Some dogs seem to barely eat enough to stay alive. I’ve had a couple of them myself, and despite being perfectly aware that slim dogs live longer than fat ones, I can’t stop myself from worrying that they may be missing something from their diets.
The first thing to do if you have a picky eater on your hands is to rule out medical causes for the behavior. A veterinarian should check your dog’s teeth, gums and the rest of the oral cavity for any abnormalities, perform a complete physical exam, and maybe order blood work or other laboratory tests to confirm that your pet is healthy and not suffering from any conditions that might be related to poor nutrition.
Once you and your veterinarian have determined that your dog is simply finicky and not sick, there are a few things you can do to help him/her get all the nutrition they can from every bite.
- Make sure you are offering your dog a food that offers balanced nutrition and is made from high-quality ingredients. Look at the ingredient list for things like chicken, whole grains, fruits, vegetables, etc. Higher quality foods are also more nutrient dense than poorer quality options, so smaller volumes contain comparatively more nutrition. The MyBowl tool is a great way to evaluate your dog’s current diet and to comparison shop.
- Don’t switch to new food too often. Frequently changing what you are offering can actually make your dog more finicky. He will quickly figure out that something "better" may be coming down the road and try to wait you out. For the same reason, limit the number of treats you give throughout the day. Pick a food that you think is appropriate for your dog and stick with that choice for at least a few weeks.
- Don’t be scared to let your dog get hungry. It is not dangerous for a healthy, adult dog to miss a couple of meals (this does not apply to puppies or dogs with certain health conditions like diabetes, however). Offer your dog his food and pick up anything that remains uneaten after 30 minutes or so. Try again with the same type of food at the next regularly scheduled meal time. I recommend meal feeding rather than free feeding because it can be hard to monitor a dog’s intake when the bowl is always full.
- Feed two or three times a day. Dogs will often take in a bit more if they are offered food several times a day rather than just once.
- If you feed your dog a dry food and want to continue to do so because of its lower cost and greater convenience, try adding just a small amount of canned food. Limit the canned food to less than 10 percent of your dog’s diet and mix it in well with the dry so he can’t just lick up his "treat" and leave the balanced nutrition in the bowl.
Dr. Jennifer Coates