THE PICKY EATER – WHY DOES MY DOG REFUSE TO EAT ITS FOOD?
Dogs refusing to eat and/or going on a hunger strike is, in our view, the one behaviour most challenging for pet owners to deal with. It is also one of the most stressful.
As pet owners, it is next to impossible NOT to “Humanize” our pets. They bring so much unconditional love into our lives. They are there for us in good times and so comforting during the challenging times. They are part of our family. As a result, many pet parents will gravitate to treating their pets as humans. There are many behaviours that dogs exhibit that can be a challenge for pet owners to comprehend and understand.
Customers come into our stores weekly looking for solutions for their picky pet. Many find a solution by moving their dogs from a highly processed/high carb diet of kibble to a real food/species appropriate balanced raw diet. However, we do see quite a few “raw fed” dogs that still exhibit some form of pickiness. Let us delve into this behaviour and find a solution.
NOTE: If you are looking for healthy topper ideas and solutions, you will find these suggestions at the end.
Healthy dogs are quite resistant to starvation when compared to humans. A healthy dog can live for weeks as long as they have water. When a dog refuses to eat a meal or two, it is most likely A Completely Natural Behaviour!!!
In the wild, wolves do not eat every single day. Depending on the availability of their prey, weather conditions, and even the size and skill of their pack, they may not be able to secure fresh prey for several days at a time. Their bodies have adapted well to this eating schedule, and they are able to function perfectly fine without a bowl of food in the morning and evening.
Though our dogs should definitely have a regular feeding schedule, he/she may occasionally refuse meals. This may be due to a number of genetic, behavioural, or seasonal issues. Let us have a quick look at each.
Breed Specific Issues
Certain breeds are famous for this. Larger working breeds can exhibit this behaviour. Huskies and German Shepherds are fitting examples. As an example, Siberian huskies and other northern breeds will sometimes partake in voluntary fasting for no reason. This may be due in part to the fact that sled dogs are sometimes fed only intermittently, especially during the off season.
Solution: Do not fret. Intermittent fasting can be healthy. Remember, a healthy dog will not starve themselves. Sometimes these larger breeds prefer to crunch their food. Introduce a raw turkey neck or a frozen raw meat patty that they will need to use their jaws and teeth. Finally, if you notice your dog seems fussy in the morning but less so in the evening, consider feeding less in the morning and more in the evening. In some cases, it might make sense to feed once per day rather than twice a day.
We have noticed that when seasons change, some dogs will “go off” of their food for a brief period. There are some dogs that become more active in the winter but become quite sedate in the summer. Remember, dogs that become quite active burn more calories and the need for nutrition increases. Dogs that become more sedate burn less calories and the need for nutrition decreases. A notable example is a Bernese Mountain Dog. Our store manager Ann has recognized that Eddie will put weight on in the summer if she feeds the same amount as she does in the winter.
Solution: Recognize the difference in activity level. A dog that goes “lazy” in the heat of the summer may automatically skip meals because their body is telling them there is no need for nutrition. Do not worry. Make your feeding adjustments.
Anxieties and Stress Factors
Some dogs may exhibit stress and/or anxieties which can certainly play a role in eating behaviour. Things like fireworks, thunderstorms, moving or even packing for a trip can trigger anxieties in dogs. These tend to be temporary and eventually the triggers will disappear. Do not worry, it is not the food. Your pup just is not in the mood for eating. Their stress or anxiety is distracting them for the time being.
Solution: Intermittent stress/anxiety triggers are difficult to anticipate and deal with. If you would like to read my blog on dealing with pet anxieties, CLICK HERE.
Sometimes when we are dealing with customers whose pets are exhibiting fussy eating behaviour, we do come across situations where the dog is being fed too much. The dog feels satiated and has no desire to replenish. This might surprise some people. Many pet owners experience an eating behaviour quite the opposite. Their pet will eat until they explode. Not all pets are the same.
Solution: If you want to check on how much you are feeding, you can visit our feeding calculator HERE.
Always remember, your dog’s body shape is the best way to measure whether or not you are feeding too much, too little, or just the right amount. If interested, you can check out how to rate a Dog’s Body Score HERE
Humanized Picky Eaters
OK. So, this is the one we come across most often in our stores. The dog refuses to eat their food. Customer says they do not like their food, or something is wrong with it. We look at the dog and the dog is either great weight or is overweight. After we get the fishing line out, we find out that the dog will eat all of the food that they give it when preparing a meal or during the owner’s meal. When doing this, we humanize our dog by doing everything wrong because we feel that if they do not eat the food from the bowl then they are going to become ill or whither away. We covered this earlier.
Solution: When you own a dog, you are in complete control of when your dog eats, where your dog eats and what your dog eats. It is important that they understand that. Once you break routine, and they get something “special,” then they control you. For those of you who are “owned” by your pooch around eating behaviour, then try the following:
This is a tough love approach. It will be worth the effort to let your dog know that you are in charge and if they do not eat, then they do not eat. Again, I cannot reiterate this enough, your healthy dog will not die.
More often than not, this approach will work for healthy dogs. Remember, if there are multiple family members in the household, everyone needs to get on the same page. Family commitment to conquering the picky eater.
A FEW MORE TIDBITS
Some dogs are submissive within the family unit (their pack). Some dogs will not eat until the family has eaten. So, pick a feeding time after the family has finished their meal.
If you are feeding a kibble and your dog only grazes and exhibits picky behaviour, it is time to try a species appropriate diet.
Some dogs might skip a meal or two if they got into something (like rabbit poop or other stuff).
Some medications can cause some eating disorders. Vaccinations can cause a dog to skip a meal or two. Keep that in mind.
Protein rotation and changing brands of food can keep some engaged. Variety is the spice of life!!!
If a dog is truly unable to eat for an extended period of time, it is related to an underlying medical issue. As an example, long-term canine anorexia can be dangerous, but it is uncommon. There are others. Check with your vet. If your vet determines there is no underlying medical issue, stick to a plan. A few meal skips are ok, and they should resume eating soon enough.
As Promised: Healthy Topper Suggestions.
A Final Note
Maintaining our pet’s weight and providing them with the appropriate amount of exercise and mental stimulation plays a significant role in giving them the best chance at a long and health life. Some of you may have heard or read about Bluey the Australian Cattle Dog who lived to be 29 yrs. and 5 months or Maggie the Australian Kelpie who passed away at the age of 30. Hereditary factors play a role and being dealt a good hand certainly helps. However, these two dogs lived an incredible life on farms and were offered a life full of daily exercise and real food.
THE PROOF IS IN THE POOP!
This information is intended to provide information only. Each animal health situation is unique. This information is not intended for use in diagnosis or treatment of specific health problems or diseases and should never be considered as a substitute for veterinary advice.