Help my chihuahua is a picky eater!
This is a common cry for help that comes into the blog on a regular basis. If you are pulling your hair out because your chihuahua is a picky eater then here is a ten step plan to help you get dinner time back under control.
Change in behaviour?
First: is this a change in behaviour? If your chihuahua used to love his food, then suddenly has stopped eating and is refusing everything, a trip to the vet is in order. He may be ill and need attention. Look for signs that your dog is in pain.
The most obvious reason your chihuahua is a picky eater is that he doesn’t like the food you’re giving him. But, chances are, if you are reading this then you have already tried about 6 different brands of wet and dry food and are tearing your hair out worrying that your dog is not getting the nourishment he needs.
First, you need to relax a bit, even if your chihuahua is a picky eater, no healthy animal is going to willingly starve themselves to death. If your chihuahua is bouncing around barking at everything then he is in no immediate danger. But that doesn’t mean you don’t want to change the feeding regime, so you have a better idea of what your dog is actually eating.
How big is your chihuahua?
How big your chihuahua is will guide how many calories he needs a day. The other factors that affect how many calories your chihuahua needs will be life-stage, if neutered or spayed (dogs that have been de-sexed will need fewer calories), how active your dog is and any medication he may be on.
Your vet should be happy to provide this information. Be careful with some of the online canine calorie calculators, some of them are just plain wrong.
Most dog owners inadvertently overfeed their dogs. It is difficult not to as the instructions on dog food packets are often vague and, at the time of writing manufacturers are not required to put the calorie content of their food on the packet.
I think also, there is a danger that dog owners have changed their perception of what is an acceptable body aesthetic for their dog, fearing criticism if their dog appears to be too thin, when in most cases some rib definition is acceptable.
How much is too much?
A very tiny chihuahua, who has been spayed, may only need 150 calories a day, if you split this up over three meals then each meal is only 50 calories. This is nothing to the average human eye, a small treat or table scrap could contain all the calories your dog needs for that meal.
What to do if your chihuahua is a picky eater
#1: Find out how many calories your dog really needs a day.
#2: Change to a dog food that has a calorie content that you can calculate. Raw or home cooked is best. If you are feeding processed dog food, then contact the supplier and ask for the calorie content.
Once you know what calories your dog needs and the calorie content of their food you have the situation under better control.
#3: Feed the food at set times during the day, give your chihuahua a certain amount of time to eat it (15-20 minutes) then remove it.
If you let your chihuahua graze, then you have no idea on how much he has eaten, and you give your chihuahua the idea he can eat whenever he likes. This will give him no incentive to eat when presented with food and could be contributing to any behaviour issues you may be having. As only the pack leader can eat when they like. Read: why you in charge = happier chihuahua
#4: As a family decide on who gives out treats and how much your dog should have. Your chi doesn’t know the difference between treats and dinner. To him, food is food. A single dog treat can contain all the calories a small chihuahua needs for one meal, and why eat dinner when a much tastier alternative is likely to appear!
#5: Goes without saying, cut out any treats or table scraps you are giving your chihuahua until you have the feeding under control and when you reintroduce them give them for doing something. Training or tricks.
#6: Make sure your chihuahua gets out for a good walk every day. Introduce a meal when you get home. It will appeal to your chihuahua’s instinct that he has been out on a hunt and is eating his catch.
#7: Stop fussing: If you keep introducing different foods every time your chihuahua turns his nose up then you are making life hard for yourself and turning your chihuahua into a diva.
#8: Stop fussing: Standing over your dog or following him around with the food bowl will not encourage him to eat and it’s beneath you as pack leader.
#9: Relax: If your chihuahua picks up tension around feeding time he is going to wonder what is going on and start to feel worried as well.
#10: Stop worrying: The takeaway from this is to stop worrying, the chances are your chihuahua is eating more than you think. You just need to pinpoint where his food is coming from and get it under control.
Please not these guidelines are for healthy dogs, if you are trying to rehabilitate a rescue or nurse a dog back to health then please work with your vet or local dog nutritionist for tailored advice.
Further reading: Reasons to stop feeding kibble