My Dog Won't Eat: 6 Tips for Feeding A Picky Dog

13 Minute Read
Updated March 8, 2024

Is your dog a bit of a food snob? Does your dog go on a hunger strike if you don't make him gourmet meals or share your food? If your dog won't eat, learn how to teach your dog better eating habits with these simple picky dog feeding tips.

Picky eating habits are a common problem that pet owners struggle with, and long term could contribute to health issues, like dental health, poor digestion, and unwanted weight gain.

If you have to beg, plead and compromise at every meal to get your dog to eat something healthy, then this post is for you. 

You shouldn't have to go through all seven stages of grief every time you feed your furry friend. If you usually end up caving and offering them some tasty human foods, bribing them with treats, or constantly switching foods, you are just further reinforcing bad eating habits. So stop!

Their poor eating habits may be health-related, so it's a good idea to connect with your vet and rule out a medical cause, but more often than not, pickiness is a behavioural issue. Better eating habits can be trained to keep your dog happier and healthier.  

Having a picky pet can be stressful. You may be wondering - Are they sick? Are they getting enough nutrients? How long can they go without eating?

Read on to get answers to all these questions and some simple tricks to teach better eating habits and get your picky dog interested in food again.


Why is My Dog Picky?

Dogs are often considered to be a very food-motivated species. As any lab owner knows, food is life, but if your dog won't eat or only wants certain types of food, like table scraps and dog treats, it's easy to back yourself into a corner by indulging them too much.

The answer to why is my dog picky isn't always black and white, and the solutions need to be geared toward your dog's unique needs and lifestyle. Some dogs are picky right from the start and struggle with consistent and healthy mealtime routines, while others present with sudden picky food habits. 

Before you can come up with a game plan, it's important to understand the factors that may have contributed to your dog's bad mealtime preferences. Here are the top contributors to why your dog won't eat:

Too Many Treats

Dog treats are an excellent part of your dog's routine. They can be used for training, for distractions, for nutrition or just for fun, but too much of a good thing can be bad.

Over-treating your dog can encourage picky eating because they are frequently getting something that either tastes better or is offered in a more exciting manner. This makes regular meals look bland and boring by comparison.

Table Scraps

If your dog is used to getting a sample of every meal you eat, you might just be encouraging him to skip his meals in hopes of getting a little more of yours. Many people foods are perfectly healthy for your pet in moderation, but overindulging your pet may just be why your dog won't eat.

It's even worse if your dog gets hooked on unhealthy human foods like fried, fatty, or salty ones. Though tasty, they can quickly contribute to weight gain, malnourishment, and even serious illnesses like pancreatitis.


For dogs that eat some meals but turn their nose up at others, they could be telling you that they just aren't hungry. Overeating at one meal may leave him too full for the next. 

Lack of Variety

If your dog has been eating the same kibble for years, they may simply be bored of it. Rotational feeding is a common and recommended practice regardless of what type of dog food you feed.


Dog Anxiety, stress, excitement, and even a good old-fashioned hissy fit can cause your dog to lose their appetite. Major lifestyle or environment changes could easily put your dog in a foul enough mood to make them not want to eat. 


There are a number of illnesses or diseases that can affect your dog's appetite. Even medications can affect appetite and behaviour. Sudden or extreme changes to your dog's eating habits should be addressed by your vet.


Old dogs are more likely to feel aches and pain, have dental issues and suffer from poor digestion, and some begin to naturally slow down requiring fewer nutrients to support more sedentary lifestyles.


Identifying why your dog won't eat can help you choose the best and most effective next steps. All of these factors can contribute to picky eating behaviours and a general decrease in appetite.

It's important to talk to your vet to make sure their bad eating habits aren't caused by a serious health issue. If your dog suddenly stops eating or if if your dog has gone more than 48 hours without eating (24 for puppies), then you should reach out to your vet. 

Picky eating is a nuisance, but a dog not eating at all for extended periods of time can be a symptom of a larger issue. 


Dangers of Dog Picky Eating Habits


If you have a picky dog, you might simply find their peculiar eating preferences to be one of those annoying quirks of pet care, but if your dog won't eat or has poor eating habits can have long-term effects on your dog's health. 

