Help, My Dog is Not Eating! Tips & Tricks for Picky Pups

Is your dog a picky eater? Don't worry, you're not alone! Although picky eating in dogs isn't very common, it can still be a frustrating - and worrisome - experience for any pet owner.

If you're wondering why your fur-end is being so fussy with their food, there are a few things to consider, but remaining patient is key. And, with a little creativity, you can help your picky-eating pup get the nutrition they need and deserve!

Why is My Dog a Picky Eater?

Picky eaters in dogs are not very common, but when a pup presents with picky eating habits, there are a few things we need to consider:

  1. Have they always been a picky eater or is this a new behaviour?
  2. Are there certain foods that they consistently do not like and foods that they do like?
  3. Have they had negative experiences with foods ie. diarrhea, bloating, upset stomach?

These can help determine whether your pup is a picky eater, or whether they have an underlying health condition. Health conditions that can cause picky eating behaviours can include:

dog in a car                                                                               Photo by Andrew Pons

  • Anxiety or stress in dogs can cause your pup to eat less or avoid eating altogether. This is because stress can reduce production of hunger hormones that would usually give your dog their dog the cue to eat. Changes in their environment, new family members and pets, guarding behaviours from others in the household, and too much time alone may result in stress or anxiety. 
  • Poor dental hygiene may cause pain when eating. Regular dental checks can help prevent and catch dental health issues. You can read more on dental health in our Tips for Keeping Your Pup’s Teeth Healthy article.
  • Gastrointestinal diseases such as IBD, colitis, and gastritis can cause discomfort during and after eating, resulting in a refusal to eat or picky eating behaviours. Your veterinarian will be able to help diagnose and treat these issues. 

If your pup has a complete loss of appetite, this could be concern for more serious conditions such as kidney or liver diseases, various cancers, or infections such as parvovirus or distemper. A loss of appetite in conjunction with other symptoms (ie. lethargy, heavy or shallow breathing, dehydration, etc) requires veterinary attention.

If a medical condition has been ruled out, and your pup genuinely is a picky eater, we have some tips and tricks to help encourage your pup to eat.

Tips & Tricks for Picky Dogs

Stick to a schedule!

It’s easy to want to leave food out for your pup all day, but it’s good to stick to mealtimes so that your dog gets used to a routine and knows that there is a set time where food is provided. For example, if you feed your pup at 8:00 AM, take the food away after 30 minutes and don’t feed again until the next meal time. 

pug eating food

Provide a safe space for their meals 

A quiet and clean space for your pup’s meals is ideal, especially if there are other pets in the household. Having this regular space can help maintain routine and reduce stress or anxiety. A space that has limited distractions can also help encourage your pet to focus on their meal. Try walking away after placing their food down for them to remove yourself as a potential distraction as well!

Limit Treats

Treats can feel like a great way to add calories to your pets daily intake, and is especially enticing when they aren’t eating their regular meals. But filling up on tasty treats can actually exacerbate the problem! Treats are also not complete and balanced, and so they should never account for more than 10% of their total daily calories. 

Avoid Table Scraps

Similar to treats, table scraps can fill your dog up before they even get to their meal. In addition, they can increase the risk of a reaction or gastrointestinal issue. This can also result in nutritional imbalances long-term. 

Instead of treats and table scraps, enhance your pup’s meal

You can use complete and balanced toppers to add excitement to your pet’s current meal. Tom&Sawyer gently cooked meals make an excellent kibble topper for pups. Read more here on why Gently Cooked Food is the Paw-fect Choice for meal toppers.

kangaroo dog food recipe

When feeding Tom&Sawyer, you can warm up their food (~10 seconds in the microwave, or on low-heat via stove top). Warming up the food can release the delicious smells of our food, enticing your pup to eat without having to add anything to the meal!

Alternatively, consider a bone broth, liver dust, or high water containing veggies to further enhance your pets complete and balanced meal without compromising on the nutrition! 

Make mealtimes fun

For some pups, a slow feeder may be beneficial, like this slow feeder bowl from Outward Hound or the Pet Zone slow feeder mat - both work great with our gently-cooked meals. Food toys and puzzles can also make mealtimes more enticing for pups. For some dogs, rotational feeding may also be an option! To learn more read our Rotational Feeding For Your Pet blog. 

Choose a high-quality, highly palatable food

A high-quality food for dogs can sometimes make all the difference for picky eaters! Our meals use fresh ingredients that your pups love with our protein source as the first ingredient to improve palatability! For those particularly picky eaters try our fan-favourite Italian Beef Pasta! 

italian beef pasta

The key thing is to be patient. Don’t worry too much if your pup doesn’t eat at every meal, in fact it can be completely normal as they are descendants of opportunistic eaters! The main focus should be on their energy levels and weight to ensure that they are not lethargic and not losing weight. 

While we do our best to estimate how much food your pup needs, every dog is different and ensuring weight maintenance at an ideal weight is the best indicator of optimal nutrition and calorie intake. You can read more about How Much to Feed Your Pet here.

The bottom line is that picky eating can be tricky to manage. Ensuring that there are no underlying health conditions is the first step when picky eating behaviours present themselves.

Other articles you might like:
Understanding Allergies in Dogs and How to Help
Tips for Keeping Your Pet's Teeth Healthy

Written by: Hannah Godfrey
Animal Nutritionist
BSc.H. | MSc. Animal Nutrition