My Dog Is A Picky Eater And Won’t Eat…What Do I Do?

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Your dog refuses to eat even though you feed him a great quality kibble. You don’t know why because your other dog is a ravenous eater who scarfs the same food down at each meal.

For some owners, their pup has always been a finicky eater. But for others, the problem seems to occur overnight.

In any case, it’s really distressing to see our beloved canine companions not eat.

What do you do? How do you get your picky dog to eat?

Puppy Picky Eater - Staring at bowl

One of my current dogs, an Aussie mix named Millie, is a picky eater. But I got her to eat at each meal using one of the secrets I’ll reveal below.

In this article, I’ll describe reasons why a dog may choose to leave his food. And I’ll discuss what to do and how to get your finicky Fido to eat.

  • If your dog’s a finicky eater, it’s important to understand why. If your vet clears him from medical reasons, you need to get to the root of why he’s not eating. 
  • These can range from his negative associations with food or where he’s eating to his distaste for his food. Or even some behavioral issues such as stress or anxiety can cause his inappetence. 
  • There are many tricks you can try to get him to willingly and happily eat. The specific reasons why dogs may not eat and methods to get them to eat are covered in this article.

Reasons Why Your Dog Won’t Eat

Skipping an occasional meal isn’t really a big deal. But missing many meals may raise some red flags and be dangerous.

Some dogs, especially smaller breeds, may not be as food-motivated as others. They may care more about other reinforcers such as attention and praise.

My Aussie mix Millie cares more about being petted and told what a good girl she is than in eating her meal. In fact, sometimes before she eats, she’ll come over for attention.

Bad Food

Some dogs won’t eat if a prior meal made them ill. If a dog had an upset stomach from a meal, he may choose to forego the next one, as the bad memory lingers. Or he may even still feel nauseous from the last supper.

And some dogs will know if their food is spoiled and not eat it. So, if it’s been left out and there’s any chance that it’s spoiled, throw that bowl of food out. 

Also, check the expiration date of the food you’re feeding and check if there have been any recalls.

Bored With Food

Sometimes a dog is bored eating the same food for a long time. Just picture eating the same meal every day for the rest of your life. 

Many dogs who are very food-driven don’t mind it as long as they’re fed. But others may show their disdain by not eating.

And some dogs may stop eating when placed on certain diets, such as a low-calorie diet which may not have the same alluring scent or palatability as a regular food.

Anxiety and Stress

Anxiety and stress can be another reason some dogs don’t eat. Dogs who are lonely may feel too stressed to eat. 

The same thing can occur if there’s another stressor present. A stressful environment can cause some dogs to not eat. 

A thunderstorm or fireworks may be enough to cause a dog to miss meals. Or something traumatic may have occurred when the dog was eating, such as a loud noise that scared him. And he may thereafter associate eating with something to be feared. 

Many dogs who have separation anxiety may not eat when alone. And some will be stressed enough to have a lingering effect and not eat even when their people are present.

A dog’s meal dishes may be placed in an area where there is too much commotion or too many stressors. If in a high-traffic or noisy area in the house, some dogs will be too anxious to eat. 

And some won’t eat if another dog’s or cat’s eating at the same time nearby or even if the other household pet is nearby.

Another reason a dog may not want to eat is because of a change in his eating environment. This can occur because of a move to a new home, relocating where he eats, or a change in household members.

He’s Full!

If your dog receives too many treats he might be too full to eat because they’ll spoil his appetite. Even giving him some table scraps may not only fill him up but it can also make his dog food seem not as appealing as the higher-value human food.

Buffet for Grazing is Left Out

Leaving food down constantly can also create a picky eater. If he has a constant buffet, your pup may just graze now and then. 

This can also harm his house training, as you won’t be able to anticipate when he’ll have to poop.

Health Problems or Age

Another reason a dog may choose not to eat is because of a health problem. The dog may have an intolerance to ingredients in his current food or allergies. Or he may have digestive or gastrointestinal issues, including colitis, IBD, IBS, pancreatitis. 

Some dogs won’t eat if they have parasites. Other dogs may not eat because of a physical blockage in their intestines after ingesting something such as a sock.

Other physical reasons why a dog may not eat is because he has dental issues or other mouth-related pain that emanates from problems with his teeth, gums, or tongue.

A dog may also not want to eat if he’s in physical pain that may occur because of infection, injury, tumors, joint discomfort, arthritis, or spinal issues. 

Problems with internal organs such as the heart, liver, kidneys, or lungs can also cause a dog to fail to eat.

A dog may also feel ill and not eat because of the bad effects of recent vaccines he received.

If you see any sudden change in your dog, including a change in his coat or weight loss, a vet visit is in order. 

An underlying medical issue might be present. A healthy dog may be picky but won’t starve himself. 

If your dog has sufficient fat covering his ribs and is otherwise healthy after a vet check, he’s probably fine after your vet clears him of health problems.

Some dogs may fail to eat because of a poison that’s been ingested.

Even a healthy older dog may not want to eat as his sense of smell or taste may be diminished.

