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What to do about a finicky eater

You feed tasty and nutritious dog food, and yet your dog only sniffs and licks at it. It’s time for the next meal, but the previous meal still isn’t finished. You might have a finicky dog!

You may think your dog wants or needs variety. The truth is your dog will happily eat the same food every day its entire life, so it's up to you to make sure you provide a tasty, nutritious meal. Your dog is descended from opportunistic hunters that were accustomed to eating what they could get when they could get it.

The cause. Frequently, the cause of a dog's finicky eating isn’t a result of its behavior. It’s usually the result of humans feeding table scraps or too many treats. Not only does this increase the risk of obesity, but it also can encourage finicky behavior. Your dog avoids eating in hope of getting more exciting food than what’s in the bowl. The best approach is to stop feeding your dog from the table and limit the number of treats. Remember that dogs and cats have different nutritional needs than we do, so what we eat isn't necessarily balanced for them.

When your dog was younger, if you tried offering several different foods to determine the right fit, you may have encouraged your dog to hold out for something better. If you’re opening multiple cans of food and trying to coax your dog into eating something every meal, then your dog has you trained.

Effective ways to correct this behavior:

  • Help your dog understand that no options exist.
  • Set out your dog’s food for 30 minutes. If it isn't eaten, take it away.
  • When it’s time for your dog’s next meal, set out the food again and take it away in 30 minutes, whether it is eaten or not.
  • In a day or two your dog may start checking around for extra treats. Maintain your strategy. Don’t give in! Your dog isn’t starving. If hungry, your dog will eat.

You may have to endure disappointment from your dog, but this is an effective technique in eliminating finicky eating behavior. You will be glad you did it in the long run.

If changing your dog’s food formula, do it gradually:

  • Start by combining new food with the old food and gradually increasing the amount of new food as you reduce the amount of old food. This will be helpful in getting your dog accustomed to the new food and avoid a hunger strike.
  • If you’re switching from wet to dry food, try mixing in a small amount of warm water with the dry food.
  • If your dog suddenly becomes finicky with no previous signs of this behavior, a medical disorder could be the issue. Observe your dog for vomiting, diarrhea, sluggishness or loss of weight. Take him or her to the veterinarian if you believe a medical problem exists.

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