by Lilian S. Barber
This article was first published in the Italian Greyhound breed column in the June 2008 issue of the AKC Gazette and has been adapted for the Shih Tzu breed with permission of the author.
Fussy eating and digestive problems are certainly not unique to [Shih Tzu], but they are fairly common in the breed. Complaints range from a spoiled rotten princess who would eat only chicken breasts to a serious case of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), with numerous variations in between.
Fussy eaters typically refuse most dog food but beg for table scraps. If you cater to them to get them to eat, within a very short time “people food” is all they will consume. This can happen with the healthiest of dogs, but it can also be a symptom of something more serious. It becomes necessary to find out which it is.
First of all, the fussy dog should be checked for a medical problem. (IBS, for example, usually presents itself as a refusal to eat; Shih Tzu with juvenile renal dysplasia also often have picky appetites.) [If you have not clearly created the problem by indulging a begging dog that was originally perfectly willing to eat dog food,] a complete veterinary examination is the best way to begin. This is not a time for asking advice from Internet chat groups. You can make a quick check for possible IBS by putting your ear against the dog’s underside. If there are definite sizzling sounds—these can often be heard plainly without even coming close to the dog—it is likely that some form of digestive disease is present and professionally prescribed medication will be required.
Many people cater to their fussy eaters by feeding them from their own plates or by cooking special concoctions that may appeal to the royal taste buds but do not constitute a well-balanced diet. A dog who has no health issues should be weaned away from human food or whatever unbalanced foods she has been eating. Start out by mixing in a small amount, like a spoonful, of normal dog food. At each feeding add a little more, subtracting that much of whatever delicacy has been used to coax her to eat. Definitely do not leave food down at all times. So-called free feeding encourages a dog to play with her food rather than to eat it. This makes it very difficult to see exactly how much is actually being consumed. Leave food down for 15 minutes, then pick it up and try again eight hours later. Although I am not an advocate of raw or home-cooked diets, in the case of an extremely fussy eater it may be easier to switch to one of those, making sure that whatever is being fed is nutritionally complete. Keep in mind that no healthy dog has ever starved herself to death.
Ideally, fussy eating habits that are not based on an actual health problem should be avoided in the first place. [Shih Tzu], with their loving looks and endearing body language, can be very demanding beggars. A little bit of fallout from their human’s plate can lead to selective eating that is not easily cured. By the same token, if the household consists of several dogs and one of them is on a special diet, it’s best to not let the others get a whiff of the different food.