Improper Food Bowls

A dog may not eat if the bowls you’re using aren’t conducive to his eating. Some dogs, such as short-muzzled, brachycephalic dogs may find it difficult to eat with a bowl with high sides.

This can happen with Pekingese, Shih Tzus, French bulldogs, Old English bulldogs, or Lhasa apsos.

I’ve fed my Shih Tzus and Lhasa apsos in very flat, low-edge bowls so that the rim won’t hit their eyes. This helped them eat their food joyfully and without problems.

Also, a dog may not want to eat if his food bowl slides across the floor when he eats.

In any case, make sure that your dog’s drinking enough water so that he doesn’t become dehydrated. If he goes a day without drinking water, contact your vet.

Methods and Tricks To Get Your Picky Eater To Eat

It can be very frustrating–and even scary–when your dog doesn’t eat. Dogs can go about three to five days without eating. But after two days, a vet visit may be in order.

If physical problems have been ruled out, there are still ways to get your picky eater to down his food with gusto.

Rule Out Physical Problems

This is true especially if your voracious eater suddenly has no interest in food. A physical problem may be causing his inappetence. 

This is also true if you see any physical change in your dog, including vomiting, scooting, lethargy, limping, or other indication of pain.

If your dog has an allergy, your vet may want to run some allergy tests or an elimination diet to determine if a food ingredient is the cause.

Some Dogs Eat When They Feel Like It

A small proportion of domestic dogs may just eat when they feel like it, not on the schedule we have for them. Wild canines don’t eat two meals a day. But the vast majority of dogs can adapt to a meal schedule we develop for them.

Make His Food More Appealing

If dinner has become boring for your dog, you can liven up his current food by adding some tasty morsels. 

You can add some treats broken up in the food. Adding some canned food can help liven up his meal. 

Adding some warm water or slightly warming his food can add to the smell and taste and make the food more palatable. Or sometimes adding bone broth or low-sodium meat or vegetable broth can do the trick.

Warming the food may make it smell more appetizing and release a strong aroma. Of course, if you use metal bowls and are slightly warming the food, don’t place it in the microwave. You want the food to be slightly warm, not hot

There are also meal toppers that are specifically designed to lure your pup back to his food.

Schedule Meals

Maintaining a schedule of when your dog eats his meals can help some dogs down their meals. In order to not create a picky eater, pick up his food after 15 to 30 minutes. 

If he realizes that he can’t just graze now and then, some dogs will realize that they’d better eat when their meal’s put down or they’ll be hungry until the next scheduled meal.

Maintain a Calm Eating Environment

Make sure that the location of your pup’s meals is calm, out-of-the-way, and that there are no unnecessary distractions or commotion. This can include not only people and noises but also keeping other pets away from his meals. 

After all, you probably wouldn’t want to eat in the middle of a traffic jam or when someone’s staring at you–or trying to eat your food.

Change His Food

It may be as simple as changing your dog’s food if he’s become bored. Sometimes you can even get a sample of a food from a manufacturer to try to see if your pup likes it. 

A food with more scent and flavor may do the trick. Some foods that have fish as a protein are alluring to some pups. 

If you decide to change your dog’s food, do so over a period of about 10 days. You can add 25 percent of the new food for the first three days with 75 percent of his current food. 

Then, on days four through six, the mix would be 50 percent of the old and 50 percent of the new food. Days seven through nine would be composed of 25 percent of the old food with 75 percent of the new food. 

Day 10 would be 100 percent of the new food.

Some dogs may prefer a certain texture–such as covered with a sauce or broth, moist, or semi-moist.. 

Some people even start feeding a rotation diet, such as feeding one food for three days, another for three days, and yet another for three days. I caution you to check with a vet or a veterinary nutritionist before attempting such a diet. 

You want to be sure that your pup’s getting the proper nutrients and that doing this won’t upset his stomach.

You may also have to change foods if your vet finds any type of food intolerance or because of some health problems. Sometimes even a prescription food is necessary.

If a dog’s on diet food, you may have to switch to a more palatable, high-quality food. Of course, if your dog’s on any food–including prescription ones–that your vet recommends, talk with your vet about making any changes.

Some dogs may be lured to eat regularly if fed moist or canned food. Of course, you want to choose high-quality food. 

In deciding to switch to these foods, take into account the amount your dog would need to eat to remain healthy. Usually, a dog can eat a much smaller quantity of dry kibble than he needs to eat of moist or canned food. 

This usually means that it costs a lot more to feed moist or canned food than it does dry food. It might not matter if you have a small dog, but the cost can really add up when feeding a large dog.

Of course, the feeding guidelines provided by the manufacturer are just that. Adjust the amount you feed according to your dog’s size, activity level, age, and health. 

Cut Out the Snacks

Getting your dog to eat more may be as simple as cutting back on treats or eliminating table scraps. Either may fill your dog up so that he has no appetite for his regular meals.

Adjust the Amount You Feed

A dog may not want to eat at some meals because he’s being overfed. Of course, guidelines that manufacturers provide are just that–guidelines. 