Intermittent or occasional picky habits might not be a serious concern, but if your dog is consistently picky and has a very unreliable diet, then they could be at risk of serious illness. Here are the top dangers of poor eating habits in dogs:

    • Nutritional Deficiencies: Dogs require a balanced diet to stay healthy. Consistently picky dogs will struggle to get all of the essential nutrients they need on a regular basis, leading to nutritional deficiencies, illness, and even chronic diseases. 
    • Weight Management Issues: Dogs that are picky eaters often end up having their diet supplemented with treats and human foods, which can actually contribute to weight issues. A poorly balanced diet can affect muscle maintenance, energy levels, and poor calorie distribution.


Best Dog Food For Picky Dogs

If your dog won't eat, one of the first things you might try is a new dog food. Switching dog foods might help if your dog is just bored with his regular food, but choosing the right dog food will save you time, stress, and money. 

Your best bet when selecting a dog food for picky dogs is to try something with a strong meaty taste.

Best Food for Dogs That Won't Eat Kibble

Kibble is the most common food type for dogs, but it's also the most common food for dogs to go off of. While some kibbles can be quite bland, there are many high-quality dog kibbles that boast tons of flavour and an intoxicating aroma that your dog might just go for. 

Look for foods with higher protein and have meat as the first 1-3 ingredients. This alone may not entice every picky dog, but it's a great place to start. Here are a few options that might tickle their fancy:

Shop Dry Dog Food

These meat-rich, flavourful options are offered in a variety of flavours to help you find the right one for your pet. For even more flavour, try a baked kibble or a food that contains freeze-dried meat. The additional flavour in these diets is likely to get your picky dog a little curious about what's in his bowl.

Picky Dogs Love Raw Food

The fresher the food the better it tastes. Kibble and canned foods are convenient, but nothing beats the taste of raw dog food. These diets are nutrient-dense, easy to digest, and packed with delicious meaty flavour. If you have exhausted all your traditional dog food choices, then we highly recommend giving raw dog food a try. 

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6 Tips for Getting Your Picky Dog to Eat Dog Food


The real struggle is how to get a picky dog to eat. They can be quite stubborn, and it is stressful not knowing if they are getting enough of the right nutrients to stay healthy. You may have already found a few temporary solutions to get them to eat, but they may not be the healthiest and they may not be discouraging your dog's poor eating habits. 

The following tips can help you build healthier eating routines:

1. Cut Back On Snacks

Over-snacking is one of the more common causes of picky eating habits. Your dog knows that the tasty foods that come from your hand are much better than the boring old nuggets you plunk down in their dog bowl.

If your dog is a treat junkie, this means it's time to cut out or limit goodies and snacks. Treats should only be used for training, if at all until you can build better eating habits. No more “just because” treats and don't use treats as a bribe to make them eat their meals.

Instead of these "high value" snacks, try using their regular dog food to treat good behaviours or use them during playtime or exercise. 

2. Stop Switching

Stop switching up their diets at the drop of a hat. The first time they walk away from their food, it seems fairly innocent to offer them something else. Maybe it's just a new flavour of the same food, or perhaps you added a little bit of bone broth to spruce up the meal.

This is fine on occasion, but dogs are smart. They learn through repetition, so when it happens again, and they get something new, something tastier, that's how you create a snack addict. Now they know exactly which heartstrings to tug to get the good stuff.

If you offer them something new every time they are picky, you will find yourself in a disappointing loop of stress, frustration, and disappointment. Not to mention wasting money on dog food that your dog may never eat.

3. Make Mealtime Great Again

One often-overlooked solution is to make their food fun. Just like kids, pets can be easily convinced to eat if their food is exciting. Puzzle feeders and games can be used to make your dog's dinner an exciting event instead of a boring old bowl of kibble.

Make sure that you are showing excitement too. Your dog feeds off your energy, so show some enthusiasm when you are setting up the puzzle and celebrate when they find the food and eat it. 

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4. Careful of Competition

For multi-pet households, you need to be aware of how your pets interact at mealtimes. The competition may not be so friendly, and your pooch may feel bullied away from his food bowl. Feed your pets apart from each other so that everyone feels safe. 

When it comes to dog/cat households, your dog may be more interested in what's in the cat food bowl, as cat food tends to be higher in protein and fat. 

He could be passing his meal in hopes of stealing a mouthful of theirs. Keep other pet food out of your dog's reach to eliminate the temptation.

5. Don’t Dine With Your Dog

Most of us schedule our dog's meals around the same time as our own. While that schedule is handy for most of us, it means that your dog is given his food around the same time that you'll be sitting down to your delicious-smelling meal.

