Most dogs will down anything edible — and sometimes things that aren’t — before they even hit the floor. So when a dog with a healthy appetite suddenly becomes picky, it’s a cause for concern.
Occasionally, a dog may not eat because of illness or stress, but some dogs, like people, are particular about their food. If your best friend is turning his nose up at his kibble, consider these tips to get things back on track.
1. If your dog is new to your household or you’ve moved to a new home, stress may be dampening his appetite. It can take several days for a dog to become comfortable in a new environment and a few missed meals is no cause for concern in these circumstances if there are no other signs of illness. Don’t change foods too quickly or try to entice him to eat with human food. Being patient and sticking to a feeding routine is the best way to help him acclimate.
2. A dog with big appetite that stops eating suddenly may be ill. Common causes include viruses, kidney disease, pancreatitis, parasitic infections and gastrointestinal distress due to eating inappropriate food or even non-food items. If your dog doesn’t eat for more than 48 hours and nothing has changed in his routine, it’s worth a visit to the veterinarian to see if they might need to take a dewormer.
3. Physical problems can masquerade as finicky behavior. Check inside your dog’s mouth for irritation, lost teeth, foreign bodies and stiff objects such as sticks or rawhide chews that can lodge between the teeth on the roof of their mouth. An older dog with missing teeth may be less picky eating canned food while one with arthritis in their neck or spine may just need a raised feeder to avoid the discomfort of bending their head toward a bowl on the floor.
4. Has the feeding environment changed? Dogs thrive on routine and changing the location of the food dish may cause them not to eat. If a feeding area must be relocated, start from scratch and move the bowl a few feet at a time over several days until it’s transitioned to a new location. Avoid feeding your dog in areas where other pets or outside noises may cause stress or distraction.
5. Check the food. Be suspicious of any label that says “new and improved.” Some dogs like variety in their diet, but many don’t and may be picky about food that tastes different (1). If a new diet is a must, choose the best dog food you can find for your pup and mix it in slowly with the old over a week to ten days. Always make sure the food is fresh and free from mold or pests, and consider buying ready-made meals from a fresh dog food company. Avoid keeping dry food in direct sunlight — it may lose both flavor and nutrition.
6. Verify with family and neighbors that the dog isn’t being fed — or helping himself — outside of mealtime. A dog full of cat food, table scraps or the neighbor’s garbage isn’t likely to jump at a fresh bowl of chow.
7. Well-meaning owners can unwittingly create a picky eater by feeding treats the dog likes more than his balanced diet. Dog treats should be reserved for after mealtime and limited for at least a few hours prior. Avoid human food.
8. Variety may be the spice of life for people, but most dogs experience less gastrointestinal sensitivity with a consistent diet. Commercial food is marketed more for its appeal to people and their flavor preferences than it is to dogs. With less than a quarter of a human’s taste buds, a dog’s sense of flavor is weaker. If you want to give your dog a pleasurable variety that won’t cause a stomach ache, mix a small amount of canned dog food in with dry kibble. The moisture introduced by mixing wet and dry dog food enhances the smell, appealing to the dog’s strong olfactory sense.
9. Ill puppies with runny noses and older dogs may lose some of their keen sense of smell. Using canned food instead of dry kibble may increase the dog’s interest in food and heating it slightly can help.
10. Try another brand of dog food. Dogs are not as selective as people, but they do have preferences. Changing food may irritate your dog’s stomach and cause loose stool for a few days after the change, but feeding the new food in small amounts initially can help. If nothing has changed after two brands, stick to your choice and don’t give in. Offer the same food twice daily until hunger takes over and he decides to give it a try.
If your dog isn’t eating, it’s natural to worry, but most picky eating behaviors that are not caused by illness can be changed. As with all dog training, the key to overcoming your dog’s finicky behavior is patience and consistency.