A dog sits in front of a full bowl.

Tips and Tricks for Feeding a Picky Dog

Do you have a picky dog and have trouble finding food that they will eat? Have you ever opened a bag or can of food, expecting your pet to be excited, and they just walk away from it? This is a common problem for many dog owners. Some dogs are food motivated and will eat absolutely anything, while other dogs can be fussy about what they like to nibble on. This article will help you choose the best dog food for picky pups.

Why are Dogs Picky Eaters?

Dogs can be fussy eaters either because they have a finicky personality or a health issue. The most important thing you can do is to make sure your pet is in good health and not suffering from other symptoms. Lack of appetite, decreased appetite, or abstaining from their normal food and only eating treats is a common situation if a dog doesn’t feel well. Learn more by reading What to Do When Your Dog Won’t Eat Their Food – But Will Eat Treats.

Before making the assumption that your dog is just fussy – consider if they’re showing any other signs that may be abnormal. For example, observe your dog for the following:

How to Address Eating Issues

The safest thing to do if your dog is showing any signs of inappetence is to see your veterinarian. Your veterinarian may want to do a physical examination to ensure there are no abnormalities that may make your dog “picky.” This is really the best thing to do, since a vet may determine that this pickiness was actually caused by something like bladder stones, gastrointestinal tumors, lung cancer, anemia, liver problems, fractured teeth, severe arthritis, or another life-threatening condition.

Here are some great tips for Home care for the dog that is not eating. This article has suggestions that may help you get your dog to start eating. Also, for puppies, read the following: Here’s How to Help a Puppy Who Will Not Eat.

The Behaviors of a Picky Dog

Here is something to consider before taking the steps to feed a picky pet. Is any part of your dog’s pickiness related to the desire for attention? For example, what is the typical feeding situation? When your dog refuses to eat whatever you feed them, do you pet them? Talk to them? Carry them around? Hand feed? Give other extra attention? Or do you walk away and let them eat if they are hungry?

One recommendation for feeding picky dogs is not letting their mealtime become a time for them to get attention. Give them attention at other times, such as playtime. Some behaviorists recommend that the best way to feed meals to a picky dog is to offer the food and walk away. If your dog is hungry, they will eat.

What Is the Best Dog Food for Picky Dogs?

What is the best food to feed a dog that is finicky? If your dog is otherwise healthy and just seems to be picky, then consider the following questions as you consider a new food:

16 Tips for Feeding a Picky Dog

  1. When you are looking for a food to feed a finicky dog, you want a product that your dog will eat, but also a quality food that is formulated to meet their needs. It is also important to consider behavior – both yours and your dog’s. Sometimes, it isn’t about the food, but how you feed your pet. It is also important to consider how these decisions impact your entire family.
  2. Make sure you pick food for your dog’s life stage. Ensure that your puppy has high-quality, puppy-specific food. If you have a senior, choose a food formulated for seniors.
  3. Some dogs desire a routine. If possible, feed your dog their meals at the same time each day. For some dogs, unpredictable feeding schedules can be stressful. If you work odd shifts and your schedule is unpredictable, automated feeders can help you maintain a routine. These feeders can be set to a particular time of day or multiple times per day at which time the feeder will open and provide an adequate amount of food for your dog to eat.
  4. Don’t create problems by changing food too often or by giving your dog low-quality foods. Some foods or changes to diet can cause vomiting and/or diarrhea. It is not recommended to choose your dog’s food based on “what’s on sale at the supermarket.” Choose a quality food and stick with it.
  5. Avoid any foods that can impact your dog’s medical condition, for example, foods that cause allergies or bladder stones.
  6. Offer the food and walk away. As mentioned above, don’t let mealtime be a time to get extra attention.
  7. Avoid feeding from the table. It is common for pet owners to create finicky dogs by giving table foods and encouraging dogs to hold out for something better.
  8. Feed to avoid obesity. There are a lot of health issues associated with obesity in dogs. Feed what your dog needs, not more and not less. Learn more about Obesity in Dogs.
  9. Check expiration dates. Both dry and canned dog foods can expire and become rancid. Picky dogs prefer fresh food.
  10. Buy smaller bags of food to avoid old staleness and loss of flavor. Sometimes it is tempting to save money and buy a 40-pound bag for a 10-pound dog, but it will get old and stale, and become less appealing.
  11. Research potential brands of dog food and, once you have created a list of options, consult with your veterinarian to discuss which would be the best fit for your dog.
  12. Use a mix of wet food and dry food. Wet food is often more palatable and picky dogs may prefer it over dry food.
  13. When you change your dog’s food, do so slowly. 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 3-4 days.
  14. Make sure your entire home is on board with your plan. If you make a change to what or how you are feeding your dog, such as no longer giving treats or stopping table scraps, make sure your entire household is on board. One person can ruin the entire plan by feeding from the table when others are abstaining. Decide the feeding rules as a household.
  15. Always provide plenty of fresh clean water at all times.
  16. If you are interested in serving a homemade diet to your dog or they need a custom diet to help with a picky appetite and concurrent medical conditions, consulting a board certified veterinary nutritionist is recommended. Click here to view a directory of vet nutritionists.

For more information about the best recommendations for feeding your dog, check out our article on Nutrition in Dogs.