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Is Your Dog a Picky Eater?

When it comes to a dog’s attitude towards eating, there are two extremes. There are the speed eater dogs who gobble down their food as fast as they can, and then there are the dogs who take one sniff and walk away in disgust, protesting until they get something better. No pet parent wants to see their dog go hungry, so what’s to be done about picky eaters? It all comes down to why they’re being picky.

To save you going through all of the search results that appear when you look up “dog picky eater,” we’ve listed some of the possible reasons behind your dog’s fussy eating and how you can break those bad eating habits.

What’s Behind a Dog’s Flavor Preferences?

Some dogs will eat anything — including things that aren’t food — but many dogs do have a preference for food flavors. Scent and texture (the mouthfeel) have an important role in your dog’s food preferences. Some dogs love the crunchiness of chomping on dry kibble, while other dogs like the strong smell, smooth texture and high moisture content of canned dog foods. Like people, flavor preferences can be different between individual dogs.

The best food for picky dogs to eat is still dog food. You may need to change up how you offer food or which dog food you’re feeding, though. The best dog food is the one that provides all the nutrition that your dog needs and is the one they like to eat.

Why Is My Dog a Picky Eater?

The first step is to find out the reason behind your dog’s displeasure toward your food offering. Do they not like its taste, smell or texture? Are they being picky because they’re not feeling well and have lost their appetite? Or is something else going on? It’s time to put on your detective hat, do some research and get to the bottom of your dog’s picky eating.

Have You Changed Dog Foods Recently?

Many dogs don’t appreciate an abrupt change in flavor or texture of their dog food. Their stomach may also become upset with a sudden diet change. If you’re going to switch your dog’s food, whether that’s wet food to dry food (or vice versa), to a new flavor or a new brand, you should do it gradually over the course of 10 to 14 days. First, feed three parts of their regular food with one part of the new diet. Over the next few days, gradually mix in more of the new diet until they’re only eating the new food.

Is the Picky Eating Due to a Medical Issue or Stress?

If your dog suddenly isn’t eating and they also have other signs of illness, like vomiting or diarrhea, contact your veterinarian. If your dog has an upset stomach, your vet may recommend feeding a bland diet for a few days to see if that helps reset their stomach. Appetite loss can also be the first sign of an underlying medical condition like gastrointestinal, kidney or liver disease, toxin ingestion or digestive tract obstruction. Your dog could also have dental issues that make it hurt to eat dry kibble. If you have a puppy who’s a picky eater, it might be because they’re teething. Try feeding them wet dog food instead.

Your dog may also lose their appetite if they are stressed or anxious. A change in your household routine, separation anxiety, addition of a new pet or person to the house, or moving house are all examples of situations that can cause stress and anxiety in dogs. You could try moving your dog’s bowl to a low-traffic area of the house where they may feel more comfortable eating. If that doesn’t help, ask your vet for advice on relieving your dog’s stress or anxiety.

Is the Dog Food the Problem?

If your vet confirms that you’ve got a healthy dog but a fussy eater, check the dog food itself. Are there any ants or insects in the food? Has it gone rancid or stale? Exposure to heat, daylight and air can cause dog foods to “go off.” You can check out our pet food storage tips in this article on the “Do’s and Don’ts of Pet Food Storage.”

Your dog may also be bored with their food. For example, some dogs may be OK with eating a beef dinner every day, but others may want to mix things up and try chicken and rice instead. If you do decide to change your dog’s food, it’s important to switch out the food gradually (more on that later).

Is Your Dog’s Tummy Full Already?

A morsel of cheese here. A bit of bread there. A smorgasbord of table scraps from every family member’s plate. All of these tidbits can quickly add up, and by dinner time, your dog is so stuffed full of human food that there’s no room left for their own food. There are many reasons to stop your dog from begging, and this is one of them — they don’t get the complete and balanced diet they need.

Are they eating someone else’s food? If your cat is begging for food more often, perhaps your dog is helping themselves to your cat’s dinner. Feeding each animal in a different room or putting your cat’s food in a place your dog can’t access may help.

Are they getting into their own food when you’re not looking? Here are some tips on pet food storage methods to help keep the dog food fresh and stop your dog from sneaking snacks throughout the day.

Are You Falling into the Treat Trap?

Treats can also be the culprit in reducing your dog’s appetite. Treats should make up no more than 10 percent of your dog’s recommended calorie intake for the day. If you’re being liberal with the dog treats throughout the day, you may be falling into the treat trap and spoiling your dog’s dinner.

Have You Raised Their Food Expectations?

If you spent a week eating meals from a Michelin star restaurant, you’d probably turn your nose up at canned food or food that comes in a bag, too. If your dog has been eating delicious table scraps and now they’re being offered a bowl of kibble, their reaction may be “You expect me to eat this?”

Similarly, if you’ve been topping their kibble every night with human food and now you’re just offering kibble, you may have a disgruntled pup on your hands. The more you give them the “good stuff,” the more likely it is that your dog will reject their dog food.

How to Get a Picky Dog to Eat

We’ve gone through some possible reasons for why dogs are being fussy eaters. Now what can we do to get those picky eaters to eat? We went over some tips earlier but here are some more ideas on what to feed a picky pup and some ways to improve your dog’s eating habits.

You could try putting your dog’s meal into a feeding toy. Even the pickiest eater may start eating if mealtime means they get to use their brain and play a fun game. Or, to help entice your dog back to the food bowl, you could try warming their food so there’s a stronger and more inviting aroma coming from their bowl. If you feed dry dog food, you can enhance the flavor by adding water or low-sodium chicken broth to the kibble to create a gravy.

The caveat with trying these methods to make your picky dog eat is that they could get used to their warm food or gravy and expect this every time. So while they are eating again, you may be fueling their pickiness and they’ll learn to hold out until they get their special gravy.

Get Them Back into a Good Routine

If you suspect your picky dog is holding out for the good stuff, you might have to invoke a tough-love approach to get your dog to eat. Feed your dog their normal food at mealtime and remove whatever remains in the bowl after 20 minutes. At their next meal, provide a fresh bowl of the same dog food. Don’t give in to those sad, puppy-dog eyes begging you for something better. If your dog still refuses to eat after a day or two, contact your vet.

Picky Eaters Can Be Helped

Feeding picky eaters comes down to pet owners discovering why their dog is being a picky pet. If you can find out the cause it will help you work out ways to get them eating again. But remember, if your dog hasn’t eaten anything in a day or two, you should take them to your vet for a check-up.


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