Why is your dog a picky eater?
Posted by NutriCanine
Dogs are opportunistic scavengers and will do almost anything for a meal. And with food being one of the biggest motivators for dogs, some owners still face issues when it comes to picky eaters.
To understand why dogs can be picky eaters, we need to dig deeper to get to the root of the problem.
In this article, we'll talk about:
- How has your dog’s diet evolved?
- What’s the problem with picky eaters and kibble?
- Can feeding your dog fresh food be a solution for picky eaters?
- Three things to avoid if your dog is a picky eater!
How has your dog’s diet evolved?
Although we compare our dogs to wolves, we have to realize that these are two different species.
The wolf's diet mainly consists of animal protein, with very few carbohydrates sourced from vegetation (2). Wolves don't need a source of dietary carbohydrates because they can synthesize their sugars directly from the protein and fat they digest (3).
This was also the case for dogs... until 15,000 years of domestication led to physiological changes to their digestive system (1). As humans took on the role of caretaker, humans also decided what dogs would eat.
With animal nutrition largely absent during these times, humans started feeding foods that were affordable and abundant. As a result, the diet of dogs quickly shifted from animal proteins to foods rich in carbohydrates. Such a drastic change in diet altered the digestive system of dogs as their bodies learned to accommodate a new nutrient source.
Researchers have also investigated species differences when it comes to digestion between wolves and dogs. Looking closely at changes in the genomic level, dogs have developed an advantage that increases their ability to digest carbohydrates (namely starch) compared to wolves (4).
Studies have also explored the gut microenvironment and found clear differences in the bacterial composition of the digestive system between dogs and wolves, allowing dogs to digest an increased variety of nutrients thanks to additional microbes (2).
But, what does the evolution of your dog’s digestive system have to do with being a picky eater?
It all comes down to the diversification of your dog's diet.
Since dogs no longer depend exclusively on animal proteins to survive, they start losing their “feast-or-famine” mentality. This means our dogs are becoming more selective when it comes to food and developing habits that make them picky eaters.
What’s the problem with picky eaters and kibble?
With this added variety to the diet of dogs, we’ve created a scenario where picky eaters have become common, especially when your dog can smell the difference between fresh human food and their dry kibble!
One way to solve this problem is to try switching your dog's diet from kibble to nutritionally balanced, fresh food.
The problem with kibble.
Although kibble diets typically provide a complete source of nutrients for your dog, they don't taste very good. These dry diets are made to feed your dog efficiently, but lack the sensory stimulation that brings excitement to your dog's next meal.
Dog food manufacturers base the flavour profile of kibble on two major characteristics:
First, your dog has to be willing to eat the food in front of them.
To assess acceptability, researchers introduce different diets one at a time. If the dog eats the food, pet food manufacturers will deem it as "acceptable".
If the new diet passes the acceptability phase, researchers now perform a two-pan test to see whether dogs prefer one diet over another.
This is considered a test of palatability and used as an indicator of the flavour profile.
Both tests are helpful for dog food manufacturers, but they don't provide a complete picture of your dog's pickiness when it comes to their diet. Currently, no studies compare your dog's preference between fresh food and kibble.
This creates a knowledge gap as dog owners scramble to switch from one kibble flavour to the next - unaware of fresh food as a potential solution to feeding a picky eater.
Can feeding your dog fresh food be a solution for picky eaters?
One solution to help solve the problem of picky eaters is to try feeding your dog fresh food.
Looking closely at data collected over ten years of dog food trials, researchers found two significant factors that affected a dog's preference for food (5).
Increased moisture content appeals to picky eaters because it releases volatile scents that improve the taste of food.
Since fresh food doesn't go through the same extrusion process as kibble, we can use the natural moisture content of fresh food to our advantage and help solve the problem of picky eaters.
High fibre content makes food more dense and reduces the palatability of a dog's meal. Fibre also has a significant role in healthy digestion and needs to be incorporated into your dog’s diet (5).
So, how do we make sure to maintain fibre content without affecting the flavour of the food?
