ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Q: 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 caretaker of a healthy dog who has conned you with common canine chicanery. By accepting only frankfurters he has reinforced your behavior. Turning up his nose when you have shown the temerity to offer him dog food has amounted to a punishment for your bad behavior of offering something less compelling than wieners. In learning theory, this is called “operant conditioning.” Whether your dog is an effective person-trainer, 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 such as 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 matters. Food that is high in meat protein and sodium (hot dogs: breakfast, lunch and dinner) can be damaging. Choosing good food is challenging; label claims and ingredient lists 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.
Each week Dr. Jeff Nichol makes a short video, blog or a Facebook Live to help bring out the best in pets. Sign up at no charge at drjeffnichol.com. Dr. Nichol treats behavior disorders at the Veterinary Emergency & Specialty Centers in Albuquerque and Santa Fe (505-792-5131). You can post pet questions at facebook.com/drjeffnichol or by mail to 4000 Montgomery NE, Albuquerque, NM, 87109.