How to Handle Dogs that are Picky Eaters

Along with a reputation for being loyal, many dogs often seem to have insatiable appetites and want to sink their teeth into almost anything.

That’s not always the case, with some known to turn their noses up at what’s in their bowl and simply walk away.

Sometimes this could be due to behavior encouraged by humans, often inadvertently. In less common cases it could be the result of a medical issue. Read on to find out how to get to the bottom of why your dog is a picky or fussy eater and what you can do about it.

Why Your Dog May Have Become a Fussy Eater

If picky eating habits have come out of the blue and your dog normally has a good appetite, it’s best to get your pet checked out by your vet. That will help to rule out something serious.

Some conditions related to worms, dental problems, allergies or a reaction to medication are all possible causes of changes in appetite. Watch out for any vomiting, diarrhea, general sluggishness or sudden weight loss.

There are lots of other factors that can affect a dog’s interest in food. These include:

  • Your dog’s breed, age, size and level of activity

Rottweilers, Labrador Retrievers, Beagles and Golden Retrievers tend to have bigger appetites. They have a greater level of food motivation. Studies have concluded that many Rottweilers and Labrador Retrievers have a “food motivation gene” in their DNA.

If you underfeed or overfeed your dog, they might develop a learned behavior and change their eating habits to match. Their appetite can also alter because of stress or anxiety, sometimes caused by boredom.

Do You Give Your Dog Any Treats?

You can feed most dogs of any breed or size a similar diet. However, owners need to tailor the amount they feed them depending on their dog’s metabolism and activity level. As a rule of thumb, you should be able to easily feel your dog’s ribs, but there needs to be a minimal layer of overlaying fat.

Treats are often an essential part of dog training but you should use them with care. They’re there to encourage a new behavior that you’re trying to teach your dog.

If a dog gets too many treats from a number of family members or neighbors at the wrong time, they can learn to hold out eating from their bowl. They’ll do this in the hope that they’re more likely to get an offer of something that tastes better.

Avoid Feeding Your Dog Extras

Don’t feed your dog scraps from the table. Once you start, it can be very hard to break the habit. Foods that we eat may sometimes look or taste better but they can contain ingredients that are harmful to dogs.

You should feed your dog the right food for a balanced diet at the right time of the day. If you follow this routine, you shouldn’t need to give them any extras that could fill them up and stop them from eating their regular meals.

Some Dog Feeding Tips

In most cases, a good schedule is to feed adult dogs twice a day and at the same time every day:

  • Consistency is key
  • It’s best to leave at least six hours in between feed times for digestion

A Balanced Diet

Although some dogs may prefer variety, the truth is that your dog is likely to gladly eat the same food every day of their entire life. We should not necessarily impose our own preference for variation on our pets. What matters is to give your dog food that is:

  • Nutritious
  • Balanced
  • Tasty

Bear in mind that, although a dog’s sense of smell is far more acute than ours, their sense of taste is not. It is thought to be roughly about one-sixth as powerful compared to humans.

Training Your Dog To Eat From Their Bowl

It’s possible that you may have tried offering several different foods to a young dog. Owners do this to work out what daily diet will work best. This can, however, encourage a dog to hold out for something better.

You may be opening several cans of food and trying to encourage your dog to eat at every meal. If so, your dog has you trained rather than the other way around. Here’s how to correct this type of behavior:

  • Encourage your dog to understand that there are no options
  • Put your dog’s food out for 30 minutes and, if it doesn’t get eaten, remove it
  • Do the same at the next meal-time
  • Be patient and keep up this strategy for a day or two, if necessary

Remember that your dog will not be starving. If they’re hungry enough, they will eat. The key is perseverance and not to give in. However, if your dog still refuses to eat for more than 48 hours, you should visit the vet.

Changing Your Dog’s Food

It could be that you’ve had medical advice to make changes to your dog’s diet. Whatever the reason, if you decide to alter your dog’s diet in any way, take things slowly.

Begin by combining a little of the new food with what you used to give them. Gradually increase the proportion of new food while reducing the old – ideally over a period of 1-2 weeks.

If you’re moving from wet to dry food, start by mixing in a small quantity of warm water with the dry food. When training your dog to eat regularly or to accept a dietary change, you should:

  • Always give them plenty of praise for eating their own food from their bowl
  • Never give them snacks or human food from the table
  • Use treats only as tools for training
  • Try to make your dog’s food more appealing with added gravy, for example
  • Take a consistent but persistent approach to feeding your dog

Remember that there are some dogs that prefer not to see their own reflection in a glass or stainless steel bowl. Switch to a ceramic one, and ensure the bowl is always kept clean.

Always Check With Your Vet

If you have a dog that’s a fussy or picky eater and you can’t work out why, talk to us for some reassurance and advice. We always have a vet available to help.

You can find plenty more valuable articles related to keeping your pet healthy and happy in our blog section here. We also have a wide variety of very competitive pet insurance products on offer too. Get in touch to find out more.

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