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What to Do When Your Dog Becomes a Picky Eater

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Time and time again, pet owners will tell you that the healthiest thing to feed your dog is a dry food diet, particularly if your pup has suffered from bad eating habits in the past. But what do you do when your dog suddenly becomes picky about what they’re eating? There are certain steps you can take to determine whether or not your pup needs something new in their diet or if they’re just being stubborn and difficult, but first you need to understand why your dog might be acting this way in the first place.

Does your dog always seem hungry?

Is your dog always hungry? No matter how much you feed him he just can’t seem to get enough. This is probably because he was fed dry food for most of his life. Contrary to popular belief, dry food doesn’t make your dog hungrier, it makes him thirstier. Dry food has hardly any water content so dogs need more water intake than other foods provide. Dogs on a proper diet require 1 cup of water per 10 pounds of body weight every day. That’s approximately two cups for each 20-pound dog and four cups for each 40-pound dog!

How to tell if your dog is not eating enough

If your dog is still eating but you’re just concerned about his current diet, give your vet a call and ask for advice. If he seems picky in general, or if you notice he’s not performing as well as usual (for example, if he suddenly goes from being an endurance athlete to someone who can barely finish one run without getting winded), have him checked out by your vet. You might be able to get some insight into what’s going on with your dog and what you can do about it without even having to make an appointment. A lot of vets will do free office calls before 10 am, so it may be worth calling around and scheduling one in just to chat things through with him.

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Is something else bothering your dog?

Is your dog suddenly picky about what he eats? If it’s only in his old age, don’t fret; that’s normal. But if you notice other signs of illness—lethargy, excessive thirst or urination, vomiting, diarrhea—get him checked out by your vet right away. A bad diet won’t be doing him any favors but neither will skipping doctor visits. The most important thing you can do is to make sure he gets enough exercise and doesn’t spend too much time indoors on hard surfaces (which are uncomfortable for dogs’ bones). Dogs have different nutritional needs than humans do; talk with your vet about how much dry food is ideal for your dog’s weight and breed.

Are other dogs around, too?

Dogs are social animals. If you’re seeing your pup turn down food, it could be that he wants someone else around for some company while he eats. Or, there might be another reason behind his pickiness. It’s also possible that your dog isn’t feeling well—unexplained appetite loss is one of the first symptoms of many illnesses in dogs. You can try separating him from other pets when it’s time to eat or consider bringing him in for a checkup with your vet if things don’t improve in a few days.

Have you switched foods recently?

Sometimes switching foods suddenly can cause an adverse reaction in your dog. Some dogs simply have sensitive stomachs and no matter what you feed them, they will react badly. When making a change in what you feed your dog, do it gradually over 2-3 weeks and only mix it with their old food until they are fully transitioned. This way you won’t shock their system with a new food all at once, which can often make your dog sick and cause digestive issues like vomiting or diarrhea. Once you find something that works for them, stick with it and don’t switch out of fear that it isn’t healthy for them—dogs generally know what is best for them even if we think differently.

What are the environmental factors at play here?

While it can be hard to pinpoint exactly what happened in your dog’s life that triggered his change in appetite, there are likely several factors at play. The first is whether or not he had been eating dry food. A change from wet food to dry may be enough of an adjustment for some dogs that they temporarily reject their food. Alternatively, if you made other changes in your routine (like introducing another dog into your household), your dog might have become nervous and lost his appetite. If you did make a significant change, try bringing back an old food or changing one element at a time—that way you’ll know which factor caused his pickiness.

Is it time for a vet visit yet?

If your dog’s sudden food preferences are accompanied by other symptoms—such as decreased appetite, lethargy, and weight loss—it may be time for a vet visit. Changes in appetite can indicate that your dog is ill. Many illnesses, such as kidney disease or cancer, have no cure but can be treated with medication or surgery. If you suspect that your dog isn’t feeling well, you should take him to see his veterinarian right away.

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