Our recipes at NutriCanine include fresh sources of fibre through squash, carrots, broccoli, and berries - instead of powdered beet pulp.
This keeps your dog looking forward to their next meal, instead of promoting poor eating habits.
Although kibble and fresh food provide complete balanced nutrition for your dog, they use very different approaches. If you're dealing with a dog who is a picky eater, consider a switch from kibble to fresh food!
Three things to avoid if your dog is a picky eater!
Now that we've talked about the importance of fresh food for your dog and how it can provide a solution to picky eaters, let's talk about three things you should never do when your dog is exhibiting picky behaviour.
Most dogs are interested in human food because it's fresh food! If your dog is a picky eater, avoid trying to motivate them to eat by adding table scraps to their bowl of dog food.
Not only does this reinforce your dog's picky eating habits, but it can also pose a health risk when it comes to fatty foods and pancreatitis. Pancreatitis can be extremely painful and could damage the pancreas and surrounding organs.
You can find out more about pancreatitis and how to avoid it in our article here (LINK).
Sometimes we find ourselves catering to our dog and supporting picky eating habits.
We feed them every day, but their food stays untouched.
So, we pick up their bowl and give them another meal.
By doing this, we're only adding to the problem and rewarding picky eaters - creating a cycle of poor eating habits in your dog. Instead, focus on spacing out meals and feeding your dog fresh food instead!
If your dog isn't interested in the food you've put out for them, just leave it there.
Don't pick it up immediately after, but leave the food down for a few hours.
Dogs can go without food for five to seven days! When your dog becomes hungry, its instincts will kick in and they'll eat.
If we continuously replace their food with new alternatives, we only promote our dogs to be picky eaters.
If your dog is a picky eater, there are solutions.
Fresh food is one option that many people overlook!
At NutriCanine, we've brought some much-needed variety to your dog's diet. Not only does our fresh food meet your dog’s nutritional requirements, but it can also provide a solution that helps picky eaters enjoy every meal.
So, take the time to try out new foods and find something that your dog agrees with.
Find out more about our raw and gently cooked food recipes here!
Let's show your dog some real food and help solve problems with picky eaters.
- Savolainen P, Zhang YP, Luo J, Lundeberg J, Leitner T. Genetic evidence for an East Asian origin of domestic dogs. Science. 2002 Nov 22;298(5598):1610-3. doi: 10.1126/science.1073906. PMID: 12446907.
- Lyu T, Liu G, Zhang H, et al. Changes in feeding habits promoted the differentiation of the composition and function of gut microbiotas between domestic dogs (Canis lupus familiaris) and gray wolves (Canis lupus) [published correction appears in AMB Express. 2021 Jun 3;11(1):81]. AMB Express. 2018;8(1):123. Published 2018 Aug 2. doi:10.1186/s13568-018-0652-x
- Bosch G, Hagen-Plantinga EA, Hendriks WH. Dietary nutrient profiles of wild wolves: insights for optimal dog nutrition? Br J Nutr. 2015 Jan;113 Suppl:S40-54. doi: 10.1017/S0007114514002311. Epub 2014 Nov 21. PMID: 25415597.
- Axelsson E, Ratnakumar A, Arendt ML, Maqbool K, Webster MT, Perloski M, Liberg O, Arnemo JM, Hedhammar A, Lindblad-Toh K. The genomic signature of dog domestication reveals adaptation to a starch-rich diet. Nature. 2013 Mar 21;495(7441):360-4. doi: 10.1038/nature11837. Epub 2013 Jan 23. PMID: 23354050.
- Alegría-Morán RA, Guzmán-Pino SA, Egaña JI, Muñoz C, Figueroa J. Food Preferences in Dogs: Effect of Dietary Composition and Intrinsic Variables on Diet Selection. Animals (Basel). 2019;9(5):219. Published 2019 May 6. doi:10.3390/ani9050219
- (Savo) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12446907/
- (Lyu) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6072643/
- (Bosch) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25415597/
- (Axelsson) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23354050/
- (Alegria) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6562821/