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Finicky Dogs: How to Encourage Your Picky Dog to Eat

By: Renae Hamrick, RVT

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Anyone that I know with a finicky dog is frustrated. What's up with the dog who turns up his nose at the food you feed him? Aren't dogs supposed to be crazy about eating? Is a dog who is a finicky eater normal? What can you do about it?

Like humans, some dogs are naturally finicky eaters. They are particular about their food, and trying to properly nourish them can be very frustrating! There are other dogs who are on the opposite spectrum, and will eat anything, even things that are not edible! There are also dogs in the middle, who have been made finicky by their families and environment.

Veterinary Check-Up

If your dog has developed the habit of being picky about what he eats, the first step to the solution is to take your pooch to the veterinarian for a check-up. This is especially important to do if the finicky eating developed suddenly, is accompanied by vomiting and/or diarrhea, your dog is showing other signs of illness, or the finiky eating is associated with weight loss. Visiting the vet will help you rule out any underlying medical conditions, such as gastrointestinal or oral disease, that may be causing the finicky eating.

The Food

If your dog receives a clean bill of health, the next step is to evaluate the food you feed. Begin by assuring that the food has not spoiled. Both dry and moist foods can expire, and it is also possible to buy a bad batch of food. Check the expiration date and take note of any odd odors in the food.

You should be feeding a high-quality, nutritious diet which your veterinarian has approved. A quality brand of food will supply your dog with all the nutrients he needs, eliminating the need for diet variety. Dogs do not need variety in their meals like humans, because they have all the nutrients they need in their dog food.

Consistently feed one type of food. Constantly changing foods may cause your dog to hold out for something tastier, creating a finicky eater. Change can also cause vomiting and diarrhea in some dogs. Feeding human food snacks can have the same affect and can also lead to obesity.

Other Food Sources

Closely observe your pet's day. Is there any chance he is eating something other than his dog food? Is a family member slipping him scraps from the table? Is your dog munching on feces in the yard? Is he getting into a trash can indoors or outdoors? Is a neighbor giving him snacks when he is outside? Perhaps another food source is preventing him from being hungry at mealtime.

You should also be sure your dog isn't being fed his lunch and dinner by more than one member of the family, or regularly receiving treats from everyone between meals. Be sure everyone knows their role in feeding, so that your dog is not consuming more than he needs.

Your Role in Your Dog's Finicky Habits

How do you respond when your dog refuses to eat? Do you pet him, console him, hand-feed him, etc.? If you are giving your dog positive reinforcements when he is finicky, he may avoid eating until he gets the extra attention he desires.

One common method for feeding finicky dogs is that you put the food in your dog's bowl, and walk away. When your dog is hungry, he will instinctually eat for nourishment. Do not turn mealtime into a bargain for attention.

Are you able to provide your dog with routine? Most dogs like routine. Do you feed him at relatively the same time each day, or does your schedule prevent you from giving your dog regular feeding times? Dogs prefer routine. Unpredictable feeding times may be stressful to your dog and his gastrointestinal system. In these situations, an automated feeder may be ideal for your canine friend. The feeder can be set to a particular time, at which it will open for your dog to eat.

The Naturally Particular Eater

Some dogs are just...naturally finicky. Here are some tips to help you deal with these dogs.

  • If you have been feeding your dog's current food for an extended period of time, he has always been finicky about eating it, and you feel that he is unhappy with the taste, then you could gradually change him to a new quality food. To do this, mix the old food in with small amounts of the new food, then slowly increase the new food and decrease the old. This will prevent gastrointestinal upset. Make the change over at least 2 to 3 days.

  • When changing foods, pick a new flavor or texture that may better suit his desires. You may want to try feeding a semi-moist food vs. dry, for example, or you may choose lamb and rice rather than beef and rice. Keep in mind if selecting a softer food, these foods can cause more tartar build-up on your dog's teeth, and they are generally more expensive. Adding small amounts of a moist food may be a better alternative to completely switching.

  • Another trick that can help finicky dogs to eat is heating up the food. Heating the food helps release the aromas that are appealing to your dog. You might try microwaving your finicky dog's moist food, or adding hot water to the dry food. Stir the mixture around with your finger or a spoon and try to make sure there are no "hot spots" created by the microwave warming.

  • Mixing something extra in the food can also be helpful. Break up a dog biscuit in the food, add a little meat-flavored baby food, sprinkle in a small amount of shredded cheese, etc. Mix the special additives throughout the food, to make it difficult for your pooch to pick out the goodies. Be careful with this option; too much "something extra" can lead to obesity. Also, don't spoil him so much that he becomes more finicky, as explained above.

  • If your dog is a go-getter that doesn't slow down long enough to eat, you might want to make him work for his food. Filling a treat-dispensing toy or a Kong toy with his meals could be more interesting to your active canine.

    Be Patient

    Solving the problem of a finicky eater can be quite stressful on you and your dog. Organize a plan with your veterinarian or a pet behaviorist to determine the solution to your dog's particular eating habits. Above all, work with your veterinarian to ensure that there is no underlying healthy problem that is making him not want to eat.


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