Fussy Eaters Anonymous


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Most dogs will eat their food happily and readily, but what about our dogs who are a little fussier about eating? Do you have a dog who is a little reluctant to eat? Have you decided to switch from free feeding to set meal times? We may never know why some dogs are fussier eaters than others, but we can all agree that having a fussy eater is frustrating. I had to endure a fussy eater for most of Armada’s life, but after he was neutered (at 8 years old) he became much less dramatic about food. He’s still not a garbage disposal, but he’s much better at eating. I have also had client’s dog who are a bit reluctant to eat, but with patience they have over come their fussy eaters too!

The Method

Many fussy eaters will end up training their people pretty quickly. They train their people to give them “better” options, change food types, give wet food instead of a dry food, or leave their food out all day long. Many owners will switch up food brands, types of food, or formulas frequently in the search of the magical type of food their dog will eat. There are the few dogs where a formula of food is too rich or does not sit well with Fido. If your dog has overly runny stools or does not feel well after eating, you may want to try a “less rich” food, such as a beef or salmon based protein. Over the years, I have noticed it is common for owners with fussy eaters to just leave food out all day. However, I always discourage free feeding no matter the reason. Free feeding often encourages dogs to graze all day, which can make it difficult to tell which dogs are getting how much food. You can miss small hints of brewing medical emergencies and/or one of your dogs may not be getting a balanced diet. Would you know if one of the dogs was only filling up on snacks/treats from family members and not eating any dog food? Having a balanced diet is essential for good health. Making sure your dog is getting enough dog food is a big part of having a balanced diet. Another reason I prefer meal times is because it regulates my dogs’ bowel movements. I know my dogs are likely to have a bowel movement after breakfast in the morning and also sometime in the late afternoon.

Back to feeding meal times, you need to decide when you want to feed your dog. I feed mine around 8:30am and then around 7:00pm-7:30pm. I give my dogs 5 minutes to eat. They know where they are supposed to eat and I place their dishes down in those locations. My dogs always eat in their crates to make sure nobody is getting into another dog’s food dish. A fussy eater will often just poke at it, eat a bite, and then leave or show disinterest. If dogs are not crated, then another dog might vulture your fussy eater’s food, which could potentially lead to more problems.

Here are the steps to feeding a fussy eater:

  • Place food down
  • Wait 5-10 minutes
  • After 5-10 minutes pick up the food dish and place it where your dog cannot get it (on top of the fridge, in a cabinet, or the dog food container, etc).
    • The food left will be what is served for the next meal
  • At the next meal, place your dog’s leftovers down from the previous meal (do not add anything to it)
    • After 5-10 minutes, pick up the food dish. Again, whatever is left will be served at his next meal time
    • If your dog has almost finished his meal, add half of his normal amount to the dish.
    • If your dog has finished his meal, the next meal should be a full serving
  • Do not give your dog any treats or food outside of meal times (this will just encourage your dog to not eat)
  • Rinse and repeat until your dog is consistently eating in the allotted time.

No Toppers

Toppers are often used for fussy eaters to make the food more enticing such as: wet dog food, moist or semi-moist dog treats, eggs, cheese, peanut butter, fruits, veggies, tuna, broth, etc. The problem with toppers is that the dog will eventually hold out to see what else you have to offer. If you keep offering more and more or change the topper frequently, eventually you are going to run out of options. I also know of dogs who will only eat the topper and the food it is touching, while leaving the rest of the bowl. Many toppers are not balanced enough for dogs to adequately survive on them alone. The only time you should use toppers are for special occasions or if your dog is sick and needs a little bit of encouragement to eat.

Don’t Change Foods

Many owners think their dog does not like the food they have, which is why the dog is not eating. While that might be the case, it is typically not the case. The only time you should change food is if your dog is having allergic reactions (itchy, flakey skin and/or chronic ear infections), or their stool is consistently soft and you have ruled out intestinal parasites, or other medical causes, such as irritable bowel disease. If you are feeding a food that is labeled “AAFCO Complete & Balanced” then there is no need to consistently change the food. If your dog is on a prescription diet or a diet recommended by your veterinarian it is even more important to not change your dog’s food!

Timed Feedings

When I recommend this method to people, I often get “but what if he doesn’t eat?” or “I don’t want to starve my dog!” A healthy dog will eventually eat within 2-3 days, as long as nobody is sneaking the dog snacks. You are not starving your dog by picking up the food he or she decided not to eat. You are giving your dog a choice to eat. If he or she chooses not to eat, that is his or her choice. This method should not be used for metabolically compromised dogs, such as dogs with diabetes, hypothyroidism, Addison’s Disease, or Cushing’s Disease. If you suspect your dog’s fussiness over food is due to a medical reason, please have your dog evaluated by your veterinarian prior to trying this method.

What has worked for you?

So, do you have a fussy eater? Did you use this method? What other method did you use? Let us know what worked for you!

Photo by Mathew Coulton on Unsplash

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