Just like people, dogs have individual food preferences. That can partly arise from preferring what food they ate as a puppy or what their mother ate while pregnant. This can create some challenges and frustration for pet parents when trying to introduce something new to your pet’s diet.
Here, we’ve put together some information around why your dog may love some foods and not others, and some steps for how to introduce new foods and treats to your best friend.
How do dogs taste their food?
Studies have shown that dogs have the same four taste classifications that humans do; they can identify sweet, sour, salty and bitter. However, their sense of taste is not as sensitive and therefore is much less discriminating than that of humans.
If dogs can taste, why will they eat anything from prime steak to garbage?
The answer has to do with smell. Although a dog’s ability to taste is roughly a fraction of a human’s ability, their sense of smell is up to one million times stronger. Smell and taste are very closely related, and dogs can actually taste foods through their sense of smell with a special organ along the dog’s palate. Dogs also have taste buds in the back of their throat, so they can actually taste that food they seem to inhale without chewing.
Dogs can differentiate between meat and non-meat foods without smell, however they can’t tell the difference between chicken, beef, fish, or pork without smell. It certainly highlights that if something smells good, it’s going to taste good to a dog. This is also why dogs are more interested in foods that smell stronger, such as canned foods versus dry kibble. Canned foods are often much more aromatic, and therefore, much more enticing.
What factors affect whether a dog will try a new food?
Picky eaters may be created, not born
While some breeds are known to be pickier over food than others such as Poodles and Yorkshire Terriers, in many cases picky eaters are created, not born. Dogs that aren’t given alternatives from their regular food are more likely to just eat what they are given. However, if they find when they turn their nose up at their dinner, they receive a tasty piece of meat or another treat, they quickly learn to hold out to get something better than what they are first given. This can be the beginnings of picky eating behaviour and the start of our pets training us, rather than us training them!
Past behaviour with new foods
If your dog was in a large litter, they may have had to be a fast eater to ensure they got their share of food! On the other hand, if they were the runt or a submissive puppy in a large litter, they may have become pickier, having grown up picking over the leftovers of their siblings, taking this habit into adulthood.
Stress or relaxation level
Dogs only have 1,700 taste buds and how they perceive taste can change at the time of stress. It can be caused by norepinephrine levels which can be released under stress and make things seem unpalatable. This is often why dogs who love liver treats don’t eat them at the vets, when they’re feeling stressed or anxious.
Variety is key
Most dogs like variety, and if you feed them the same thing every day, they get tired of it. Often, give them something new and they’ll gobble it up. The exception is dogs who were raised with no variety at all. They are hesitant to try new foods and may seem to avoid any culinary adventures.
Freshness and temperature of food
As foods age, they lose their aroma and flavour. Keeping kibble closed tightly in the original bag or container with a tight-fitting lid will help to keep it fresh and appealing. After opening, canned food should be covered and stored in the refrigerator for no more than three to five days. When the food comes out of the refrigerator, it will not have as strong a smell, so you may need to warm it slightly to increase the aroma.
Temperatures can affect appetite, too. If it is hot outside and your dog is panting, he cannot sniff (smell) at the same time and may not want to eat. If your dog is an outside dog, cold temperatures can reduce the aroma of his food or it may have a different mouth feel and be less appealing. Again, warming up the food might do the trick.
How to introduce new foods to your dog
Persistence is key. If you’ve only tried once in the past and not persisted, the dog may be waiting for their favourite alternative to be presented to them again, rather than trying something new. You may not succeed on the first try. Or second. Or even third. It’s important to try a range of methods to find what works for your dog.
Here, we share some of the favourite techniques of the ZamiPet team for introducing new foods to our pets.
Please note: every dog is different, with unique tastes and dietary requirements, and potentially allergies. Please use the steps below as guidance only, and only use the steps that are appropriate to your pet.
1. Adding new food to an existing meal
For some dogs, it’s as simple as dropping a small amount the new food into a bowl amongst their normal diet. If things aren’t quite this straight forward for your furry companion, read on!
2. If it smells good, eat it
Consider that dogs will east just about anything that smells good to them, so try combining the new food with one of their favourite meals or treats. Using something aromatic that smells great to them may increase your chance of success. Some options are:
- Add a very small amount of xylitol-free peanut butter to the new food. Xylitol, an artificial sweetener is toxic to dogs. Make sure the peanut butter does not contain chocolate either. To be safe, you can use a dog-friendly peanut butter!
- Combine the new food with a small piece of cheese
3. Get creative
If your dog enjoys interactive toys, add the new food into an interactive toy such as a KONG toy or snuffle mat and turn the experience into a fun activity.
4. Try a new location
If a dog has had a negative experience (like getting sick after a meal) eating from a particular bowl or location, they may be reluctant to eat from that bowl or location again. Moving to a different place, using a new bowl can help to make a new food be associated with a positive experience instead.
5. Try before meals or after exercise
If you’re introducing a new treat or chewable supplement to your dog, try feeding it before mealtimes. The hungrier your dog is, the more likely they may be to eat it. Another good time to try is just after a walk or exercise, when your dog has burnt a lot of energy and is ready for their next meal!
6. Make changes gradually
If you’re introducing a new kind of wet or dry food, do this progressively over seven to ten days. The following schedule, mixing the old and new food together, may be useful:
- 2 – 3 days ¼ new food ¾ old food
- 2 – 3 days ½ new food, ½ old food
- 2 – 3 days ¾ new food ¼ old food
- Onwards, use the new food only
7. Serve warm, moist foods
Dogs tend to prefer warm, moist foods, rather than cold, dry foods. When introducing something new, if you’re using a wet food with your pet, have the wet food at room temperature (rather than cold form the fridge) and add some of the new food to this meal.
8. Be cautious with hand sanitiser, hand creams and perfume
Use caution when feeding anything new directly from your hands, particularly if you have just sanitised, used strong soap, perfume or hand cream. These smells will often create a distraction for your dog and will put them off anything you’re handing to them, as their sense of smell is so strong!
9. Keep to regular feeding times
Dogs generally eat when they are hungry and don’t starve themselves. Try to avoid feeding snacks or treats if they refuse to eat their usual food, as they may develop a habit of holding out for something better. This habit is hard to break when trying to introduce something new, if there is a history of getting something tastier if they wait.
10. Take food away if it’s not eaten
Don’t leave food down if the dog doesn’t eat it. If left, uneaten food becomes a normal part of their environment and a signal from you that it’s OK not to eat food that is given. Putting away leftovers lets your dog understand that uneaten food is taken away, and all food should be eaten at mealtimes when given.
11. Feed foods and medications separately
Be careful of mixing medications like parasite control chewable tablets with your pet’s normal food. If they don’t like the taste of the medication, they may inadvertently believe that their ‘food’ tastes bad and not want to eat it, reducing their trust in you that anything new will be tasty.