Dear Labby | Treats vs. Food

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Dear Labby_oldDear Labby,

The other day a friend asked me a question about their dog and I thought it was a good question for Dear Labby. Here’s the situation, her dog will only eat treats, she won’t eat her regular food. What’s up with that?

Friendly Flea

Dear Flea,

That is a good question and I think that there are a couple of different reasons so if she really wants to get to the bottom of it, it might take a little work. Here’s what I’d recommend:

  1. Check the ingredients. Treats typically have fewer ingredients and so less artificial fillers & preservatives, etc. Her dog may just prefer the taste of the treats. The treats may be beef and her food primarily chicken and she just doesn’t like the taste of chicken.
  2. Check the texture and hardness of the treats vs. the kibble. Sometimes the kibble is too hard for a dog’s teeth or hurts their gums. Our Maggie doesn’t like hard chews, only soft ones – so check that and then…
  3. Check her teeth – there might be a reason in her mouth that she prefers the texture of one over another. You can always add water to kibble to soften it up and make it easier to eat.
  4. If she used to eat her meals and recently stopped, you should also check in with your vet and make sure there’s no underlying medical cause of her sudden dislike of her regular food.

finicky or picky bulldog pouting beside full bowl of dog foodOnce you rule out a taste, teeth or medical reason, try hand feeding her the kibble and see if it’s just the dinner ritual/bowl/time or whatever she doesn’t like. Does she refuse the food when it’s given to her as a treat? If not, then you know she doesn’t like the food. If she does take it, then you know it’s not the food, but the circumstances of the feeding.
If it turns out she only eats when you hand feed her, then you may have a “Prima donna” problem on your hands and you will need to work on changing her behavior. To do that, we suggest:

  1. Stop feeding her treats. Yes, stop – completely.
  2. Feed her regular food with a few of her treats that she likes on top of her kibble. Be sure and reduce the amount of kibble as you don’t want to overfeed.
  3. NO in between meal treats.
  4. Slowly replace the treats in her meal with all kibble.

A healthy dog is not going to starve themselves. When they get hungry enough, they will eat no matter what. But if you give in and always feed her what she wants in the manner that she wants, well then that’s what she’s going to hold out for.
Good luck and let us know how it goes.

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  1. Hmmm…sounds like what I have heard about my mom as a child. She always had room for desert but could not eat her veggies. It is hard Knox at our house. If we don’t like the food, it is taken away and we try again next meal time. We may miss a meal or two, but we eventually eat. We always have some treats during the day but never enough to survive on. Mom says we have to eat what she gives us for our meals or we don’t get anything. You are correct, we won’t starve ourselves unless we have a health issue that is preventing us from eating.
    emma recently posted…The First Ever Amber Alert For Lost Pets | GBGV | #mobiPETPreOrderMy Profile

    • As the rock group Pink Floyd says:
      “How can you have any pudding if you don’t eat your meat?”
      steve recently posted…Dear Labby | Treats vs. FoodMy Profile

  2. Great advice!
    I would generally say that Moses and Alma are more excited to receive treats than meals (though they happily inhale both), but it makes sense when you consider the surrounding circumstances. Treats are not part of any particular routine, so they’re a suprise and something out of the ordinary. There’s usually more excitement and interest created when they get treats (getting them to perform tricks or tasks, building up a certain amount of anticipation). And treats are something different to eat from their regular meals.

    In line Emma’s comment above, we’ve done the same thing. If food gets left (super rare – but happened frequently when Moses was intact), it gets picked up and re-fed the next day. We defintiely didn’t want to encourage any prima donna tendencies.

