Finicky dogs that won’t eat are frustrating for everyone: owners, trainers and veterinarians. It just seems downright un-doglike not to eat anything and everything, but all dogs are different and some are picky when it comes to eating food.
Breed and age play a part. Some toy breeds and older dogs are notorious for picking and choosing foods, taking longer to finish meals, or going for long periods of time without eating anything. Dogs are typically considered to be picky eaters if they won’t eat at least once a day most days.
Make Sure Your Dog is Healthy
Some dogs become picky eaters because they don’t feel well or have some underlying health conditions. If your dog suddenly goes off food and refuses to eat for more than a couple of meals, a visit to a veterinarian familiar with your pet is a good idea. This is especially true if you have a puppy or a small breed dog that has less reserves.
If your dog has always been a picky eater, this is less likely to be a concern. If, despite being a finicky eater, your dog maintains a healthy weight, acts bright and alert, and has a nice shiny coat, you may just have a dog that eats to live, rather than lives to eat.
Don’t Feed from the Table
Dogs that think there might be something better coming if they avoid eating their dog food are more likely to be picky about what they eat. Don’t feed your dog from the table and remember that dogs have different nutritional needs than people, so a diet consisting solely or primarily of human foods is not appropriately balanced for your pet. The occasional human food treat should never be seen coming directly from your plate and should be offered in the dog’s bowl.
Decide how often and when you are going to feed your dog and then stick to that schedule. Offer food only at those designated times for 15 to 30 minutes at a time and then remove the food. Many picky eaters respond best to more frequent, smaller meals as opposed to large infrequent meals or free choice feeding.
Many dogs eat best when their daily activities include plenty of exercise, but try not to feed immediately after a walk or run as this could put them at increased risk for bloat. Some dogs eat better at night, others in the morning. Experiment and find the right timing for you and your pet and then keep it consistent.
Offer a Good-Quality Dog Food
Offer your dog a high-quality dog food that is balanced and doesn’t list corn as the first ingredient. If your dog has been eating the same food well for a long time and then suddenly stops, but the veterinarian doesn’t see any health issues, make sure the food has not been recalled, spoiled or expired.
If you are switching to a new food, make sure to transition slowly, mixing the new food with the old food. A small amount of wet food can make it more difficult for dogs to separate out the bits they want from those they don’t. If you are encouraging your dog to eat more of a dry food, consider mixing that food with a small amount of warm water.
Reserve Treats for Training
Try to avoid giving treats “just because” or when you are sitting at the table or relaxing on the couch. Consider making treats using the dog’s regular food. Give a treat only when the dog has performed a requested behavior and always remember that some forms of rewards and treats are not food, but affection. Give lots of pats, scratches behind the ear, etc.
Most dogs prefer eating in a quiet location away from loud children or other animals. Others are more likely to eat well in the company of others. Some enjoy being petted, while others would prefer a quiet, safe place to eat alone far from distractions and potential competition from other pets.
A key ingredient for helping a picky eater is adjusting the immediate surroundings to their individual needs to create a comfortable eating environment. Make feeding time a positive experience and offer praise when your dog eats, but only provide your full attention after the meal is gone.
When Eating is Mission Critical
Most dogs can afford to miss a meal or two without any major complications, but if you have a dog that is older, ill or otherwise in critical need of some nutrients, here are a few tips just for you. Please also consult your veterinarian. There are prescription appetite stimulants that may help.
- Try mixing some canned food or baby food with their regular diet.
- Consider adding some bland human foods such as rice, boiled chicken without the skin, or cottage cheese to their regular food.
- Add moisture and warm the food to body temperature to increase aromas.
- Some dogs respond well to spices such as oregano, basil or parsley.
- Offer a small smorgasbord of yummy foods and watch which ones they prefer.
- Many dogs really enjoy canned cat food and it can be used in the short term, but protein levels are too high for long-term use.
- Try offering small amounts of food by hand and then transitioning them to their bowl.
- Try feeding dogs in a place they love: outdoors, in the bed, or on your lap.
These short-term solutions are only for those critically in need of calories. Providing a dog a balanced diet, whether commercially available or homemade, is essential to ensure longevity and high quality of life. If getting your dog to consume a balanced diet is an ongoing struggle, consider contacting a veterinary nutritionist for additional tips and solutions customized to your unique pet.