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Why is my Dog a Fussy Eater?

Updated: May 6

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Having a fussy eater is not as unusual as it first seems.

Feeding our dogs is a ritual which encourages us to feel more attached and devoted to them. By providing them with food, we are able to fulfil their basic survival need, which in turn makes us feel good about ourselves.

So, you offer a tasty and nutritious meal, yet your dog merely sniffs at it and ignores the food. It’s time for the next meal but the previous one is still in their bowl. Clearly this can make anyone feel distressed.

fussy dog looking at dry dog food

So you agonise over what to do next. Should you change food? Mix in other types of food? Maybe a visit to the vets? Feed by hand? Let your dog have human food? Sound familiar?

To solve this dilemma you need to STOP and try and think more like a dog.

It is really important to make sure your dog is not ill or has dental problems which can prevent them from eating – please visit your vet if you are in any doubt. This advice is not for ill dogs – just those that are fussy.

There are two kinds of dogs. The first kind lives to eat. They will devour anything you put in front of them. The second kind of dog eats to live. These dogs are fussy eaters, they pick and choose, take longer to finish meals, and sometimes won’t finish them at all.

A dog’s size, breed, and age often dictates whether they adore food or couldn't care less. Every Labrador who ever lived is food motivated whilst smaller dogs, such as Maltese, Yorkies & Cockapoos, tend to be more discriminating.

Fussy Cockapoo's probably drive the dog food industry with distressed owners changing food constantly.

Cockapoo ignoring dog food

Our Guide aims to layout a series of hints and tips if your dog falls firmly into the second category.


Our Top Tips for Feeding a Fussy Dog

1. Set your Dog's Table

2. Variety is not always the Spice of Life

3. Snack Attack

4. Dogs are Creatures of Habit

5. Reduce Portion Size

6. Keep Your Distance

7. Avoid Grazing

8. Ignore those Puppy Eyes

9. Offer Quality Dog Food

10. Stay Strong

Our Top Tips for Feeding a Fussy Dog

1. Set your Dog's Table

The first important thing to say is that there are three dynamics to consider: your dog, the food and the environment.

Getting your dog to eat might be as simple as providing a dedicated place for their meals. Choose an out-of-the-way, quiet spot where they can eat undisturbed by any other pets or noisy children.

The kitchen is often the centre of the home. It's such a busy and noisy room it may not be the ideal place to offer your dog meals. A safe place where they can take time to eat might just be the answer.

dog eating food from a plate

Interestingly, if your dog will eat their food but not from a bowl, it could be a negative association with the bowl itself. Try a different style of bowl or even a flat plate. Sensitive dogs can often prefer shallow bowls which enable them to keep a watchful eye on their environment whilst eating.

LickiMats are a possible solution if your dog prefers a flat surface to eat from. The patterned surface is designed to encourage your dog to enjoy working for their food. It also soothes anxious dogs as their tongue continually licks across the surface bumps.

They work particularly well with wet and raw dog food. There are several designs available and a whole host of benefits for your dog and you.

Take a Look at our full Best Lick Mats for Dogs Guide for a lowdown on the different types of mats available and ideas for perfect toppers. They could be a very cheap and easy solution to your picky dog problem.

Cockapoo eating from a LickiMat

It's worth considering the type of bowl you are using. Could their ID tag banging against the bowl make a noise which spooks them? Are you using a stainless steel bowl which can be quite noisy? Maybe try a different material, plastic or ceramic bowls will makes less noise.

You might be interested in......

If you think your dog's bowl could be an issue, we have an article reviewing The Best Dog Bowls for 2022. From personalised ceramic creations to eco-friendly dishes, we take a look at the most stylish and functional dog bowls in the UK.

2. Variety is not always the Spice of Life

You may think your dog wants or needs a constant change of foods The truth is your dog will happily eat the same type of food every day its entire life, so all you need to do is make sure you provide a tasty, nutritious meal.

It’s difficult to relate isn’t it, could you imagine eating the same meal every day for the rest of your life? But there is a fundamental difference. Your dog is descended from opportunistic hunters that were accustomed to eating what they could get when they could get it.

Once you have chosen a brand of dog food, stick with it but try to change the recipes and provide some protein variety. Current scientific thinking is that dogs should have a variety of proteins in their diet.

