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October 20, 2008

Dealing with a Finicky Fido

By: Keri Weyenberg

Every family has one, the kid that just won’t eat. There’s a nightly ritual of the worried parents pleading for just one more bite while Junior pushes his food around the plate like the Indy 500. But what do you do when Junior is actually Fido and it’s kibble instead of peas he’s avoiding?

Figuring out the cause and the cure will take a little detective work on your end. First, make sure it’s not a medical condition. If your normally voracious eater is turning his nose up at his bowl and experiencing other symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea or lethargy, contact your veterinarian right away.

Next check the expiration date on Fido’s food supply; while the warehouse-sized bag may cost less per ounce, he may not make it through it in time. Double check the food itself and make sure it looks and smells fresh, sometimes things go rancid before the due date.

If he’s healthy and the food looks good, it’s time to take a step back and look at your own routines to see if they’re contributing to the problem. The most common bad human habit is feeding table scraps. Giving nibbles before dinnertime can cause a loss of appetite. If you’re dolling out the goodies after he’s rejected his meal, then he has you pretty well trained. Who wouldn’t turn down kibble if they knew hot dogs, burgers and other yummy treats would be hand delivered soon after? The same goes for doggy treats, so restrict their consumption, especially before meals, and don’t use them as encouragement when he doesn’t eat.

If you don’t do the food handouts, are you offering up any other rewards for a neglected meal? Do you snuggle, beg and pled to get your dog to finish up? Stop, he may be enjoying the show. Are you feeding your dog at odd times in different rooms? As with all things dog-related, consistency matters. Try feeding him at the same time in the same place. Dogs are also social eaters, so eating during the family mealtime where he can see the rest of his pack can also help.

Although dogs usually enjoy a social dining experience, he may not always like his dinner companions. Another dog or noisy kids might be killing his ambience. Take a good look at his dining space and see if there’s room for improvement.

Have you changed his food recently? Some dogs are fine with different flavors and brands on a near nightly basis, while other pups crave culinary consistency. If you need to switch do so slowly, mixing the new food with the old. If your canine still cringes at his bowl you may need to fully switch back to the original or find something else.

To encourage eating you can also try to make his food more appealing. Dogs’ sense of smell is much more powerful than taste; they have about a sixth of the number of taste buds we have but their sense of smell is 100 times better. Dry kibble, unfortunately, has very little in the way of appealing aroma. Adding canned food, warm water or ‘dog gravy’ sold in pet food stores can help increase the interest. Just remember that it might be hard to remove these incentives at a later date and account for any extra calories you might be adding. If you’re switching to a prescription diet, check with your vet before including any supplements. Start with a quality diet as well. No matter how appealing you make crude oil and old tires smell he’ll figure it out when he starts munching.

Keri Weyenberg has had the good fortune to have spent the majority of her life in the company of canines. She currently shares her home with Sophie, a Golden Retriever, and Rufus the rebel beagle.


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