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June 13, 2016
A common thing we often hear is – my dog is a picky eater. Like humans, some dogs love for food and others are much more take it or leave it.
Is this pickiness a new thing: The first question is – has your dog always been a picky eater or is this something new. If this has come on recently then that may be caused by a number of reasons. Recent vaccinations can temporarily suppress appetite or a change in environment that may be causing temporary upset. However it may also be that the loss of appetite may be down to illness and a trip to the vet may be in order.
Is your dog picky or just not hungry: If your dog has always been a picky eater then the important question to ask is do they look healthy; are they maintaining weight; are they alert and do they have a lovely shiny coat. If they do then don’t worry – they are clearly getting the nutrition they need and it’s not that they are picky – they just aren’t hungry.
Are too many treats to blame: If you are worried about your dog’s pickiness then the first thing to look at is treats. How many treats do you give them, do you feed them delicious table scraps. If you do overdo treats or feed table scraps you may be filling them up with treats, or they are just holding out for more exciting food from your plate.
Is their food delicious: The other important thing to think about is does my dog like the taste of the food I am giving them. Dogs have far fewer taste buds than humans (1706 vs 9000), but still have a highly attuned sense of taste which means they can detect what they like and dislike from only a small sample.
Smelliness is good: Dogs have 10cm2 of smell receptors per kilo of their bodyweight – compared to a measly 0.2 cm2 for humans. Clearly smell matters to dogs and this powerful sense of smell works together with the taste buds to accentuate the sense of taste. It is for this reason that the stronger aromas of fish are particularly appealing to dogs
Is their food bland: Cats, having originally been desert animals, have a strong preference for fresh, un-degraded meat and fish and in the wild they will only feed from their prey shortly after the kill, rarely returning for more. A sensible strategy for a desert dweller where food can rot very fast
However a dog’s preference is far less clear. We know that dogs will often bury bones and return to them later, they will eat the most unmentionable things that they find lying in fields and under hedgerows, so they can tolerate, and may even prefer, flavours produced during the decay of meat and the oxidation of fat. This raises the suggestion that one of the reasons for pickiness is the blandness of some commercial dry foods. Foods made from highly processed meat meals, produced predominantly from beef by-products, or with significant levels of cereal may simply be too bland to excite your dog’s appetite. Look for foods with stronger tastes and aromas.
Dogs Love Umami: Like humans, dogs are omnivores and so have developed preferences for a wide variety of different foods. They can detect bitter, sour, salty and sweet flavours. Dogs also possess receptors that are able to detect compounds including those amino acids that elicit the “Umami” taste. This fifth flavour has been described in humans as a kind of satisfying, savoury taste, provided by foods such as Bolognese with cheese or marmite or char grilled meats, it is also very common in Asian foods – and of course fish
In dogs, and particularly in cats, it is thought that this taste is well developed as it enables them to detect meat and fish and the species from which it originates, as well as its freshness.
An ingredient that appears to contain, and retain, many of these substances is fish. For centuries Asian chefs have added dried fish powder, fish sauce, and fish heads to stocks, soups and sauces to enhance the “Umami” flavour, and also discovered that fermenting these materials enhances this further still. The enhancement seen with fermentation, which is also seen with protein hydrolysis, is primarily caused by the production of glutamate, which is known to stimulate the umami sensors in the mouth. Fresh fish also contains significant levels of glutamate itself.
So with the stronger tastes and aromas and filled with Umami eliciting amino acids fish is a particularly palatable food for dogs.
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