Your dog knows that he'd rather eat what you are eating, so it's that much more challenging to convince them to focus on their own dish. Try adjusting your dog's feeding schedule to be offset from yours. If there is nothing better to beg for, then their own food is going to look more appealing.

6. Stick to a Strict Feeding Schedule

Having a strict feeding schedule is essential for picky dogs. Most picky eaters are holding out for something better, so they'll let their food sit until they are sure that you won't give them something different.

You can help break this habit by only leaving their food out for 30 minutes. If they choose not to eat within that time, take away the food and offer it again at their next scheduled mealtime. Repeat if necessary.

If your dog still refuses to eat after skipping more than 3 meals, it's a good idea to call the vet. They can make sure your dog's picky eating is not due to a medical issue.


My Dog Will Only Eat Human Food


Even if you choose only the healthiest dog-safe human foods and dog treats, the nutrition your dog will get from eating a diet primarily sourced from human food will not provide them with a complete and balanced diet.

To break this habit, start mixing the human food and dog food together, slowly decreasing the amount of human food and increasing the amount of dog food day by day.

Make sure that any human foods that you use during this transition are 100% dog-safe, like: 

The more natural the ingredients, the better. This means no spices or seasoning, no added sugars, and no artificial colours or flavours. 

This will help to ensure that your dog is getting at least some of the nutrition they need to stay healthy until they can be back on a full and complete dog food diet.


My Puppy Won't Eat

Unlike adult dogs, puppy picky eaters may have a more tangible reason for their poor eating habits. Here are some common reasons your puppy might hate his dinner:

Teething Woes

During the puppy teething stage, discomfort and pain could contribute to your puppy avoiding certain foods or textures. Sore gums and loose teeth may have your puppy avoiding crunchy kibbles, but don't worry it's temporary.

Big Calories, Little Tummies

Growing puppies need extra calories and nutrients to support them, which is why typical puppy feeding guidelines are higher than an adult dog of the same weight class. 

This means they need to eat more, but there is only so much that can fit into that little baby tummy. Feeding large meals or feeding meals too close together might lead your puppy to seem disinterested in food when in reality, she's just full.

Dog Food Calorie Calculator


Puppies require routine vaccinations in the first 6 months of life, and while these vaccines help to protect them from serious illness, they can temporarily make them feel a little under the weather.

One of the more common vaccine-related reactions in puppies is a loss of appetite, so if your puppy's sudden diet preferences coincide with a recent vet appointment, it could be a mild vaccine reaction.

How to Feed a Picky Puppy

If your puppy is displaying signs of picky eating habits, it's important to take the right steps to encourage healthier eating routines and not reinforce the bad ones by catering to their picky tendencies. Here are a few tricks you can try with your picky puppy:

    • Find the Right Diet for Your Puppy - Most puppies do best on a high-calorie and nutrient-dense diet, allowing you to feed smaller portions while still providing them the nutrition and energy they need to grow.
    • Stick to a Schedule - Next, establish a regular feeding schedule for your puppy. Offer meals at the same times each day and remove any uneaten food after about 30 minutes. This helps regulate your puppy's appetite and encourages them to eat when available.
    • Add Moisture - Dry dog foods, like kibble, may not stimulate your puppy's olfactory senses. Adding a little water to kibble diets can help bring out the natural aroma of the food and make it more appetizing. This will also soften the kibble making it easier on tender gums.

Be patient and consistent in your approach. It may take some time for your puppy to adjust to their new eating habits, so don't get discouraged if they don't start eating right away. With patience and perseverance, you can help your picky puppy develop healthier eating habits for life.


Dog Pickiness is a Learned Behaviour

There are many reasons why your dog might not be interested in his food, but consistent pickiness is usually a learned behaviour. It's also very easy to encourage behaviour. Indulging or giving in to your dog's food desires will teach him that he can be more and more demanding and more and more stubborn. 

If your dog is already a fussbudget, then be prepared to keep working on this for a while, and also be prepared to fail occasionally. It's a lot of trial and error, and some days will be easier than others. Just be consistent and patient. 

Diet is such an important part of your dog's overall health, and the sooner you can build healthy eating habits and offer a complete and balanced canine diet, the happier and healthier your pooch will be.

Written by

Krystn Janisse

Krystn is a passionate pet nutrition enthusiast. She has worked in the pet industry for over a decade and loves to share her passion for animal welfare with others. She is currently working for one very rebellious cat, Jack, and hanging out with a goofy but loveable doggo named Roxy.


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