Did you recently add a dog to your family, or are you concerned about your current dog’s eating habits? Dog nutrition can seem complex, but we’ve made it easy with this roundup of tips, tricks, essential info, and solutions to common feeding problems. Read on, and your dog might just eat better than you.
Know your ingredients
Take a look at the ingredient list on your dog’s current bag of food. Look for recognizable ingredients, a minimum of starches, and essential vitamins and minerals. If you don’t have a bag on hand, you can use a site like Dog Food Advisor to see what’s in popular brands and compare ingredients. Make sure there’s a whole protein source as the first ingredient, and check that your dog’s food meets AAFCO nutritional adequacy standards, which you can see on the label.
Pro tip: supplementing your dog’s food with a vitamin or human-grade food you prepare yourself is an affordable way to improve the quality.
Help your dog slow down
Does your dog inhale her food faster than a Dyson vacuum? Eating too fast can lead to vomiting, choking, and swelling or twisting of the stomach. Help her slow down by reducing anxiety or making meals more of a challenge. Change up an everyday dog dish by putting large clean rocks, a soup can, or a smaller upside-down bowl into the bowl at mealtime. Dog dishes with posts or channels that get your dog to hunt a little to find every morsel are also available.
Separate pets at feeding time
If you have multiple pets, your dog can become anxious about food. For example, your dog may be gulping to avoid competition, or otherwise become territorial about their meal. Consider keeping your pets separated during mealtime. You can feed them in their crate or in different rooms, for instance. Then, you can easily tell who is eating how much of what and how fast!
Make mealtime fun
Putting all or some of your dog’s meals into a KONG or other puzzle toy guarantees she will have to slow down and work for it. Start easy with just kibble or small treats to encourage her to work the puzzle, then try mixing in a soft substance like canned food, pumpkin, cottage cheese, or peanut butter. Some dogs may even graduate to the ultimate challenge—the frozen KONG.
Help for the picky eater
- Sudden changes in behavior may be a sign of distress
Firstly, a sudden change in your dog’s feeding habits is cause for concern. If your dog avoids food and water or avoids food but gulps water, please work with your dog’s health care provider to make sure all is OK. If you share your life with a dog who has ongoing health concerns, you may be an expert on monitoring consumption and symptoms already.
- Monitor consumption between meals
Are you overfeeding your dog with treats or scraps between mealtimes without realizing? Try NO food outside mealtime for a few days to see what change that brings. If you must treat for training purposes, or you’re purposefully supplementing your dog’s food, subtract it from the next meal and make sure it isn’t too close to a regularly scheduled mealtime.
- Take control of mealtime with a regular schedule
Feeding your dog on a schedule and taking away the food when the dog stops eating may help put YOU back in charge of food in your home. This is a “tough love” tactic, but it might just work for you. This method is called “Teaching your Dog to Eat” and was created by Sue Ailsby, a dog trainer with over 50 years of experience. Her full method for picky eaters is outlined on her website. Here’s the basic idea: When it’s dinner time, try to get your dog a little excited about it with a fun ritual. Set the food down and give your dog time to start eating. If she doesn’t start eating or leaves off partway through, remove the food and end mealtime. At the next scheduled mealtime, give your dog half of what she got through at the last meal, until she cleans her plate—then go back to full meal size.
Try DIY dog cookies or treats
- 2 cups any kind of flour
- 2 (4-oz) jars of organic baby food. Beef, chicken, blueberry, and sweet potato are all good choices.
- Preheat oven to 350°
- Mix ingredients to form a stiff dough, adding extra flour or water as needed
- On a lightly floured surface, roll out dough to about a 1/4 inch thick. Cut with cookie cutters for fun shapes, or a pizza cutter for bite-size cubes.
- Bake for 20 – 25 minutes. Allow to cool completely before storing in a paper bag (storing in an air-tight container will make them soft, but they’re still edible)