So make sure that your pup’s receiving the correct amount of food for his breed, size, activity level, and age.

Exercise Your Pup

A dog who’s not receiving a sufficient amount of exercise may not have a great appetite. Just as we may have a better appetite after exercising, our dogs may too. 

So take your dog on a walk. Play fetch. Do some obedience training. 

The more his body and mind are exercised, the better his appetite may be. And the exercise and bond with our dog benefit us too. 

After he exercises, give your dog at least 15 minutes for his stomach to settle before feeding him.

Pick Up the Food Buffet

If you leave food down and your dog doesn’t eat it. Pick it up after 15 to 30 minutes. If the food is moist, it may have spoiled and need to be thrown out. 

Even dry food shouldn’t be given again, especially if the dog picked at it and moistened it.

Pretend To Eat His Food

Another trick that works with some dogs to encourage them to eat is to pretend to eat the food, exclaiming how great it is. 

Of course, for a confirmed picky eater, this ploy will probably not fool your dog in the long run.

Use Puzzle Toys

And sometimes if you make eating more interesting by feeding through puzzle toys or snuffle mats may encourage him to eat his food.  Scavenging for his food might just do the trick.

Be sure to do this only with dry foods, as moist foods wouldn’t work well in most of these.

Raise His Bowls 

For some dogs with physical problems such as joint pain. Raising a bowl to a height that is less physically stressful can encourage a dog to eat. 

This sometimes occurs with dogs with certain injuries or for senior dogs. You can discuss this with your vet. 

You can either purchase bowls with raised platforms or just find a base where the do’s bowl doesn’t slip. 

For my golden retriever Riley, I have a purchased bowl on an appropriately high platform. 

For my other dogs, I happened to have a very heavy plastic dog dish with a rim that, when inverted, holds their regular stainless steel dishes in place.

Provide Special Bowls

And if your dog needs special bowls to eat, as is true of brachycephalic dogs with short muzzles, provide an appropriately-sized bowl with low sides. 

The bowls I used for my Shih Tzus and Lhasa apsos, were relatively wide with low sides so that they could easily scarf down their kibble.

Also, bowls that don’t slide may entice some dogs to eat if their current bowls slow when they eat. They can either have a rubber base or be in a holder.

The Power of Praise

Even encouraging your dog to eat and praising him when he eats may help encourage him to down his meals. For my fussy dog Millie, I praised her when she ate. 

But I also had to add a broth over her regular food to encourage her to eat at each meal. I made a broth of some canned pate food I use to put pills in for an older dog. 

This solved the problem without having to switch food. Of course, I had her checked out physically when she became very picky. 

There was no physical problem. She just likes the kibble with a broth covering.

What NOT To Do: Don’t Try This at Home

There are some things that you shouldn’t do to try to get your dog to eat. If you verbally or physically attempt to correct him for not eating, it can lead to many other problems–including a real aversion to eating. 

Of course, you should never physically correct a dog. There are better methods.

Also, don’t try to force-feed your dog. He will probably not want to eat if you physically try to get him to eat. 

And doing so may create a further aversion to eating. And any forceful method can even create fearful or aggressive behavior.

FAQs

How can I get my picky eater to eat?

After making sure there’s no problem with his health, try the following: Feed him on a regular schedule without leaving food down all the time. Stop giving him treats and table scraps. Make sure that he’s fed in a quiet, calm environment.

Is my dog being stubborn when he doesn’t eat?

Dogs aren’t stubborn. When a dog doesn’t eat, there’s a reason. There may be a medical or behavioral problem. Or he may just not want to eat the food he’s given. So discover why he doesn’t want to eat and you can help him want to eat.

Should I take away my dog’s food if he doesn’t eat?

You can try that. Leave the food down about 15 to 30 minutes and pick it up. Leaving food down can sometimes create a picky eater. When you put his food down again, make sure it’s fresh kibble and not stale.If he fails to eat after a couple of meals, you need to determine why he isn’t eating and resolve it.

Will a dog purposely starve himself to death?

Dogs have a survival instinct and will not do so. But he may not eat for various reasons. Have him checked out by a vet if he’s missed a couple of meals to determine that there’s no medical problem.

Final Thoughts

It’s really frustrating when your dog won’t eat–especially if you’ve had other dogs that scarf their food down. But the problem can usually be solved if you get to the root of the problem. 

A dog may just not like the food he’s eating or be bored with it. Or he may be given too much food, treats, or table scraps. 

There may be environmental reasons such as where he’s eating that may explain his reluctance to eat. Or there may be a medical or behavioral reason causing his inappetence. 

Once you discover why he’s not eating, you can try different methods to help him eat enough. These can range from changing his food, changes in the location where he eats, or even making his food more appetizing.

What about you?

Is your dog a picky eater?

What do you do to get him or her to eat food?

Tell us about your dog in the comment section below.

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My Dog Is A Picky Eater And Won't Eat...What Do I Do? - Puppy staring at his bowl but not eating.

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