Has your dog been snubbing his food? Is he waiting for something better, like your food? If you have to beg and bribe your dog to eat his dinner, then we have some tricks for breaking your dog’s picky eating habits.
For many dog owners, the idea of having a picky pet seems almost laughable. Most dogs eat just about anything that fits in their mouth, whether we want them too or not. On the other hand, if your dog is a picky eater who randomly or regularly refuses to eat his dog food, then this article is for you.
Why is Your Dog a Picky Eater?
If your dog is a picky eater, then you have probably spent some time trying different foods, adding tasty toppers, and maybe even cooking your dog’s food at home just to coax them into eating at least some of their dinner.
We can assume, by the fact that you are reading this article, that your efforts have been less than effective thus far. We know it’s frustrating, but don’t give up. Once a bad habit has been built, it takes time and patience to rebuild a healthier eating routine for your dog.
Maybe your dog will only eat if some tasty table scraps have been added to the meal. Or perhaps he demands variety day-to-day. Either way, your dog’s picky eating habits are likely caused by one or more of these common situations:
- Over-treating and table scraps – if your dog knows that he gets a tasty snack anytime he gives you his puppy dog eyes, then he’ll quickly learn to ask for those things instead of his doggy chow.
- Overfeeding – For dogs that eat some meals but turn their nose up at others, they could be telling you that they aren’t hungry. Take a second to assess your dog’s feeding guidelines and activity level. He might be overeating at one meal, leaving him too full for the next.
- Bored – Dog food is designed to be fed as a sole diet, and over the years, we've been tricked into believing that dogs don’t need any variety in their diets. The fact is that variety is not just about flavour. Every ingredient contains different types and levels of essential nutrients. Eating the same formula over and over could lead to missing or limited nutrition.
- Behavioural – This one is a little vague because it can cover a lot of underlying issues. Anxiety, stress, excitement, and even a good old fashion hissy fit can cause your dog to lose their appetite. Consider any recent changes to your dog's routine or environment. Acting out could be a response to an unwanted change in their life.
If any of these sound familiar, then we have some tips to help reignite your dog’s love of food and help get you and your dog back to a normal eating routine.
Illness and Disease
To get serious for a moment, loss of appetite can be a symptom of a serious health issue. If your dog’s picky patterns are sudden, or if your dog refuses to eat at all, then you need to connect with your vet to rule out illness or disease.
Dogs of a more advanced age are likely to begin losing their appetite as they become less active. Make sure you have schedule regular check-ups to make sure your old dog is maintaining a healthy weight.
6 Ways to Get Your Picky Dog to Eat Again
The following tips can help you build healthier eating routines, but they won’t always be easy. You won’t see immediate results, and it will take time to change your dog’s picky eating habits. However you proceed, you need to be patient and consistent, just like any other aspect of training.
Let’s get to it:
1. Tough Love
This one is, hands down, the hardest tip for pet owners to wrap their heads around. That’s why we I started with it. If your dog is holding out for a bite of your dinner, or a handful of treats, then you need to eliminate temptation.
This means cutting out or limiting goodies and snacks. Treats and table scraps should only be used for training, if at all. No more “just because” treats. If you feed kibble, try switching your dog snacks for kibble instead.
No matter how much they beg, or how sad they look, you and everyone in your house need to stay strong! It will take some time to rewrite this routine, but your dog will adjust.
If this poor eating habit continues, your pup may end up with weight issues. Eating high calorie, fatty, or sugary treats and snacks to often can cause your pet to gain unwanted weight, store fat, and interfere with proper digestion. Make sure your dog's calories come from a complete and balanced diet to help manage his weight properly.
2. Stop Switching
The first time they walk away from their food, it seems innocent to try offering them something else. Maybe it’s just a new flavour of the same food, or perhaps you added a little bit of broth to spruce up the meal.
For most dogs, that’s fine, 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.
Stop switching up their diets at the drop of a hat. It’s safe and recommended to change animal proteins occasionally, but trying a new food every week, or even every day, can contribute to this behaviour issue.
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 the 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.
If the standard puzzles don't seem to be exiting enough, it's time to get more creative. Make your dog work for their food, and work up an appetite. Try some indoor exercises before meals to help get you dog in the mood to eat. This will burn some calories, making them hungry, and help to build healthy muscle tissue.
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 forgoing his meal to leave room for 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. Pencil Sharpie in Your Dog’s Mealtimes
Having a strict feeding schedule is essential. We don’t just mean putting food out at a certain time, either. 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.
First - Don’t offer them anything else. This is their food, and if they are hungry, they’ll eat it.
Second – Only leave the food out for a short amount of time. 30 minutes is typically a reasonable time frame. It gives them a chance to try to woo you into upping the stakes (or steaks), and it also gives you time to say no.
Once that 30 minutes is up, take the food away. At their next scheduled feeding, put the food back out for them, again using the 30-minute time limit. By now, your dog should be feeling hungry enough to have a few bites at least. Your dog may not be happy with this system, but it is the most effective way of breaking a picky dog of their poor eating habits.
Cats and Small Breeds
When it comes to smaller pets, you need to be aware of how nutrition affects their blood sugar. Larger dogs, like people, can go a day or two without food. They won't be full of energy, but they'll be fine. Cats and small breeds have to worry more about keeping their blood sugar from dropping too low.
Smaller breeds and cats typically use more glucose(sugar) than they can store. This means that prolonged periods of not eating can be dangerous. Skipping a meal or two isn't the end of the world in a healthy pet, but it's important to encourage them to eat even small portions of their food using the tips above.
Assess Their Diet
One of the biggest challenges with picky eaters, especially if they’ve been fussy for a long time, is making sure that they are getting all the nutrients that their bodies require. Look at your pet’s food and make sure that the food is offering the right amount of protein, fat, and carbohydrates.
Look for foods that have real food ingredients instead of relying on difficult-to-digest, synthetic additives. These foods will have more usable and digestible nutrients. Consider raw diets, or oven baked kibble to maximize nutrients absorption and ensure that your dog can thrive on the nutrients in his food.
Do you have a picky dog? Share your tips, successes, and struggles with us in the comments below!
Posted 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 loves all animals but is currently channelling some crazy cat lady vibes with her five lovable, but rebellious cats.