toxic paints and glazes, and metals made in China (discovered to contain high levels of cobalt-60, a radio active material, scraps of which have been known to be mixed in the manufacturing process). While expensive, medical grade stainless steel or glass containers provide the safest alternatives as feeding receptacles.
Treats and junk food are well, mostly unnecessary. WHAT??? For any of us, treats and desserts are just added fat and calories that, for the most part, satiate only our "minds". With our pups, it's a good idea to treat as sparingly as possible; for training purposes only or the prevent empty-belly spit-ups overnight. Naturally, you'd want to eat a lemon tart rather than a liver dinner, so why would we expect our pooches to want their dinner rather than their treats? Be sure to choose good quality treats with the fewest ingredients possible. Freeze dried, one ingredient treats offer high reward value with little added junk. But, sticking to a designated time for doling out the treats will make it clear that these are special rewards.
No matter what aspect of fur-kid life I'm addressing, one of the key factors in every case is routine! Dogs thrive on routine. For example, ever notice that at precisely the same time each day, they sit at the door waiting for mom or dad to arrive home from work? I'm quite certain it's not because they looked at the Timex on their paw. And think back to the last time change. Who was in the kitchen and hour early? So, it's only logical that when meal times are offered on a regular schedule, your pup will be ready and eagerly waiting for the dish to drop. I know there are some who believe "browsing" is the style of feeding they prefer but, a) our fur-kids are not deer in the forest, and b) on average, studies have shown dogs who are "free fed" tend to over eat (or sometimes under eat). A hands-off and impersonal way to deal with your pooch's meals, free-feeding removes the ability to monitor what your pup is eating, making sure the food is fresh (rather than sitting in the bowl for who knows how long), and sharing the bonding time you enjoy when feeding them.
Medical Intervention Required
But, if you find your pooch continually, for several days, throws her paws up and says, "Na, I'm good!", this may have a deeper, hidden meaning. Possible medical issues could be causing her to turn up her nose when she's usually a keen eater. Things like having swallowed something she shouldn’t, dental disease, allergies, infection, parasites, gastrointestinal issues, arthritis, or vaccination side effects may all be the root cause to a sudden refusal to eat. Further, if this has continued for a day or two or more and you've noticed other symptoms like lethargy, or other physical signs of illness, please pass Go and go directly to your vet!
"When dealing with our "picky eaters" the keys are, first and foremost, patience and keen observation."
When dealing with our "picky eaters" the keys are, first and foremost, patience and keen observation. By assessing our pups for any physical symptoms, external signs of discomfort or distraction, and environmental issues, we are able to adjust the meals we serve our fur-kids and the ways and means by which we do it. As you become aware that your pooch is sensitive to certain things and excited for others, mealtimes will become special times when you are revered as the almighty king/queen of your pup's entire world!
Many of the opinions express here are based on my more than 3 decades of personal experience as well as research.