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An Understanding of Picky Dogs Who Cannot Eat

An understanding of picky dogs who cannot eat is a battle many dog owners face, yet do not have the knowledge or training to deal with the “picky dog” issue that confronts them. What could make it easier for them is to accept the fact that dogs who find it difficult to eat may be having the same eating problems or disorders as people who struggle to eat.

Yet for those of us who do not have an eating disorder, we know by experience that something that tasted good yesterday may taste absolutely crappy today, while other times feelings of depression or too much stress can take away the appetite, or maybe there is honestly no appetite at the moment. But what many dog owners do not understand is that a picky dog who cannot eat may be having some psychological issues going on, issues that can affect a dog’s appetite and eating habits.

dogs picky eaters
“J.J. and 17-year-old Ra” – Image by Nancy Houser

Our white shiba inu, Joyful Jasmine (whom we call J.J.), was raised by an abusive mother who used to attack her when she would get close enough to nurse. J.J. was not born a picky dog, she was made into one against her tiny will. We ended up rescuing her at a very young age before the mother could kill her, a little bag of bones who blindly was struggling to survive. This beautiful white and sesame Shiba Inu is now eight-years-of-age, but still carries the emotional and psychological scars of her early puppy days.

Those eight years of trying to get her to eat were difficult, to say the least. More difficult for J.J. than us.

Due to failed attempt to get J.J. to eat enough food, she looked like a starved and unloved malnutritioned street urchin with four paws for a very long time. We knew, and she also, that she was hungry. We could tell by her actions and the look in her eyes; we did not consider her one of the many picky dogs who chose not to eat, but one who could not eat.

We have an open cupboard where we keep canned dog and cat food, treats, and extra dog bowls. We feed every morning, but many of our dogs are smart enough to go to the cupboard and pull a can of dog food or the bag of treats down with their paws later on (they think they are still hungry or want a little snack, I guess). Others will stand in front of the cupboard and do the “pointer pose” until they grab our attention, slyly glancing at us out of the corner of their eyes!

by Nancy Houser
by Nancy Houser

J.J. is the dog who first learned to rear up on her back legs and place her front paws on the shelf that has her dog food on it. And there she would stand … quietly …. staring at her can of food. She ate so little, we usually would pull her can down to give it to her whenever she would ask. Unfortunately, she taught all the dogs to go to the cupboard, each one tweaking its own method of asking us, “Please …. some more?”

Refusing to eat out of a dish on her own initiative, she would turn her back to the dish and lie down in her recliner … watching the other dogs eat. You could tell she was hungry, but could not bring herself to eat. So, we started feeding her with our fingers. We would dip our fingers into the canned dog food and offer scoops of food to her, which she refused at first. We would then gently open her jaw and place bits’ of food on the roof of her mouth where it would stick …  as it was canned.

picky eaters
Photo by Nancy Houser

Using this method, we could slowly get down her about two to four tablespoons at a time. Enough to keep her alive, anyway. Over time, we were able to get her to eat off the spoon instead of our fingers.

Yes. This has been a slow process, but it slowly developed into a winning battle. A battle against time for our girl, whose perseverance and love have paid off. But we noticed that any food that we ate off the table, she felt was safe, so she wanted that also. So cooking for dogs began to develop around our house, and not just for the picky eater!

J.J. is slowing gain weight today and is looking much better. At times, she even acts like she feels good. But every day is unique with her, and we have slowly learned to accept who she is and what she is capable of.

Like everyone, she has bad days. Sometimes she eats by herself out of a saucer or bowl, sometimes we need to feed her with our fingers, and sometimes she eats off a spoon. And sometimes, it takes all the steps to complete a meal.

If everything fails, we boil up our no-fail recipe of boiled chicken! According to Marcus Samuelsson, “For centuries, soup kitchens have been a way for local communities to offer a way of support, both nutritional and emotional to their less lucky neighbors.” We offer our dogs chicken soup when they are ill, the weather is down, and when things have been a little stressful.

Picky eaters can be just that. A picky eater who has had a life of luxury and luxurious meals and maybe has never heard the word “no.” These animals, or even children and adults, can be labeled as a picky eater or a picky person. But there will always be dogs like J.J. whose finickiness and pickiness comes from other sources …. like fear and abuse.

There is not much of a difference between abused children or abused animals, with new studies showing some promising answers on children labeled as picky eaters. The phrase “Picky dogs who cannot eat” very well could be “Picky children who cannot eat.” Either way, it would take someone capable of reading between the lines to really understand what is going on in situations like this. Look into the dog’s heart and the mind, removing your own control issues and not being overly concerned about forcing change in them. Only then will the true meaning of what is going on become clear to you. And only then can it be resolved.



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