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From Finicky Fido to Chowhound Charlie

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By Elizabeth Parker, Studio One Networks

No matter how hungry your dog may be at mealtime, you'll notice that a quick sniff of the food will almost always precede the chow down. Like a connoisseur inhaling the bouquet of a fine wine before the first sip, your dog is deciding if what you've laid out for the meal is worth eating.

Dogs reportedly have about one sixth the number of taste buds that we humans do, but their sense of smell is far more sophisticated than ours. "The tissue in their brain used for smelling is bigger and actually weighs more than the same tissue in human brain," says Dr. Nancy Scanlon, DVM, at the Sherman Oaks Veterinary Clinic in Sherman Oaks, Calif.

Moisture on your dog's nose helps to dissolve molecules in the air around the food, which are then inhaled, making contact with the nerves inside the nose. The nerve impulses travel instantly from the nose directly to the brain and, at this point, your discriminating doggy can immediately determine if this food is familiar, fresh, rotten, sweet or salty -- and whether or not it should be eaten.

But dogs are not easily fooled. Once your dog starts eating, the sense of taste takes over. If a food has been artificially altered so that it smells like beef but is actually soybean mush, your dog will not continue to eat if the flavor is not to its liking.

What flavors do dogs like?
One study found that dogs prefer meat to any cereal foods. They like canned meat more than fresh meat, and cooked meat better than raw. And while dogs have a taste for sweetness, they can quickly detect -- and will avoid -- food with a bitter taste.

Some dog owners may feel that their pets need a variety or certain intensity of flavors to keep them interested. Not so, say experts. "Dogs don't need a lot of flavors," says Scanlon. There is no need to switch foods, she says, unless you need to coax your dog to eat, for instance, when it's sick. Most dogs love, and will accept, flavorful treats, but these should only be used when you're training your dog or at other special times, but not as a meal replacement.

Picky eater problems
Most of us know dogs that will eat just about anything. These tend to be bigger dogs, strays or dogs that were bred to be hunters. "But for the picky guys, the fresher (the food) the better," says Scanlon, who adds that small, thin dogs, such as whippets or grey hounds, tend to be pickier eaters. Canned food or a combination of canned and dry may be best for these dogs.

If you constantly change your dog's food, or frequently give your dog scraps of human food, you could actually create a picky eater, says Dr. Kimberly Bolduc, DVM at Willowood Acres Veterinary Clinic in Romulus, Mich. Keep your dog on a consistent diet and refrain from offering human food, which can be dangerous to a dog's health.

If your dog has lost interest in its food, for some reason, here are a few tips to try to make it more palatable:

Copyright (c) 2008 Studio One Networks. All rights reserved.

About The Author: Elizabeth Parker Elizabeth Parker has written for The Boston Globe, Shape, Glamour, Viv and many other publications. She is co-author of Heeling Your Inner Dog: A Self-Whelp Book (Times Books) and currently lives in Los Angeles with her husband, son, dog and two rabbits.
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