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15 August 2023


Dog Picky Eater: How to Solve Your Pup’s Picky Eating Habits

Is your dog a picky eater? Picky eating habits can be a by-product of your pup’s training or a sign of something more serious. We explain how to address your dog’s dish dilemma and deter picky eating behavior.

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Is your pup suddenly turning up their nose at mealtime? Or, perhaps they’ve always had a discerning palate. Either way, when your dog is a picky eater, you naturally feel a little frustrated or baffled and concerned about whether they’re getting the nutrition they need. 

Quite a few reasons can cause your dog to turn up their nose to the food bowl. For example, some small breeds are commonly fickle about their food. To gain some expert insight, we consulted Dr. Susan G. Wynn, veterinary nutritionist with BluePearl Veterinary Specialists in Atlanta. She answers the question, “Why is my dog a picky eater?” In addition, she provides some helpful tips on how you can encourage your picky pup to eat with gusto.

Rule Out Serious Health Issues

If your pet is a picky eater, Dr. Wynn recommends that you first ensure your four-legged friend has a complete veterinary examination to determine whether they are ill. Allergies, digestive upset, and other potentially serious medical conditions can cause your dog to refuse food. If your normally ravenous pup suddenly loses their appetite or you have other reasons to believe your dog is sick (e.g., lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea), take them to the veterinarian as soon as possible.

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Assess *Your* Reaction to the Food

Dogs are smart. If you tend to respond to your pup’s poor appetite by feeding them treats or table scraps, they’ll game the system and eat less and less of their regular meal. “The owner’s perception of the food and the dog’s reaction to it actually dictate how the owner presents the food, which in turn changes the dog’s reaction,” explains Dr. Wynn.

How Do I Tell If My Dog Likes Their Food?

Stop Overfeeding (and Over-Treating!)

It’s no surprise that feeding your pup too many snacks between meals will reduce their appetite at mealtime. However, you may also be overfeeding your dog by feeding them excessively large portions. “Some overfed dogs will naturally limit their food 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 are unaware that your dog is overweight, you may mistakenly presume that they’re being picky when they eat much less than before.

How to Tell if My Dog is Overweight? 

Make Meals More Appetizing

“In general, dogs prefer protein and fat, so they prefer foods that are high in both,” explains Dr. Wynn, who says that “meaty aromas” are more appealing to dogs. To prevent your pooch from becoming too accustomed to one kind of food, Dr. Wynn recommends alternating or rotating food types and flavors, as long as your dog’s digestive system tolerates the variety. When your pup is acclimated to variety, you’ll have “more to tempt them with later in life when their appetite declines,” she points out.

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Adjust Your Dog’s Feeding Schedule

Follow your dog’s biological rhythms to optimize their appetite. For example, try feeding your dog at different times during the day to see when they eat more and when they eat less. If doing so doesn’t provide you with any additional insight into your four-legged friend’s appetite, consider feeding them on a more strict schedule, which can train your dog to eat at a certain time. If your furry pal doesn’t eat within 20 or 30 minutes, remove the food bowl and try again later. Although giving your pup constant access to food may seem kind, doing so encourages grazing behavior and reinforces their finicky habits.

Read more: Best Food for Dogs with Sensitive Stomachs & Digestive Issues

Common Reasons Why Dogs Become Picky Eaters

Your dog’s appetite provides clues about their physical and emotional wellbeing. Although you may inadvertently encourage picky eating by feeding your pooch too many table scraps or leaving food out all day, your dog’s poor eating behavior may be attributable to internal discomfort. Your four-legged friend’s picky eating may be caused by the following:

  • Sudden diet change — Switching your dog’s food without making a gradual transition can result in a hunger strike, especially if the new formula upsets your four-legged friend’s stomach. Learn how to transition your dog’s food
  • Undiagnosed health problems — Nausea and appetite loss are common signs for many health conditions.
  • Food sensitivity or allergy — Dogs can be sensitive to certain proteins (e.g., chicken, beef), which can lead to digestive upset and food aversion (i.e., avoidance).
  • Dental disease — Dogs with dental disease (e.g., gingivitis or broken, loose, or infected teeth) may stop eating to avoid pain.
  • Digestive disorders — Digestive issues affect your dog’s ability to process and absorb nutrients from their food, often leading to nausea and inappetence. Medication or a diet change may be necessary to ease your pup’s discomfort and restore their appetite.
  • Stress — Anxiety and stress activate your dog’s fight-or-flight mode, which slows digestion and leads to stomach upset. Ask your veterinarian to help you determine what may be triggering your dog’s stress.

How to Prevent Your Pup From Becoming a Picky Eater

To help determine why your dog friend is a picky eater, consider how you may be contributing to the issue. You may be inadvertently encouraging your dog’s unhealthy habits and may even completely turn them off their food. If your pooch’s eating habits are less than ideal, determine whether you are practicing these negative feeding strategies:

  • Coaxing your dog with treats — Because you worry when your pup doesn’t eat, you may offer tasty—but non-nutritive—treats to ensure they don’t go hungry. This is like giving your furry pal dessert for refusing to eat the main course!
  • Disciplining your dog for not eating — Scolding or punishing your dog for not eating creates mealtime anxiety.
  • Tempting your dog with table scraps or food toppers — Although your pooch may eat when you supplement their diet with your own tasty food, gravy or meat juice, or dog food toppers, keep in mind that these add-ins increase your pup’s caloric intake, reward them for refusing to eat, and raise future mealtime expectations.

The best way to prevent picky eating is to feed your pup at a scheduled time every day, remove the uneaten portion after 20 to 30 minutes, and restrict your dog’s treats to no more than 10% of their daily calorie intake. Finally, keep your dog in tip-top health by staying up-to-date on their veterinary care and consulting your veterinarian about any unusual appetite changes.

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