Ask Dr. Debbie
Q: I need help getting my one-year old Rat Terrier to eat. She is a very picky eater, won’t eat her dog food, and can go a day or two without eating. I am spending tons of money on food and tried countless canned, dry and moist foods- none which she will eat more than 1-2 days at a time. Some days she’ll only eat if I cook some steak, hamburger, or other meat and hand feed it to her with a spoon. How can I get her to be a better eater?
A: First thing is to drop the drama around meal time. Picky dogs aren’t born- they are created, often by well-meaning, but overprotective pet owners. Often dog owners will baby talk, coddle and plead with the presumable picky pup in effort to encourage eating. When this happens, the dog soon learns that extra special attention is provided if they just hold out and wait for that shower of love and affection that comes from being a picky eater.
The fear of toy breed puppy hypoglycemia often contributes to forming the “picky eater”. When the toy breed pup doesn’t eat, the owner worries it will become sick, so the owner ups the encouragement, antics and pulls out more appetizing morsels to ensure the pup eats. It is far better to teach your pup to be confident, eat a consistent diet, and eat outside your presence.
Avoid creating picky behaviors by:
Set a feeding schedule- put the food down 2-3 times a day. Remove uneaten food after 10 minutes. Do not leave food out all day long for grazing.
Evaluate feeding environment– Common doggie hang-ups include fear of metallic or reflective bowls, too small food bowl size, or too noisy of feeding area. Suit the feeding area to your dog’s individual needs- some dogs enjoy eating with other pets or people around, others prefer solitude.
Watch the treats– examine how many treats you give your dog a day. Snacking throughout the day will diminish your dog’s appetite at meal time. For nutritional health, treats should not exceed 10% of your dog’s daily caloric intake.
Consider that a toy breed dog that may only require 200-300 kilocalories (kcal) per day. For example small milk bones are 25 kcal a piece while pupparoni and snausages are 25kcal/each and dental chew bones can be 100 kcal each.
Up the activity– many dogs will eat better after mild to moderate exercise. If Buffy turns walks away from the food bowl, increase her energy output with a brisk walk or some retrieving games, and you may discover she gobbles her next meal.
As for food type- you decide what your dog should eat. Put it in the bowl and refrain from hand feeding efforts, which will only lessen future chances that your dog will be an independent eater.
If your dog’s picky eating is accompanied by any other health issues like vomiting, diarrhea, or listlessness, see your veterinarian. Likewise if your pup is typically a hearty eater and suddenly turns her nose up at food, she should be evaluated by your veterinarian.
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