Establish Health Status before Providing Dog Food Only

Question:
We have a dog that we have difficulty feeding. He is a very finicky eater. Most of the time he’ll eat frankfurters but nothing else. We began giving him those because we were afraid he would get sick not eating. What should we do to help him?

Dr. Nichol:
You may be the owner of a healthy dog who has duped you with a common brand of canine chicanery. By eating only frankfurters he has reinforced your “desirable” behavior of feeding him only frankfurters. Turning up his nose when you have shown the temerity to offer him dog food has amounted to a punishment which has reduced the likelihood of this “undesirable” behavior of yours. In learning theory we call this operant conditioning. It’s clear that your dog is a pretty effective person trainer and that your negotiating skills need work.

There may be more serious problems. Dogs who only eat soft food may have dental disease that causes them pain when they try to chew. A poor appetite can also result from disorders of the internal organs like the liver, kidneys, or adrenal glands.

Chronic disease is easy to overlook in pets because they can’t complain in a human language. Ask your veterinarian to do a thorough physical exam plus a lab profile. A serum chemistry panel, a blood count, and a urinalysis would reveal important diagnostic information. If your dog is sick you will want him to get well fast.  When he feels better he should be willing and able to eat a complete dry dog food.

Diet really matters. Food that is high in meat protein and sodium (hot dogs: breakfast, lunch, and dinner) can be damaging. The label claims and ingredient list on food bags are confusing. I advise shopping on price; expect to pay a little more for better quality.

If your boy gets a clean bill of health tell him that he will enjoy eating dog food only, whether he likes it or not. You, the benevolent dictator, can make it interesting with a variety of food toys and puzzles. A healthy dog who realizes that the jig is up will ultimately fold his hand and eat what is served.