CANINE NUTRITION - THE INAPPETANT DOG
It is always a concern when a dog fails to eat. There may be a dramatic change in appetite; e.g. a dog that has always eaten enthusiastically going off his food completely, or a gradual decline in interest towards a particular type of food. In any case, this is not a problem that can be ignored. It is vital that your dog eats enough to provide the energy and nutrients that are essential for his health and vitality. As owners, we also like to see our dogs enjoying their food, as this is an important part of the daily routine from which our pets should gain pleasure.
There are many reasons why a dog may become inappetant. The first consideration is that of his general clinical health. Loss of appetite may be an indication of illness. This may manifest alone, or with other symptoms, e.g. vomiting, diarrhoea, lethargy, signs of pains such as howling / whining or a 'tucked up' stance. Veterinary advice should always be sought in such cases, even if it is just to rule out a medical cause over a behavioural reason.
Dental problems are a common cause of inappetance, and can affect dogs of any age. They may range from inflamed gums (gingivitis) during teething or a retained deciduous (baby) tooth in the young dog to periodontal disease in the older animal. Animals with dental problems may benefit from having their kibble soaked, as a softer texture is kinder to a sore mouth. Veterinary advice should be sought if dental disease is suspected (additional signs may include bad breath, a hard yellow calculus build up on the teeth and reddened gums).
Once medical reasons for loss of appetite have been ruled out, it is safe to start to look for other causes of inappetance.
Domestic dogs are an intelligent species overall. They are very quick to learn, and owners can easily (but inadvertently) train their pets to avoid eating dog food! This problem is most common in young dogs (from about 6 months to 2 years), but can affect any age group. Well-meaning owners will often supplement a complete dried diet with tinned food, table scraps or small pieces of fresh meat in order to make the meal more interesting. Dogs quickly begin to establish that they can eat the new food and leave the kibble. Owners then draw the conclusion that the dog does not like the kibble and will change to another brand. The dog may happily eat this for several days, weeks or months, but the chances are that it will only be a matter of time before this food too becomes uninteresting to them - or certainly not as tasty as the other little bits and pieces that may be offered to tempt the 'poor hungry little soul' to eat! Quite soon, an owner will have tried numerous brands of dog food with varying degrees of success, and the dog will be dictating what is fed and when.
Fortunately, this bad habit can be eradicated relatively quickly if a routine is re-established.
The following tips will help you 1) Choose a premium quality complete pet food that is palatable and digestible. Ensure that the diet is suitable for the age group and activity level of your pet and that the kibble size is appropriate. Arden Grange Prestige is ideal for the finicky eater because it is concentrated and therefore a smaller volume can be fed whilst still providing sufficient calories and nutrients. Does your current food suit your dog? Is he able to digest it sufficiently well?
Some animals are intolerant to certain ingredients, and if a dog is having to eat a diet that doesn't agree with his digestive system, he may soon become reluctant to eat. Symptoms of dietary sensitivities / intolerances may include dry and itchy skin and / or loose motions.
2) Draw up a feeding schedule that all members of the family must stick to. It is often helpful to establish several smaller meal times throughout the day rather than one or two bigger meals. The reason for this is 2-fold; firstly, an inappetant dog is more likely to eat up most or all of a small meal than he is a large one.
As with humans, a large meal if you are not feeling particularly hungry can be very off-putting, whereas a small plate may seem more acceptable. Also, you will need to train yourself to pick up any uneaten food within 15 minutes of it being given to the dog. Knowing that the next meal is not too far away makes this psychologically easier for you, as you will naturally be worried that the dog will become hungry in a few hours if the food has not been eaten.
3) Try to understand your dog's behaviour. Dogs do not need variety in their diet providing they are fed a complete and balanced feed. In fact, supplementing complete foods such as Arden Grange can upset the careful balance between nutrients that has been established to provide optimal health benefits to your dog. The more variety that you give during this crucial stage can cause your pet to become even more finicky. It is hard, but a few days spent being strict (with yourself more than the dog!) will pay off very quickly.
4) Do not give additional treats whilst you are re-establishing the feeding routine. You will obviously want to reward good behaviour during training, and the best thing to do is to set back a small portion of the daily Arden Grange food allowance for this purpose. If this is refused, don't be tempted to offer alternatives. Once the routine is back in place and feeding becomes less of an issue then you can afford to be more flexible. Arden Grange make their own hypoallergenic dog treat ('Crunchy Bites') that are an ideal reward that can be fed without upsetting sensitive digestions.
5) If your dog has been used to one type of food for some period of time, don't suddenly expect him to take to a new food. Inappetance in this case is unlikely to be down to him 'not liking' the new food, it is more likely to be that he is wary of the unknown. He may not even associate the diet as food (especially if the consistency and smell are different). A new diet should be introduced gradually over a period of several days. Ensure that the 2 products are mixed well to help to prevent the dog from differentiating between the kibbles. Soaking the food for 15 minutes beforehand may help in this case.
6) Be aware of environmental issues that may affect your dog's behaviour to food. Are there other animals in the household that compete for his food? If he has been threatened or attacked over food (even if this occurred some time in the past) it may make him nervous at mealtimes. Ensure that your dog is fed alone in a quiet part of the house or garden. Some dogs may respond well to gentle reassurance whilst eating or hand-feeding, but generally they tend to prefer to be left alone to eat.
7) Some dogs are sensitive to noise, and metal tags banging against metal or crockery bowls can be very distracting to sensitive animals at mealtimes. Either remove the collar and tag before feeding or purchase a smaller tag that doesn't make a noise.
8) Some detergents can leave a residue in dog feeding bowls that can give a soapy taste to the food and be very off putting. Take extra care to rinse bowls well, especially if they have been in the dishwasher. Plastic bowls are particularly prone to retaining the residue of old food or soap, and therefore metal or ceramic bowls are preferable.
Whilst it is sensible not to make too much of an issue over mealtimes (as dogs are extremely responsive to stress, and will quickly pick up on an owner's reactions) there is no reason why you can't make feeding time fun. Some tricks to try include hiding a small amount of soaked kibble in a safe indestructible toy (e.g. a Kong - available from most large pet stores) and hiding food around the house and garden to encourage the dog to hunt down the food prior to eating. As with regular feeding, this should be undertaken at scheduled times, and any uneaten food removed after a period of 15 minutes.
Even though we do not recommend feeding anything in addition to the complete kibble, there are ways in which you can afford to be a little flexible with your dog during training: -
• Experiment with different textures of the food - some dogs like dry kibble, others prefer it soaked (try varying degrees of wetness) or some may even like a combination.
• Try soaking with warm water or heating the food in the microwave for a few seconds to bring out the aromas. Dogs rely heavily on their sense of smell when eating.
It is important to remember that every dog is an individual, but all dogs will respond to training regardless of their age or temperament.
It may take longer to eradicate bad habits in some animals, particularly if these habits have been ingrained and reinforced over a long period of time.
If you are experiencing behavioural difficulties with your dog, please consult your veterinary surgeon to rule out any possible clinical cause for the problem.
A qualified pet behaviourist will also be able to give you constructive help in resolving any problems.