Is your pup suddenly turning up his nose at mealtime, rolling his eyes and stalking off into the other room when you try to offer him food? Or maybe he's always seemed to have a particularly discerning palate? Either way, having a picky eater on your hands can be frustrating—not to mention anxiety-inducing, when you're worried whether your dog is getting enough of the nutrients they need. There are quite a few reasons why your pup may have lost his appetite (some smaller breeds in particular tend to have more discriminating taste). We talked to Dr. Susan G. Wynn, veterinary nutritionist with BluePearl Veterinary Specialists in Atlanta, GA, about why some dogs are more prone to leaving their bowl full, and what you can do about it.
Rule out serious health issues
Dr. Wynn's first order of business with a picky eater is to make sure that they aren't ill and truly not hungry. Allergies and upset stomachs can cause your dog to refuse food, among other medical conditions. If you suspect that your dog may be sick, especially if your normally ravenous pup all of a sudden loses their appetite, take them to the vet.
Assess your reaction to the food
Dogs are pretty smart. So if your pup knows you're a softie and you'll give him lots of treats if he doesn't finish his dinner, he'll take advantage of that. "The owner's perception of the food and the dogs' reaction to it actually dictates how the owner presents the food, which in turn changes the dog's reaction," explains Dr. Wynn.
Stop over-feeding (and over-treating!)
It makes sense that if your pup is snacking too much in between meals, they're not going to be as hungry at mealtime. But you may also be overfeeding your dog, as portion sizes can often be inaccurate. "Some dogs who are overfed start to limit their intake at the level that maintains a normal body weight, while others limit it after they have already become obese," says Dr. Wynn. If you don't know that your dog is overweight, you may mistakenly presume that they're picky when they stop eating.
Make meals more appetizing
"In general, dogs prefer protein and fat so foods that are high in both would be preferred," explains Dr. Wynn, who says that "meaty aromas" are more appealing to pups. She also recommends mixing up food types and flavors (as long as their stomach tolerates it) so they don't become too accustomed to one and you have "more to tempt them with later in life when their appetite fails."
Adjust their feeding schedule
Try feeding your dog at different times during the day to see if that impacts their appetite. If that doesn't help, consider a more strict schedule, which can help train your dog to understand they need to eat at a certain time. And if they don't eat within 20 or 30 minutes, take it away. Otherwise, you can reinforce their finicky habits.