Life with a picky eater

11 Jan

Our two vizslas couldn’t be more different. Gumbo is a large male with dark coloring and Ilsa is a small female with light coloring. Gumbo likes to think he’s invincible, and Ilsa can be very nervous. But the one difference that stands out above all the rest is their eating habits. Gumbo will consume ANYTHING put in front of him. He will take a treat and swallow without even tasting it. Ilsa, on the other hand, is very selective about her food. Getting her on a regular eating schedule has been a major challenge.


When Ilsa first joined our family, she ate ferociously. She ate like she had been famished all her life. We even bought a brake-fast bowl to slow her down because we were concerned about a puppy eating so fast. But during her first spring with us, Ilsa started to break out in hives all over her chest. Through the recommendation of our vet, we changed her diet. The vet mentioned the possibility of food allergies (which we’ve now come to learn are actually extremely rare – always do your own research!). But we eventually learned that all types of allergies can be improved with certain diets. We put Ilsa on a grain-free diet and noticed a dramatic improvement in her allergies. (We now know that her allergies are grass or pollen related.) Unfortunately, somewhere in this process, she decided to become very picky about what she would eat. We tried all sorts of dry kibbles and canned food before finally finding one that she would eat routinely. What can I say – I think she would prefer a diet of human junk food more than anything! We have to give a big thank you to some of the people in the specialty stores we would go to for information on different foods. A knowledgeable resource is invaluable.

We have never stopped researching food options and came to the conclusion that a raw diet might be best for Ilsa. Trying to get her to actually eat it was another story. Gumbo of course has never had any hesitation about it :P. We tried EVERYTHING – adding treats on top, hand-feeding, you name it. We weren’t sure if it was a texture or temperature issue or just Ilsa being Ilsa. Some trainers recommend making a dog’s meal part of training. We didn’t really see that as an option with raw food (umm – gross!). So we tried the one option Susan really didn’t want to have to try: tough love. We set out Ilsa’s food while Gumbo ate, and if she didn’t eat during that time, the food disappeared. After three days of not eating, Ilsa finally scarfed it down!

Today, we have improved her ability to eat with a few methods. We always make sure she has sufficient exercise before meal time (I know it’s common sense that this helps build an appetite, but exercise really goes a long way). She also has to sit in a specified location before her food is put on the floor, and she has to be released with a “free” command before she can start eating. These rules have helped drastically because she knows exactly what is going on. And yes, her food does get a small treat on top to help her start eating… But we now have a happy, healthier red dog that eats well (most of the time ;)).

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One Response to “Life with a picky eater”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. A major milestone « A Tail of Two Vizslas - January 27, 2012

    […] for over two years. No, it wasn’t a new title. And it didn’t have anything to do with eating. Or birds. Ilsa and I just went for a […]

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