Ever so often we can observe a dog day dreaming about his next meal? Head on paws, eyes wistful and tongue lolling… the picture is hard to ignore. But be warned, dogs don’t dream about the same food that we do. They don’t wish for tubs of ice-cream or bars of chocolate. Dogs need healthy nutritious meals that suit their metabolism. Feeding behaviour
Dogs are carnivorous by nature, although they do show considerable flexibility in their diet and in the wild they may also eat plant materials, such as grass and berries. Although the means by which domestic dogs obtain their food is rather different from their wild ancestors, the underlying behavioural mechanism on which food selection is based may still be intact, if somewhat modified by the process of domestication.
Although some dogs appear to be largely indiscriminate in their choice of food, others, especially dogs of the smallest and the largest breeds, can be selective feeders. Dogs prefer a meat to a cereal-based diet although they may prefer one type, such as beef, over another. They enjoy a wide range of tastes and are often partial to sweet foods, as well as foods with a salty or sharp taste. The smell of the food is also important and has a considerable effect on its palatability.
Most dogs will quite happily eat the same type of food every day. This is perfectly reasonable provided that it is a balanced diet and contains all the essential nutrients. However, many dogs enjoy some variety in their diet, although unfamiliar foods may be rejected at first or can result in a bout of diarrhoea. An alternative variety of their usual brand is the best option. Although in the wild, it is common for several days to elapse between meals, most dogs would prefer to receive their food ration in more than one meal per day. Whatever regime you follow, problems may be avoided if you match your dog’s total food consumption to his energy requirement and, of course, ensure that the overall diet is nutritionally complete and balanced.
Most dogs will tend to overeat, if allowed unlimited access to food, although there is considerable variation between breeds and between individuals. This may be related to the tendency to gorge-feed in the wild, when they may have to last several days between kills. They are protective about their food and will even fend off more dominant individuals while eating. In the home, your dog must be trained from an early age to relinquish his food to you, if requested. However, children should be taught not to approach a dog who is eating or chewing a bone.
Home food vs prepared food
While your dog may be a lot like you in many ways, he doesn’t need the same food that you do. Home cooked meals may leave a dog with nutritional deficiencies. Such a meal may also not keep abreast with life-stage requirements. For example, puppies not only need significantly more protein than adult dogs and babies (approximately six times each day) but also require highly digestible proteins and energy dense food for optimum growth.
12 ways to face a fussy eater
A fuss over meals once in a while is quite okay. There are a number of reasons for a pet to turn up his nose at his bowl. Sometimes a fear of new food, a bad experience with the food or poor palatability may cause the fuss. At other times, a dog may fuss when he has consumed more energy than required. Small breeds in general are fussy eaters. Make sure that you are not over feeding your dog and monitor his body weight regularly. If your dog continues to kick up a fuss at meal times, follow these steps:
- Offer a small amount of your dog’s normal food.
- Put it down for a maximum of 20 minutes and leave the dog alone.
- If the food is not eaten within 20 minutes, pick the food up and let the dog see you throw it away.
- Do not talk or fuss over the dog, just ignore him. This is really important.
- If you do make a fuss over your dog at this stage, he will start associating not eating with getting attention.
- Do not offer any snacks or tit bits
- A couple of hours later, repeat these steps, don’t give him any attention or alternatives.
- Keep repeating this process every couple of hours throughout the day.
- If by the bedtime, your dog still hasn’t eaten, let him go to bed on an empty stomach, no sympathy.
- The following morning, repeat the same steps.
- By the end of the second day, he will probably be hungry and when you offer the food, he should eat it.
- Don’t forget to show your appreciation to your dog when he does eat.
If your dog continues to refuse food, contact your vet.