TRACIE HOTCHNER: FINICKY EATERS ARE MADE, NOT BORN!

newtracie2Do you have a really picky dog? Does your dog ignore the food you put in her bowl or does she pick at it without enthusiasm and then leave the rest, looking up at you with disappointed, pleading eyes?

There’s a good chance you fret about it and urge her with words and actions to “Come on Sweetie, just eat a little for Mommy” and give her lots of attention for not eating? And then do you start bribing her with all sorts of edible enticements added to her food bowl and begging her to “Pleeease eat your food”? There’s a good chance that with just such reactions you have created a finicky eater – but there is no reason you can’t turn your dog back into a happy eater. These feeding games are unnatural to dogs and totally unnecessary for their well-being.

Dogs are Individuals with Different Appetites: If you have a multi-dog household you know how differently each dog approaches the food bowl. Like people, each dog has her own particular metabolism, hunger levels and attitude toward eating. Some pooches are “chow hounds” who will vacuum up anything edible at any time; other dogs don’t experience hunger and on some days they have no appetite at all.

Make Sure Your Dog is Not Sick: The first thing you need to eliminate is the possibility that there is any medical reason for a lack of appetite. If your puppy or dog does not want to eat and has other symptoms of illness—such as lethargy, vomiting or diarrhea—you should take her in to the vet for an evaluation. You should always be alert to taking note of any behavior that is unusual for your dog, or any new circumstances in the environment that might be affecting her, because change in habits is a symptom that something is not quite right. This information is important for the vet to be able to figure out why the dog does not want to eat. However, not ever having much of an appetite may be your dog’s normal response to food.

Your Dog “Has Your Number”: A dog that insists on one kind of food instead of another is usually manipulating the humans because her people have taught her that not eating will bring better things. This is a game that the people initiate and then encourage, without realizing they are creating a finicky dog. As soon as a person caters to a dog’s reluctance to eat by offering something better and tastier, the person is teaching the dog to hold out until the really good stuff gets served. If you establish a complex ritual of what goes in the dog’s dish and how it is presented, your dog will come to expect that “negotiation” and will refuse anything else.

An Ongoing Lack of Appetite: A dog’s lack of appetite is usually a passing thing, so don’t turn it into something more. Do not make a fuss over the dog and hand-feed her or offer ever-more delicious treats instead of the nutritionally balanced dog food you have gone to great lengths to put in her bowl. If you create drama over a dog not eating, you are creating a problem that really isn’t there.

Next week, some solutions to the Finicky Dog problem.”

Tracie Hotchner, author of The Dog Bible and The Cat Bible, guest blogs here every Thursday on healthy, natural choices for pets.

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