Feeding picky eaters: what to do when your dog won’t eat

by | Sep 20, 2017 | Behavioral, Blog, Nutrition

I love to eat and so does my family! We are always planning our next meal and enjoy the experience of trying new foods and new restaurants. Food is a very important part of our lives.

I raised my children to be adventurous when it comes to new foods. They could not say they didn’t like something until they tried it. If whatever I made for dinner was not their favorite, there was no other option. We all ate the same meal. I was the adult and the boss! My kids were never picky eaters because I wouldn’t allow it. They never had a healthy meal replaced by a not so healthy one. This approach has allowed them to grow into adults that are willing to be open to new experiences.

Dogs are very much like children. Yes, I know that some people don’t enjoy food the way I do and that some dogs eat to live while others live to eat! Our female Goldendoodle has never met a food she didn’t like! Mealtime is her favorite part of the day.

Some dogs, like some children, are not food focused. There are dogs that are just not driven by food. But that does not mean that they get to choose what they eat. Children would rather eat pizza, candies and other junk foods but as a parent, your job is to be the leader. Dogs are the same. They can get hooked on kibble, the junk food of the pet industry. The pet food industry spends a lot of time and money to encourage dogs to eat foods that are completely unnatural. Ever wonder what the greasy texture is on the outside of pet food? It is grease from the rendering plants used to trick dogs into eating.  That is why you are encouraged to wash your hands after handling kibble. 

Children and dogs need firm boundaries and guidance. They are not capable of making good food choices. Dogs feel safer when they know what the rules are. 

If you have a ‘picky eater’, it may be because A, they are not food driven or B, they have your well trained!

What to do if you have a fussy eater.

  • avoid kibble and other addictive foods and treats
  • never free feed kibble 
  • have a regular routine for meals and make sure the spot is identified as their own eating place
  • the location of mealtime should be quiet, without distractions
  • do not feed your dog from the table when you are eating
  • limit the number of treats given during the day
  • do not overfeed

Getting into a routine with your dog’s mealtime is so important. If you put down his dinner and he walks away, just leave it down for about 15 minutes. Then, take it up. Give him food again after about 8 hours. Don’t worry, your dog will not starve! I know it is a hard thing to do, but when hungry, dogs will eat. It is not unusual for them to go a day or so without food.  Try to get into the routine of feeding twice a day, taking up the bowl when it is not eaten and trying again later. Be patient and don’t panic!

If you find your picky dog was eating a certain food fairly well and then turns up her nose, again, don’t react by trying something else right away. You are encouraging her to be picky. Dogs are very smart. They know that a new option will be provided. 

Picky eaters are often the result of your dog training you. I can’t stress strongly enough the importance of routine around mealtime and understanding the value of healthy, whole foods.

A sudden loss of appetite is a totally different situation.

  • Make sure there is no underlying medical problem 
  • Your dog may be anxious – is there a change in routine, are there houseguests or other change in family situation
  • Check her gums to make sure there are no dental issues causing a sore mouth

I certainly understand how stressful it can be to have a dog that is not a hearty eater. I hear it all the time from new clients. One of the ways we express our love is by providing a healthy diet and watching your dog enjoy herself. 

Remember, be strong, be patient and understand that you are a loving pack leader!

With gratitude,

Dr. Janice Elenbaas