Wondering if you have a picky eater dog?
Learn more about what may be causing your beloved pup to be a "picky eater dog", and what you can do to keep them happy, healthy, and well-fed.
“If you’re having trouble getting your pet to eat on a regular basis, and he won’t consume his food at least once a day, your dog is a picky eater" Margaret Hoppe, DVM
Should I be concerned?
When assessing whether your dog is a picky eater, and if you should be concerned, Becky Lundgren, DVM, Kansas State University advises to be aware of sudden changes in eating habits and weight loss.
“If your dog has always been a picky eater, there is likely no need for immediate concern. The main thing to consider is if his attitude toward food has changed. If your finicky eater maintains a healthy weight, if he is alert/perky, and has a shiny coat, that is one thing. If he was a good eater, but has suddenly stopped, that’s different.”
If your pet became picky suddenly, then take him to the vet to check for any underlying health issues. Once health issues have been ruled out, it’s likely to be either a behavioral issue or simply a personality quirk. Luckily, there are steps you can take for all these cases.
What could be the cause of my dog’s picky eating?
Always check in with your vet if a sudden behavioral change has occurred in your dog. Dr. Jennifer Kvamme’s advice: “If your dog has always been a good eater and suddenly develops a diminished appetite, this is something to be concerned about immediately. If he has lost weight recently or develops vomiting or diarrhea as well, it is time to make a visit to the veterinarian.”
Dr. Lundgren says that sometimes, as part of treating your pet’s health issues, you may have to change your dog’s diet. The trick is to do it gradually. Start by combining some of the new food with the old food. Over a few days, gradually increase the amount of new food as you reduce the amount of old food. This will help get your picky eater dog accustomed to the new food. Switching foods suddenly may make some dogs stop eating & can also cause upset stomachs.
If your pet has had a bad experience with a certain type, texture, or flavour of food, they may avoid it because it brings up bad memories. Think about the last time you had food poisoning or an upset tummy after eating something bad, you probably stayed away from that food for a while! Your dog might do the same if they link a problem with certain foods. Trying a different type of food might be the trick here.
Anxiety is another common cause of behavioural changes such as food refusal. Being nervous can deplete your appetite, the same goes for your dog! Just like people, dogs don’t eat as much if they’re anxious. Anxiety can be caused by loneliness, boredom, storms, fireworks, or separation anxiety (being home alone during the workday, for example). If you think anxiety may be why your dog isn't eating, it can help to spend more time with them. Creating a loving mealtime ritual can go a long way towards calming your pet down enough for them to eat. Read through to the end of this article for a routine on how to do that.
Personality & Preferences
DVM Dr. Becky Lundgren says that sometimes, the picky eater’s problem is that he doesn’t like the brand of food you’re giving him, or that he prefers a different texture or type of food.
Sometimes boredom sets in when your pup has been eating the same meal for a long time. Rotating recipes, adding toppers, and giving fresh food are some ways of enhancing the flavour profile and stimulating your dog’s appetite for food again.
Yawn! Your pup could just be bored of his food or eating dry kibble everyday
As they age, dogs may become less active and eat less to maintain their weight. This isn't concerning if they're still in good shape and are reasonably alert/perky. If your senior dog is otherwise healthy, continue to feed him a nutritious, healthy & balanced diet to support his immune system and holistic well being.
How can I get my doggo to eat?
Not every dog is food-driven, especially some smaller breeds. For example, some of the most famous picky eater dog breeds include the Basenji, Siberian Husky, and Yorkie.
What motivates your dog? If it’s not treats or mealtime, you don’t need to force it. Just give her clean, nutritious food that supports her holistic health, alongside encouragement and praise for when she does eat.
Quick tip checklist for picky eater dogs:
Avoid too many treats
Create a calm setting
- Avoid distractions and loud noises & feed at consistent times each day. Another thing to keep in mind is to make the rest of the day calming too. Regular walks, attention, and care throughout the day can go a long way towards making sure your pet is feeling good when mealtime rolls around. Lastly, keep your cool! If you’re worried that your pet isn’t eating this anxiety can spill over to your pet, who may not understand why you get upset at mealtimes. Pets then sometimes associate eating or mealtime with something wrong or upsetting. One trick to knowing if this affects your pet is to check if she eats normally when pet sitters are involved, or if a different family member is in charge of feeding. Remember to calm down and keep your cool when feeding him to avoid your pet associating mealtimes with you being anxious or worried.
Higher quality food
- Your pet is more discerning and intuitive than you would believe. If the food you are giving her has questionable ingredients, palatants, or is overly processed, she may just be refusing to eat something that is not good for her. Try a higher quality food with clean ingredients and see if there is a difference in her preferences.
Tasty Dog Food Toppers
- Adding some variety to your pet’s food can make a world of difference. You can add up to 10% of your pet’s daily calorie requirement as a topper and still prevent nutritional imbalances in their diet.
- (Side note: Kafka’s fresh meals can be added as toppers without imbalance since they are formulated to be complete & balanced). If your pet is on a prescription diet, check with your vet and proceed with caution when adding any toppers.
Try gently warming wet food
- Sometimes this enhances the flavour and aroma of food, stimulating appetite.
Create a mealtime routine for your picky eater dog (see below)
Making mealtimes more enjoyable
Feeding your pet is a loving ritual that brings you both together and strengthens the pet & parent bond. Unhappy mealtimes can cause stress & anxiety for both. Once you determine the root cause of your pet’s picky eater behaviour and rule out health issues, try out the following steps to create a routine around mealtimes
Mealtime Routine: Steps to Follow
1) Feed at the same times each day (example 8 AM and 8 PM).
2) Spend 10 mins before mealtime in a calming activity (playing soothing music, petting your dog, and offering some attention + praise).
3) Give a delicious meal in a clean bowl or a food puzzle (A food puzzle can stimulate play behaviour and help your pet forget his fussy ways. A Lickimat, for example, can help an anxious eater calm down during the licking activity).
4) Clear out any remnants of the meal after 30 mins.
5) NO treats or scraps until next meal.
Offering stability, predictability, and loving encouragement to your pet alongside a healthy, tasty meal can help ease their picky behaviour. If all else fails, we suggest pretending to eat your dog’s food (don’t actually eat it) as this can stimulate them to think “What’s good for her is good enough for me!” Good luck pawrent, you can do it!
About Kafka’s Organic
Kafka’s Organic is a Vancouver-based fresh pet meal delivery service on a mission to feed pets better. Kafka’s fresh meals for dogs and cats are vet nutritionist formulated and made with locally sourced ingredients, offering a healthy, minimally processed, & tasty alternative to commercial pet food. All Kafka’s flavours are taste-tested and picky eater proofed!
Read Next: Why Fresh Food For My Pet?