By Linda Cole
You may have a loving pet who would never do anything to hurt a family member – as long as no one touches his food. A food aggressive dog or cat is more apt to be given to a shelter or put down because their owner didn’t know how to deal with the problem. Food aggression doesn’t mean you can’t live with the pet; it simply means you need to change their behavior to one that’s acceptable to you. Here are some tips on what to do (and what not to do) when dealing with food aggression in pets.
Food aggression in dogs is a serious and potentially dangerous issue that needs to be stopped before it gets out of hand. When a dog growls at other pets or people while he eats, or even when his bowl is empty, he’s showing food aggression. It’s never cute, and a puppy who shows signs of food aggression needs his behavior changed before he grows into an adult.
Punishing the dog won’t work. If you take away his food, you reinforce his fear and proved to him he has to protect his food. Yelling only leaves him with negative thoughts. Neither one will stop his food aggressive behavior. Dogs learn what’s acceptable when we use positive reinforcement and rewards to get rid of unacceptable behavior.
If your dog displays mild aggression, meaning he doesn’t try to take your hand off when you get near his food, try holding him back from his bowl while you pick it up. Have him watch as you add something tasty like cheese or cooked chicken. Let him eat that, then repeat the process. He’s learning that not only are you not trying to take his food away, you’re adding something tasty to his bowl.
To deal with a more serious food aggression problem with a dog, you need a different approach. Put his bowl on a table and have him sit. Feed him one piece of food at a time. If he tries to grab or snap it from your hand, wrap it in your fist and tell him “careful” or whatever word you want to use. Give it to him when he’s being gentle. He’ll learn that you control his food. It might take a couple weeks to change his behavior, so stay consistent and positive. After a week, put his bowl on the floor with half his normal amount in it and add more food as he eats. Drop in some CANIDAE Snap-Bits™ treats with the food to reinforce his good behavior.
Cats aren’t as likely to have food aggression issues, but some may. Usually, they’re showing aggression that comes from other sources. I’ve had cats that insisted on dining alone and made it clear they didn’t want to share. However, that behavior is more of a hierarchy issue than a display of food aggression.
Food aggression can be difficult to diagnose in cats because there can be other factors involved that have nothing to do with food. Anytime a cat exhibits any aggression, they should be checked out by a vet to make sure there’s no medical problem causing it. If they get a clean bill of health, observe your cat to see if there are other reasons that could be making them aggressive, like another pet.
Stray cats or ones adopted from shelters can have food aggression issues if they had to fight for or protect their food at one time. Even though we provide them with daily food, they still think they have to protect it from other pets and sometimes, their owner. Food aggression, in most cases, can be stopped by feeding the cat in another room, away from other pets in the home. If it’s a dog upsetting the cat, feed her where the dog can’t get to her food. Most cats will resolve their own food aggression once they learn no one is going to “steal it” from them. If your cat protects her food from you, an effective and humane way to deal with an attacking cat is to spray her in the face with a squirt bottle filled with clean water. Be careful not to spray in the eyes or ears. It’ll get her attention and help refocus the mind so she can learn the behavior you want.
Food aggression in pets can be dealt with as long as you recognize the problem and then work on resolving it before someone in the family gets hurt. It’s up to us as responsible pet owners to let them know what is acceptable behavior, and it can be taught with patience, understanding, positive reinforcement and praise.
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The personal opinions and/or use of trade, corporate or brand names, is for information and convenience only. Such use does not constitute an endorsement by CANIDAE® All Natural Pet Foods of any product or service. Opinions are those of the individual authors and not necessarily of CANIDAE® All Natural Pet Foods.