Aside from allergies and digestive issues, one of the more common issues we are questioned about is the picky dog. While some pet owners do have success with encouraging their fussy dogs to eat with a raw diet, it often is not a long-term solution. The problem is that picky dogs are created and the resulting behavioural issue is not a simple fix.
Several months ago, I saw a question posted on a Facebook group asking how to encourage a picky dog to eat. The owner was at her wits end. She had multiple dogs that refused to eat and it was actually impacting her dog’s health and well-being. One of the responses stuck out to me and summed up exactly how the picky dog is created. Debra Reid of The Learned Canine has kindly allowed me to share her comment.
“My qualifications are that I have been a registered veterinary technician for 17 years and specialize in canine behaviour. Firstly let me commend you on being such a dedicated dog owner. It is obvious how much you love your pooches and that you would do anything for them. Unfortunately, they have figured that out too. They have realized that if they don’t eat what they are offered that other options will follow. Depending on their mood at the time, they might accept the offering or hold out to see what else you’ve got. The more times you sweeten the deal, the more you are reinforcing the holding out behaviour. Getting down on the floor, hand feeding, and turning dinner time into a game sweetens the deal even more. Why would they ever eat what was offered straight from the bowl again?! At this point it really isn’t even about what they like or don’t like, it’s about pushing the game as far as they can. It’s no coincidence that they all have the same “taste”!” – Debra Reid, The Learned Canine
So, how do we fix the picky dog? There is no easy answer here as the severity of the behaviour varies from dog to dog. Some dogs will refuse to eat for a few hours while others will go days without eating. To start, if the dog has access to food 24/7, we recommend that you remove the “all you can eat buffet” and switch to a couple of meal times per day. If the dog does not eat within 10-15 minutes, put the food away until the next meal.
For healthy, adult dogs, we will recommend what we call “tough-love.” This means offering only one option and can result in skipping a meal or two. It also means not offering any treats or table scraps. We often forget about the size of our dog’s stomachs. A 5-10lb dog can easily survive on a handful of treats per day. Unfortunately, a handful of treats or your leftover chicken breast does not provide your dog with a balanced diet. Once the options are removed, most dogs will begin eating well within a day or two.
The most difficult dogs to get through this process are the ones who will hold out over 2-3 days without eating. These are the dogs who are physically in poor condition and often have health issues related to malnutrition. We do not recommend doing the tough-love approach past 48 hours. We would recommend a consultation with your veterinarian to ensure there are no underlying health issues causing the behaviour.
There are always exceptions to every rule. As your faithful companion ages, there may come a time when they start to lose interest in food. This is not the case of a picky dog, but instead the symptoms of an aging pet who may have some ailments causing the lack of appetite. Once you have ruled out any treatable medical issues, we always recommend doing whatever it takes to ensure your dog maintains a good quality of life. Yes, I’m talking about hand-feeding, offering them handfuls of treats, or buying them the best cut of steak from the butcher shop. :)
We love our dogs and we would do anything for them. Unfortunately, our best intentions do not always match up with what is best for our pets. At Domestic Carnivore, our goal is to contribute to the improved health and well-being of your best friend.
*Note: The tough love approach is not recommended for cats as it is extremely important for them to eat everyday. If you have a cat who is refusing to eat their food, we recommend that you visit the vet immediately.