Feeding a fussy eater

Dog eating from a food bowl
Although many people think of dogs as eating pretty much anything, in reality some dogs might actually be quite fussy about what they eat from their bowls.

A summary of feeding a fussy eater

Fussy eating can be a challenging behaviour, but with perseverance and an understanding of why they’re being fussy, you can stop it becoming a habit. Here are some initial tips to keep in mind:

  • Give them lots of praise for eating their own food from their bowl
  • Restrict access to sneaky snacks, including human food from your plate
  • Limit their treats to training tools only
  • Try making your dog’s food more appealing
  • Be persistent and consistent with your approach to feeding
  • Try switching to another type of food

What should I do if my dog doesn’t eat?

Your dog may not be eating for a number of different reasons, so it’s best to get your dog checked out by your vet to help rule out anything more serious. Certain illnesses, problems with their teeth, an allergy, or even a reaction to medications, could all be causing your dog to not want to eat. If you’re concerned about your dog’s eating habits then speak to your vet so that they can help to exclude any health concerns.

Other causes of a low appetite

Some dogs may not be as interested in food as much as other dogs. It could be that they don’t have as much of an appetite, or they may not be as active. If your dog is happy, and you’ve checked with your vet that they are healthy and not underweight, then there is little reason to be concerned.

How to spot a fussy eater

It’s possible that your dog’s lack of interest in what’s in their bowl is due to them being a fussy eater. If your dog turns their nose up at their food, but shows an interest in what you’re eating, or their favourite treats, then it’s likely that they’re just being picky about what they eat.

If your dog is not interested in eating at all then it could be that they are unwell and you may need veterinary advice.

Why is my dog a fussy eater?

It’s unlikely that your dog was born a fussy eater. Instead their picky eating habits probably suggest that they’re a very smart dog. By holding out long enough, your dog has realised that if they ignore their average daily meals, they are more likely to get attention and, most importantly, more likely to be offered a better tasting alternative.

How can I encourage my dog to eat more?

If your vet has confirmed your dog is healthy then it’s time to find out how best to help your dog improve their relationship with their food bowl. To help understand and change your dog’s feeding behaviour you first need to identify and recognise why they choose not to eat their food.

Do they snack between meals?

Some dogs may not be interested in eating the food you give them because they’re not hungry. Sneaky snacks could be causing them to show little interest in the food that goes into their bowl. A quick check with family members, friends, neighbours and rubbish bins could explain why they show little interest in their meals.

Are they getting treats from the family?

Dogs can sometimes receive small amounts of treats from family members. If everyone in a large family is giving them a treat it can all add up and be enough to fill them up.

Are they being fed when you eat?

Does your family have a habit of giving your dog food from their plate, or sneaking them food under the table? If so, it will probably make your dog happy, but some human foods are not good for dogs and could also be causing them to fill up on food scraps instead of on their own dinner.

How can you make your dog’s food more appealing?

To encourage your dog to eat their meals, there are several different approaches you can try:

  • If you’ve been hand feeding, try stopping for a while
  • Enhance the taste of dry food by adding a good-quality wet food
  • Try soaking their dry food in warm water, or warming wet food in the microwave to release its delicious aromas

Other things to try

  • Some dogs don’t like seeing their own reflection in stainless steel or glass bowls. Try using a ceramic one, and always make sure their bowl is clean
  • Use interactive feeding toys to help give them mental stimulation while they eat. These toys release kibbles when they roll it around and are particularly good for dogs that are easily distracted by their environment

Be consistent

To try to encourage your dog to eat their food you will need to ignore their begging and give them lots of attention and praise when they do eat from their bowl. If they decide not to eat their food, then take it away after 15 minutes and offer then a fresh bowl of food a few hours later. If they continue to refuse food, contact your vet.

Try switching foods

If you’re still struggling you could also try switching to a dry complete food designed for 'active' dogs. These dog foods are specially formulated and tend to be very concentrated, so your dog won't need quite as much food to receive an equivalent level of energy. These types of foods contain higher levels of oil, which might make them more attractive to your dog. Specially formulated 'sensitive' recipes, meanwhile, have a high level of digestibility, which can also sometimes encourage a fussy eater.

If you do switch foods remember to do this gradually, so as not to upset your dog's stomach. Start off by mixing in small amounts of the new food into your dog’s regular food, gradually increasing the amount over a period of 7-10 days.