    But I do think checking the food and treat ingredients is the first step, like you said.
    Jen K recently posted…I am well aware my dogs are not kidsMy Profile

  3. Here in Doodleville – if you don’t eat it, Leo will. Food doesn’t really get the privilege of staying around long in our house. Great advice, I used to have a similar problem with Harley (BL) before Leo arrived. Harley would get his “afternoon” treat no later than around noon and then nothing more until dinner. This ensured me that he would be interested in dinner when I made it. After dinner he would then get his favorites…
    Cathy recently posted…STANDING OVATION | WORDLESS WEDNESDAYMy Profile

  4. Thank you! The responses are cracking me up!
    Flea recently posted…Maltese – Breed of the WeekMy Profile

  5. Great question, great info.
    I think it’s normal really, for a dog to want treats more then normal food. But of course, you still have to make sure they eat their food!
    i think it is like us humans. To some people, a chocolate bar appeals more to them then a meal.
    (voting reminder as well Slim) Thanks buddy!
    ღ husky hugz ღ frum our pack at Love is being owned by a husky!
    Jenna,Mark “HuskyCrazed” Drady recently posted…Thoughtless Husky Zoomies!My Profile

  6. Excellent post and advise. I’m a hardass (as much as I can be) and tell people stop feeding that stuff and when they get Hungary they will eat it might take a day or to but they will eat vs starve. The dogs get in a habit of preferring the good stuff. Unless it is really a medical problem going on. People feel sorry for them as they are our children and give in and feed them what they want. I am guilty of it also.
    Sand Spring Chesapeakes recently posted…Wordless Wednesday~Gambler-Lunch?My Profile

    • Absolutely….I’ve never had a finicky eater other than Maggie when we first rescued her…otherwise, typical Labs.
      mkob recently posted…Dear Labby | Treats vs. FoodMy Profile

  7. Many service dogs in training get their entire meal as treats–kibble being fed throughout the day as training treats.

    Good advice. I hope Flea follows up. You’ve got me curious about what’s the issue with this pup.
    Pamela recently posted…If Dogs Had Jobs…My Profile

  8. Yep, I follow the “tough love” approach too, as long as I know there is not a medical problem such as a tooth issue, like you suggested. My motto is, if you don’t eat what I serve, then I guess you don’t eat.
    Lindsay recently posted…1800PetMeds partners with ThatMutt to help rescue groupMy Profile

  9. I love your Dear Labby posts. Those are all great ideas. Bentley is the polar opposite of a picky eater.
    Bark More, Growl Less Barking from the Bayou!
    M. K. Clinton recently posted…Spring has SprungMy Profile

  10. Great advice, I would have never thought to check the ingredients, or thought they might prefer one flavor vs another for mealtime.

    Thank you for joining the blog hop!
    Jodi recently posted…Chip ‘N DelilahMy Profile

  11. Thanks so much for joining the Barks and Bytes hop,. Excellent advice Labby. When

    Thunder was young, he used to periodically go off his food for days. He would eat treats but not food. Not enough treats to maintain weight. Of course we freaked. A retriever not eat? Who ever heard such a thing? We did just like you suggested and went to the vet each time and had blood work done (which was normal). He is such a big dog and not eating was an issue. We actually had to get some super high calorie soft food from the vet and feed him that. Then we mixed with kibble and gradually got him back on his food.

    I think part of it was that he did not like his food at the time. We changed his food and have never had another issue. But after talking to people, I came to find out that it is not totally uncommon for larger intact dogs to go off their food as they are growing. (He was 2 at the time and did not get mature until after 3.)

    If you saw him eat now, you would never guess he had an issue….lol. Now he eats from a slow feeder bowl.
    2 brown dawgs recently posted…Thursday Barks And Bytes–First Day Of Spring!My Profile

  12. Hi Y’all!

    Oh I had a terrible problem…I ate alright…and even though my Human was givin’ me kibble for training rewards, I was grabbing her hand when I took the treat. Thus she stopped givin’ me treats for the longest time. Now she uses them again.

    I have never refused to eat what is in my dish, but I don’t bother my dog food even though it isn’t “locked up”. My Human did say that the Chessie female, Candy, that came before me, only ate every other day or so.

    Y’all come by now,
    Hawk aka BrownDog
    Hawk aka BrownDog recently posted…Find Out What Y’all Have Been Barkin’ About!My Profile

  13. Great tips! We experienced this with Sydney, but it was because she liked the treats more and I made the mistake of dressing up our dogs’ food to make it more appealing instead of looking for a more appealing food.
    Kimberly Gauthier recently posted…Cleaning Tile is Easier than Cleaning Carpet @GoodHomeCoMy Profile

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