Life would be so much easier if your dog could just tell you what he thinks about his food, wouldn't it? While we can't give you a dog translator collar so that your dog can speak for himself, we can tell you how he experiences food flavors, why he might get bored of his meal, and how to help your picky eater...all to help you better understand how your dog tastes food. Ready? Bon appétit!
How Dogs Taste Their Food
Did you know that if you went head-to-head in a taste test against your dog, your pooch wouldn't stand a chance? Humans, on average, have 9,000 taste buds on their tongues, while the average dog only has about 1,700. But that doesn't mean that dogs don't have a sense of taste or don't have taste preferences. In reality, dogs can taste sweet, sour, salty, and bitter. Some say that because their omnivorous ancestors ate fruits in the wild, dogs developed a love of sweet flavors and tend to stay away from salty, sour, bitter, or spicy foods. (For the record, this is the part where we'd include a beautiful taste map graphic of a dog's tongue, but that idea has been debunked. Dang!)
You may be surprised to learn that in addition to those four tastes, dogs can also taste water. Special taste buds on the tip of a dog's tongue react to water as he drinks, and become more sensitive as he becomes thirsty. When his "water buds" become more sensitive, it encourages him to drink more water and makes quenching his thirst all the more satisfying.
Bonus: Check out this incredible slow-mo video of a dog's tongue lapping up water.
Although a dog's ability to taste is only a fraction of our ability, it's his sense of smell that matters to his experience of food even more. In fact, your dog's sense of smell is a million times stronger than yours: We're talking ~125 million sensory glands in your dog's nose vs. your 5-10 million glands according to the AKC!
Do Dogs Get Bored of Their Food?
Sometimes. While most dogs aren't looking for novel flavors like you or I would, some dogs do experience food fatigue. Whether fatigue is due to the food – it's easier to get burned out of some foods than others – or because of the uniqueness of your dog – some dogs are perfectly happy eating the same food for their entire lives while others prefer variety – dogs can get bored of their daily meal. So what can you do?
- Determine if your dog is really experiencing food boredom. Does he go to the bowl to eat, but leaves once he sees or smells the food? Does he try to nose food out of the bowl, eat halfheartedly, then ask for something else? Is he behaving normally otherwise (and not showing other signs of being sick)? If yes, then he may be getting bored.
- Next, check the food. Is it expired? Has it gotten stale? Could it have picked up odors from somewhere else? If the answer is "yes" to any of these questions, then replace the food. If the answer is "no", then it could be time for a switch.
One solution is to switch up food flavors to give some variety, but stay within the same brand to lower the risk of digestive upset. For example, you can create your dog's personalized blend of food with Just Right by Purina and choose between chicken, salmon, or lamb. The nutrition delivered by his personalized blend is the same, but different flavors can be a delicious change to the routine. If simply switching flavors isn't novel enough for your dog, try mixing a small amount of wet food with the dry food. Your dog's bowl suddenly has an added aromatic kick to it and still maintains that satisfying crunch.
Still having trouble? Try these tips:
- Don’t immediately give your dog a new bowl of food after he rejects his current food. Doing this will tell him that he's in control of what he eats, not you. Instead, remove the rejected bowl and wait at least an hour (or until his next meal) before offering a new food. Avoid feeding treats in the meantime.
- Pay attention to your dog's water consumption, especially during hot months. If he drinks a lot of water, he may not want to eat right away – give him about 20 minutes before setting his bowl down.
One last thought to keep in mind: If it ain't broke, don't fix it. In other words, avoid changing your dog's food too frequently, especially if it's working for him and if he's enjoying it. Otherwise, sudden changes in diet can cause stomach upset.
What Should You Do for Picky Eaters?
Sometimes, dogs become "picky eaters" not because they've taken a sudden distaste for their food, but because they've learned there's something even more delicious right around the corner. Table scraps and treats all the time sounds like your dog's dream diet, doesn't it? But your job is to train your dog...don't let him train you! Your dog is bound to have a favorite snack, but don't let that determine what he eats for his primary meals. Here's how you can help reform a picky eater:
- Train your dog to eat on a schedule
- Don't overload on treats (limit treats to <10% of daily caloric intake)
- Avoid feeding table scraps
- Keep food fresh by closing it tightly in its original bag and if you can help it, avoid buying in bulk
- Keep food away from other products that could transfer odors or flavors into the food
Environmental factors can affect your dog's eagerness to eat too. If it's hot outside, his appetite may decrease and he may skip a meal. Similarly, if his food is very cold (if it was left outside, for example), the cold, hard mouthfeel is not going to be a very appealing texture.
Have a specific question about your picky eater? Reach out to Ashley & she'll be happy to help!
At Just Right by Purina, we know that even the best nutrition doesn't do your dog any good if he won't eat it. That's why we focus on making food that's not only nutritious, but delicious too with flavor-enhancing ingredients like natural liver flavor. It's no wonder these formerly picky eaters love their Just Right blends!
"I switched to Just Right for both my dogs when they started being picky eaters...Now, they dance around while I get their bowls ready and dig in as soon as I put it down." - Janice S., Chewy, & Peanut
"I have changed the recipe a couple of times to see which ingredients they like best. It seems they like them all!" - Bryant C., Blackjack, & Bean
"When my first order came and I opened the bag, his reaction was amazing...He picked right past the old brand and ate "Just Right" right from the start! Guess he is just the right guy eating just the right food with a blindingly shiny coat." - Linda K. & Scratch