Why is my Dog a Fussy Eater?
Updated: Sep 7
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Having a dog that's 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 apprehensive and even distressed.
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 them 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.
This Guide aims to layout a series of hints and tips if your dog falls firmly into the second category.
RELATED POST How to Care for Senior Dogs - Some older dogs suffer from a disinterest in food and become quite fussy. We give some hints and tips on looking after older dogs.
1. Set the Dog Table
There are three dynamics here: 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.
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 design encourages your dog to work for their foods and it creates a tasty and fun game for your dog as they work around the mat to seek out every last titbit with their tongue. 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 Lickimat Review for a lowdown on the different mats available and ideas for perfect toppers.
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.
2. Variety is NOT the Spice of Life for a Dog
You may think your dog wants or needs variety. The truth is your dog will happily eat the same 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.
Having said that, fussy eating dogs will 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. Dog Snack Attack
It's difficult to ignore those puppy eyes isn’t it. 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. The result is that your dog will be full by mealtimes.
So if you're working hard on encouraging your dog to eat at mealtimes, avoid those snacks.
4. Dogs are Creatures of Habit
Like people, dogs can be creatures of habit. If your dog’s day is unpredictable, it could be elevating those 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 like this consistency, especially when it comes to their basic needs of food, shelter and safety. Try to create a ‘Feeding Window’ which is 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.
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're going to just focus entirely on their food.
7. Avoid Dog Grazing
Never leave your dog’s food down for long periods of time, this 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.
8. Stay Strong – 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.
9. Offer Quality Dog Food
Always offer the best food you can afford.
This can be easier said than done! 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.
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.
How to Choose the Best Dog Food It's a minefield ! We outline your options.
How to Read Dog Food Labels Learn the art of decoding dog food labels
Best Raw Dog Foods Review We take a look inside the contentious world of raw dog food.
10. Stay Strong
It’s 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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