My dog is a fussy eater – what helps?

The biggest reasons why your dog could be a fussy eater and how to encourage a picky pooch to eat

My dog is a fussy eater

Quick takeaways about fussy eaters

  • Nearly half of dog owners would say their dog has fussy eating habits.
  • The key reasons for pickiness range from anxiety to digestive issues.
  • Creating good mealtime habits and tempting them with high-quality food can help.
The idea that dogs will eat anything and everything is a myth. Many dogs are fussy eaters – almost 40% of dog owners describe their pet as fussy, new research shows.

It’s natural to be worried if your dog won’t eat their food or sniffs at their meal without touching it.

The first step is to address your dog’s picky habits and work out why they’re a selective eater, so they stay healthy and happy.

Feeding a picky dog nutritious food can be as simple as making a few tweaks – to your routine or food type. Thankfully, there are lots of ways you can help a picky pooch find their appetite.

How to spot a fussy eater

If your dog is uninterested in their food but begging for yours, or loves their treats and snacks but not dinner, chances are you’ve got a fussy eater on your hands.

Perhaps they sniff at what’s in their bowl, push it about without eating it or don’t touch what you put down at all. These are also signs.

What’s causing your dog to be fussy?

Pickiness or a loss of appetite can be caused by lots of different factors. The tricky thing is pinpointing the core reason for your dog.

Just like humans, dogs have favourite foods and they might not like the smell, taste or texture of the food you’re putting down. Your dog might also have trouble digesting it.

Your pooch could be filling up too much on treats and snacks. Believe it or not, your dog could even be trying to manipulate you – holding out for different, tastier food.

While other dogs just aren’t driven by their stomachs.

They could also have an underlying issue like an allergy, dental issue or problem with their ability to smell.

Or, they might have food guarding or anxiety issues – a dog behaviourist might be able to help with this.

How to encourage your picky dog to eat

If your dog is swerving their food and you suspect one of the reasons above, it’s a good idea to speak to a vet to rule out an underlying issue.
In the meantime, here are a few tips to try:

1. Create a good mealtime routine

Try to feed your dog in the same space every day, and keep it calm so they feel comfortable and relaxed.

Do this by ignoring them after you put their bowl down – make sure they have plenty of space and other pets or distractions like small children are kept away. This is particularly important for dogs who have food-guarding issues.

If your dog doesn’t seem happy in the place you’re feeding them now, try setting up a new area in a different room and see if that helps them eat again.

It’s often a good idea to avoid free feeding – where food sits in their bowl for long periods.

And try to get them to eat at regular times, polishing off their dinner in one go, rather than slowly over time.

2. Restrict sneaky treats

If anyone in your household is feeding your dog treats, get them to cut this out.

Limit treats to training and rewards instead. Also, stop feeding your dog from your plate or the dinner table as this encourages them to beg and potentially prioritise your food over theirs.

3. Try making their food more appealing

Sometimes, all your dog needs is a tasty topping or treat to liven up their food.

If you’re feeding dry food or kibble, try adding a good quality wet food or dog-friendly gravy. You could also try soaking their food in warm water to make it more appetising.

Feeding raw? You could try switching up the meat variety – chicken intolerance can be a common issue but not always obvious from the symptoms.

Or, add a healthy topper like some boiled egg, berries, sardines or sprats.

4. Turn mealtimes into an enrichment activity

Taking the focus away from eating and making it more fun is an effective strategy for anxious dogs – or for those who aren’t driven by food.

You could use a slow feeder or interactive feeding toy that releases dry food as they roll it around.

Alternatively, slow bowls or Lickimats can also be used to feed raw, wet or a mix of foods in a more interactive way.

Nosework could also be a solution. Your dog’s sniffer is one of their greatest assets, and getting your dog to use their nose to find some of their breakfast or dinner could be a helpful technique to try.

Scatter or hide their food indoors or in your garden to set them off.

5. Be patient and consistent

Your dog might need a little space and time to get used to their new food or their new feeding routine. Try to stick to their feeding schedule and you might see a little progress each day.

Some dog owners leave dry food out for their dog to pick at.

But, if you want to help cement a good feeding routine, take your dog’s food away if they don’t eat it after 30 minutes (or sooner if it's raw or wet food).

Your dog will get hungry and eventually need to eat so try waiting until their next meal.

6. Switch their food

Consider changing your dog’s food, as they just might not like it or find it hard to digest.

If you only feed your dog dry food or kibble, try mixing this with wet food to create a more appealing smell and taste.

Or, your dog might find a raw food diet more tasty and tempting. High-quality raw is made with various cuts of meat, bone, fruit and vegetables so can offer more flavour and texture to tempt your pooch.

As it’s less processed, it can also be good for digestive wellbeing which makes your dog’s poos firmer and smaller, and their coat shiny.

Just be mindful that any changes to their diet should be made gradually over a few days to avoid gut problems, and stick with it for a few weeks at least.

Choosing the right raw food for your fussy dog

As tricky as it might be, it’s important fussy eaters eat a balanced diet. And feeding a complete and balanced raw diet is a great way to make that happen.

Dogs ideally need a mix of protein and healthy fats in their diet along with different vitamins and minerals.

A balanced diet of meat and plants generally meets this and it’s why you’ll hear ‘Complete’ and ‘Balanced’ used a lot by raw dog food brands.

Natures Menu meal plans include everything your dog needs if you’re considering switching to raw.

You can choose the best combinations of proteins for your dog – from beef to turkey. And you can opt for an 80/20 split – 80% meat and 20% veg – or a 60/40 split – 60% meat and 40% veg and grains.

Find out how to switch and how much to feed your dog.

When to speak to a vet

Missing a meal here or there is no biggie. However, if your dog’s eating habits change, they suddenly lose their appetite or they’ve been off their food for a while, this could indicate a more serious health issue like a parasite or dental disease.

A loss of appetite coupled with vomiting, diarrhea, bad breath or a change in their poo could also be a sign of something bigger.

So, speak to your vet if you’re worried that their fussy eating habits might be a bigger issue

Helping your fussy dog – FAQs

Why is my dog sniffing food but not eating?

They might have lost their appetite because they’re feeling unwell, or they’re simply a fussy eater.

If they’re leaving their food and then begging for food at the table or for treats, it might be that they’re just not a fan of the food you’re serving up, so consider switching.

My dog won’t eat kibble but eats everything else – why?

If your pooch is swerving their kibble but readily eating treats or other food, this might be a sign to change up their food. They might not like the taste, texture or smell of their kibble.

It’s worth trying another brand or type of dog food. You could add some wet food or gravy to their dry food to make it more tempting. Or, consider opting for raw, which tends to go down better with fussy dogs.

Should I take my dog’s food away if they don’t eat it?

Yes. With dry food it’s a good idea to take it away after half an hour, tops.

This will help encourage them into a more regular feeding routine, rather than encouraging them to pick at their food when they feel like it.

Never leave raw food out and available for your dog.

What are the common reasons dogs become fussy eaters?

Behavioural or health issues are common reasons, but the food you’re serving could also be an issue.

What are the best types of food for fussy dogs?

There’s no one-size-fits-all solution, especially if your dog is a picky eater. The best for them is going to depend on what goes down well with them.

Try different flavours and textures to help find the right option. You could try offering canned or dry dog food to see which one they prefer. You could also try foods with different proteins, veg or carbohydrates.

You could also experiment by switching them gradually to high-quality raw food – this is usually a winner with fussy dogs.

Switching to raw food could tempt your fussy dog. Try Nature’s Menu meal plans for hassle-free delivery on repeat.