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Pet Q&A: Help your dog learn to eat what it's given

Published: Tuesday, Apr. 3, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 7D

My little dog is so finicky. Plain kibble just isn't good enough. I have to doctor it up, adding leftovers, cheese and more. And then he gets bored with that, so I have to add something else. What's the answer?

– Via email

Before you do anything, you have to be sure you're not dealing with a health problem. Pets that are suffering from chronic disease or pain will often stop eating. Unless and until you get your pet to the veterinarian, you won't make any progress – and your pet may get worse.

It's also worth noting that if a dog that normally eats well won't eat what's in the dish, you need to trust his instincts. Feed something else, even if it's cottage cheese and rice for the night, and call the company (contact information is on the label). You may be offering a food that has been recalled.

But if both your dog and the food check out as fine, you need to teach your dog to eat what's offered. Provide a quiet place with no distractions and no competition from other pets. A small room with a baby gate across it is fine, or use a pet crate if your dog is comfortable inside one. Put the food down and leave your dog alone for 20 to 30 minutes. Then pick up the food, eaten or not, say nothing and give your pet no food until the next scheduled feeding. Repeat at every meal: a quiet space, a set time for eating and remove the remainder.

Don't worry if he misses a meal, or even a day or two worth of meals. He won't starve. Above all: Do not, do not, do not give treats between meals, nor add those "goodies" to the meals after she turns up her nose.

Do make sure fresh water is always available, though.

I doubt it will take more than a couple of days for your dog to learn to eat promptly the food that's set down in front of him.

Note: Don't ever try this on a finicky cat. Cutting off a cat's food supply abruptly can trigger a potentially fatal liver disease. If your cat's not eating, don't wait: See your veterinarian.

– Gina Spadafori

The buzz

A dog's mouth isn't all that clean

• The idea that a dog's saliva has healing powers dates back to ancient Greeks and Romans, whose physicians believed it to be an antidote for poisoning.

Modern medicine doesn't look kindly on such theories, especially when the things a dog eats and licks get taken into account. So if you have a wound, try some antiseptic spray and a Band-Aid.

Why do dogs seem so interested in sniffing or licking wounds? One reason: The serum that leaks from an open sore is sweet.

• Ideal weight for most cats is 8 to 12 pounds. Even larger breeds of cat rarely exceed 15 pounds.

– Mikkel Becker and Dr. Marty Becker

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