Picky eating dogs will usually be happier to eat wet food served at room temperature, or even slightly warm, to boost the smell and flavour. So avoid fridge cold food. Even dry food can be enhanced with a little hot water to help release the smells.

3. Snack Attack

It's difficult to ignore those puppy eyes. Sharing food with your dog may seem generous, but it can do more harm than good. The scraps can quickly add up and even tiny bites can be a lot of food for small dogs.

Ultimately it's extremely difficult to keep track of your dog's calorie count and the nutritional value of their diet if you feed lots of scraps. Another thing to consider is that your dog may well be full by mealtimes.

So if you're working hard on encouraging your dog to eat at mealtimes, avoid those snacks.

It isn’t necessarily a problem if your dog doesn’t eat every time you put their food down. What’s most important is maintaining a healthy weight. If their ribs or spine aren’t showing, your friend is probably getting the food and nutrients they need.

fussy dog eating human food

4. Dogs are Creatures of Habit

Like people, dogs can be creatures of habit. If your dog’s day is unpredictable, it could easily be elevating those internal stress levels.

Once established, a routine provides a predictable stream of information which reduces stress and enables your dog to fully enjoy life with you. Dogs love consistency, especially when it comes to their basic needs of food, shelter and safety.

It's crucial to aim at creating what's known as a ‘Feeding Window’. This will be their opportunity to feed. Offer a meal at the same time every day and give your dog a certain amount of time to eat, say 15 or 20 minutes. Then remove the meal even if it's uneaten.

5. Reduce Portion Size

Offer just a small amount of food per meal, gradually increasing to an appropriate meal size when the smaller volumes are eaten consistently. Reducing the size of their meals can help them get into the habit of clearing their bowl.

Psychologically an empty dog bowl will make you feel more positive when you're struggling with a dog who's a fussy eater.

puppy with an empty dog bowl

6. Keep Your Distance

Our dogs are great at picking up on our feelings. If we are anxious then they will be too, which is only going to deter them from eating. Place your dog’s food on the ground and walk away.

Even though you're concerned, don’t watch to see if they are eating. Some dogs can feel uncomfortable if watched or even distracted if you continue to talk to them.

Wait to prepare your own meal until you've given your dog the opportunity to eat their food. The sounds, sights and smells of the food they're not getting will probably distract them. Remove these distractions and they should focus entirely on their food.

cutting a steak for humans not dog food

7. Avoid Grazing

Never leave your dog’s food down for long periods of time, this only helps your dog into a ‘grazing’ mentality. You need to train your dog that they eat when their food is put down for them and that is the only time they have the opportunity to eat.

Remember your dog is descended from opportunistic hunters so you create this opportunity for them, by removing the food you are telling them that they need to wait until the next opportunity to eat.

This is also particularly important from a hygienic point of view. Food can spoil especially raw or fresh dog food.

8. Ignore the Puppy Eyes

In a day or two your dog may start checking around for extra treats. Maintain your strategy. Dogs which have developed a taste for human food in particular can take time to enjoy the taste of dog food again.

The expectant gaze or the “puppy eyes” are a tactic used by most dogs to get what they want, most often it is exactly whatever you're eating at that moment.

puppy sitting with pleading puppy eyes

9. Offer Quality Dog Food

Always offer the best food you can afford. The truth is, that dog food is a minefield with hundreds of dog food options available to you, so choosing the right food can be extremely tough.

Opinions about canine nutrition vary among vets, breeders, trainers and dog lovers with everyone advocating different types of food.

best dog food ingredients with chicken and vegetables

Ultimately, you are the one who needs to decide what food best suits your dog. You'll need to consider things like the type of food, quality of ingredients and cost to fit your budget. Do plenty of research so you can make an informed decision about your dog's diet.

We have a range of articles testing and reviewing some of the best fresh and raw dog foods on the UK market. Alternatively we have information articles on how to read dog food labels - to help you identify the best dog foods.


10. Stay Strong

The truth is that this is going to be tough and require 100% agreement from the entire family, so make sure that everyone's on board with your plan. Remember that dogs love consistency so it's really important that no-one strays off plan when you have a dog who's a fussy eater.

Stay strong and, I promise, your dog will love you all the more for it.


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