"I won't eat it!" Reluctant/Fussy Eaters

Before we discuss how to manage Fussy Eaters we feel it is important to stress that if you are seriously concerned about your dog's lack of appetite then we would always recommend seeking veterinary advice before attempting the techniques we describe below.

Is there an underlying issue to be concerned about?
We would suggest that if your dog has been a good eater and has suddenly lost their appetite or if they are not even taking tasty treats and human food this would be the time to consider seeing the Vet.  Be aware that if a dog suddenly goes of their food this could relate to dental problems, stomach upsets or another illness and it is often better to err on the side of caution and get a clean bill of health before you consider anything further.

Don't forget - You are not alone!
The most common dietary problem we hear about (almost on a daily basis) relates to Fussy Eaters. We often hear the tale of the dog that started off eating something happily but after a short while they go off it, when a new food is introduced they eat this for a short while and then go off that too!

Why dogs become fussy
There are some dogs that have a greater appetite than others and they will always eat what you put down to them. For those that are slightly choosier, without realising it, you can be training your dog to become a fussy eater. Often they are just not hungry for their food and this leads the owner to conclude they don't like the food so they need something tastier. It is widely accepted that dogs are not born fussy, they are made that way! If the dog understands that if they can hold off eating the dry dog food that you put down that the tastier (less healthy, less balanced) table scraps will then be offered then they will often do just that.  If this behaviour repeats itself enough then clever dogs will learn to do this more often and draw it out for longer periods.  They often fill up on treats and table scraps and this means they are not getting the right mix of nutrients to maintain good health. Even swapping between foods all the time can lead to deficiencies due to their different balance of nutrition.

Often puppies will start to become fussy eaters. Sometimes this is them just gaining confidence and knowing how they can push their boundaries but sometimes it is a sign of overfeeding and if they have gone past the 6 month mark it could just be the time to reduce their meals to twice a day.

Sometimes fussiness is created by "free feeding"  (if food is left down for your dog all day to pick and choose when and how much they eat).

We also often hear of dogs who have been fed dry food all their life and have happily eaten this and then they have had a period of being ill and during the recuperation period they have been fed human food and or wet food and now will not eat their dry food. Wet food is naturally more palatable than dried food and there is nothing wrong with feeding wet or dry or a combination of both (providing they are good quality foods) but if you want to move back onto dry for storage, dietary or budget reason (or even just to help maintain clean teeth) then we would recommend adopting the "tough love" approach that we are going to describe. Dry food is less wasteful if you are using this approach as it stays fresher for longer.

How to adapt a fussy eaters feeding routine

1. Select a good quality diet for your dog that is appropriate for your budget, lifestyle and that agrees with your dogs tummy (dry food, raw food and wet food diets all have their own pros and cons - please see our "Big Food Debate" article for more information on what to feed your dog)

2. Decide how many meals a day you are going to feed. Usually two meals a day is agreed to be the most beneficial (try to avoid feeding 1 hour before or after exercise to avoid risks of stomach upsets or twisted gut). If your dog does not have a huge appetite or if you have a bigger dog then a smaller meal at breakfast and a bigger meal or two later in the day may be an option.

3. Stick to whatever schedule you opt for and don't sway from this

4. Make sure the entire family are all agreed on the approach (even set up a feeding diary if needed). If one person caves in when they see the sad eyes then this sets you right back to square one! It is also good to check with dog walkers and neighbours to make sure no one else is caving in!

5. Measure out the food and then place the bowl down for your dog to eat from. If he doesn't eat the food or only eats some then after 15 minutes the bowl should be uplifted and then no more food given until the next feeding time.

6. It is very important to ensure that no treats or tit bits are given in between meals whilst establishing a good routine otherwise dogs can fill up on these and not only does it mean they are less likely to eat their food, but it also means they are not getting a good nutritious balance.

7. Even if your dog goes a full day without eating please don't panic. Dogs digestive systems are very different from ours and they can go a full day or two without eating and it will not cause any harm.

If you can be consistent and apply these rules always then you will often find that your dog gets back into their feeding routine very quickly.

You may find that your dog doesn't have a huge appetite and will not always finish what they have in their bowl. Providing they are healthy and a good weight and shape then this should be fine.

What to try if your dog still won't eat
If you continue to have problems do take a good hard look at how you are managing the routine. Have you slipped in an extra treat here and there, have you given a cheeky piece of chicken left over from your dinner? If you have then you are not being "tough" and perhaps you need to be stricter with yourself.

You may also need to consider outside stimuli. Some dogs can be very sensitive to their environments. We have listed some things that may upset your dogs feeding routine:

  • We often have customers who have swapped from a plastic bowl to a stainless steel bowl and the dog does not like the noise the new bowl makes, or the reflection they can see in the bottom of the bowl.
  • Sometimes even changing the room your dog feeds in can be enough to put them off
  • If there has been a new dog introduced recently to the family could this be causing stress or anxiety around feeding time?

Some other helpful hints

  • If you feed dry food sometimes soaking this can be enough to encourage your dog to eat it as it releases the smells and changes the texture. Increasing the temperature of the food can also increase its palatability.
  • Some people will mix in some doggy gravy to their dogs food (don't use Bisto or the likes though as it can be very salty)
  • Turn feeding time into a game. Perhaps you can hide the food around a room in cups for your dog to find. Or put the food in a treat ball or Kong to make dinner time more fun!
  • If after all this you are still having difficulty it may be that your dog really does not like the food you are offering and you may wish to try another option but please only opt for this after you have exhausted all the other suggestions otherwise you could just be making the cycle worse!
  • A high quality dry food should offer enough palatability for your dog but poor quality foods can often not be very tasty and you may need to consider whether the food is high enough quality.
  • Wet Foods and BARF diets are naturally usually even more palatable than high quality dry foods. You may find your dog is inclined to eat food in these forms more readily. You may want to read our article "The Big Food Debate" to understand whether these other forms of feeding suit you and your dog.

Copyright Note - We are happy for these articles to be shared but would ask that these are credited to us as it has taken us a long time to pull together all this information and research and it is our own wording so we would be upset to see this being reproduced without the appropriate credit.