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Proven Tips For Dealing With A Picky Eater Dog

There’s nothing quite like the feeling of preparing a meal for a loved one. When they eat with pleasure, it makes you happy.

It’s a different story when your meal is met with a look of disappointment or a turned up nose!

It’s a special affront when it comes from your picky dog. Dogs eat all kinds of weird things and yet they turn their nose up to a lovingly prepared meal? What’s up with that??

Having a picky dog or a finicky cat can be frustrating. As an expert in pet nutrition for over 30 years, I’ve seen it all: dogs who happily drink out of the toilet but turn their noses up at expensive dog food, cats who sniff at their bowl and look at you as if they are insulted.

I’ll share my experience with these fussy, finicky, picky dogs to show you:

🫢 how to tell if your dog is being picky or if it’s something else,

🐶why some dogs are picky,

🐱why it’s an important issue to solve,

🦴and 10 steps you can take to deal with a finicky dog.

A little expert guidance can make all the difference in turning your picky eater dog into a can’t-wait-for-dinner dog.

Do you have a picky eater dog or is it something else?

Sometimes it’s tricky to determine if you have a picky eater dog or cat or if there’s something else going on.

First, let’s rule out other, more sinister issues that cause pets to be picky eaters.

If you suspect any of the following may be the cause, please consult your veterinarian right away:

😷 Is your dog sick?

Illnesses like pancreatitis, kidney disease, food sensitivities or allergies, and dental issues can all make dogs less than enthusiastic about chowing down.

🤢 Does your dog have stomach distress?

Dogs and cats, like humans, have a gut microbiome to consider. Your dog has a vast array of gut bacteria and microorganisms that produce enzymes that digest food. If your dog’s microbiome is unhealthy, it can cause a lack of appetite. If this is the cause of your dog’s fussy food behavior, adding pre and probiotics may help.

🙁 Is your dog in pain?

No one feels like eating if they’re in pain! Joint pain, dental pain, arthritis, and other health issues that cause pain can often cause a loss of appetite. If you notice your dog having difficulty getting up or down, moves stiffly, or flinches at your touch, they may be in pain.

😰 Is your dog anxious or stressed?

As humans, we’re either prone to overeating or lose our appetites if we’re anxious or stressed. Our dogs tend to err on the side of not wanting to eat. There are all kinds of stressors for dogs including a move, visitors, a change in routine, or even picking up on stress in the home. Stressors of any sort can turn your pup into a picky eater dog.

💊 Is your dog on medication?

Some medications create a loss of appetite as a side effect.

🐕‍🦺 Is there another dog in the home?

If you have a submissive dog, feeding time can be stressful in a home with more than one dog. Be sure to create a safe space where your dog can eat in peace.

What if none of the above apply to your picky eater dog?

Ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Will your dog eat off your plate happily but turn their nose up at their own food?

  2. Will your dog eat their food eventually if push comes to shove?

If you answered yes to these questions, congratulations, you’re the proud pet parent of a bonafide picky eater dog!

Considering the much less desirable causes that make dogs picky eaters, having a picky eater isn’t so bad.

There are many things you can do to whet your dog’s appetite!

What makes a dog a picky eater?

Once you’ve ruled out illness as the culprit, here are some benign causes of picky eating dogs:

🐩 Breed

Certain breeds of dogs, especially the smaller breeds, are notoriously fussy eaters.

These include the:

  • Yorkshire Terrier

  • Shih Tzu

  • Standard Poodle

  • Pekingese

  • Cocker Spaniel

  • Bichon Frise

  • Boston Terrier

  • Maltese

  • Greyhound

  • French Bulldog

  • Pug

🐕 Age

Dogs can become increasingly picky about food as they age. Their senses of sight and smell change, they tend to move less, and as a result, their food no longer holds the allure it did as a young and active pup.

And the #1 cause of picky eater dogs?

The well-intentioned but misguided behavior of, drum roll please, the loving pet parent.

While some dogs are more prone to being fussy than others, it’s the unintentional behavior of the owner that causes most picky eating behavior.

The good news is that once you know, you can do something about it!

How can I help my dog be less picky about food?

Here are my top tips to turn your picky eater dog into a veritable chowhound:

  1. Try soft and smelly. That may not sound appetizing to you, but to dogs who rely on their sense of smell, soft and smelly foods will get the juices flowing! Try fresh, wet, or reconstituted dehydrated food or add in bone broth. Warming the food a bit will also help the aroma. Add warmed water or broth or pop it in the microwave for a few seconds. Make sure it’s warm, not hot.

  2. Maintain good gut health. Feeding quality food and using pre and probiotics will set your dog’s digestive system up for optimal health. Maintaining a healthy microbiome will not only help them have a healthy appetite, it will help their overall health and well-being.

  3. Choose nutrient dense food. Good quality food that contains the right balance of protein, fat, vegetables, and fruit is more appetizing than highly processed kibble.

  4. Keep a consistent routine. Maintaining consistent meal times helps your dog learn when to expect their meals.

  5. Use it or lose it. If your dog hasn’t eaten within 20 to 30 minutes, pick up the food. Store it in the refrigerator to keep it fresh and only put it back down during the next feeding time. Don’t worry, dogs can go for days without food and be perfectly fine. This method helps them learn that when meal time comes around, they’d better eat if they don’t want to be hungry.

  6. Minimize treats during the day. This is common sense, but when we love our dogs and want to make them happy, it can be easy to overdue the treats. Be mindful of how much you’re treating your dog during the day.

  7. Avoid feeding table scraps. Along the same lines, if your dog is refusing to eat their own food, you feel bad! This can lead to sneaking a little of your own meal to your pup. This is bad for a few reasons. First, people food often contains things that aren’t good for dogs. Your dog should only eat species appropriate food to maintain their long term health. Secondly, they’ll quickly learn that if they hold out long enough, you’ll come to the rescue with some yummy food! That’s counterproductive to what you’re trying to accomplish.

  8. Watch their eating environment. Feed your dog in a place where they aren’t distracted. And if they’re worried about another dog stealing their food, be sure to separate them. Feed in a place where they feel safe and focused.

  9. Treat after the meal is eaten. If you’re limiting treats during the day, why not try treating your dog for a job well done: a clean bowl! Or if your dog is play driven, how about a nice game of fetch after they’ve finished a meal? Whatever your dog’s currency is, you can use it as a reward like you do for any other behavior you want to train.

  10. Feed the right amounts and give plenty of exercise. Make sure you’re not overfeeding as a way of showing love. And be sure your dog has plenty of exercise to work up a good appetite.

What will happen if I don’t address my picky eater dog?

Besides being annoying for you, there’s a danger that your dog may not get the balanced diet they need. Over time, that can cause health problems. Dealing with picky dog behavior is worth working on.

You can also waste a lot of money by trying many different foods in an effort to find the one. Getting nutritional guidance and then modifying behavior – yours and your dog’s – will help make meal time less stressful.

What about my cat?

Cats have a reputation for being finicky, but research has shed new light on how cats determine what and how much they should eat to maintain their health.

A fascinating new study shows that unlike most dogs, cats don’t choose food based on how it tastes or smells. Instead, they choose food that has the best nutritional value for their individual requirements of protein and fat. Smart!

Each time your cat eats, they are learning the nutritional value of the meal and whether to eat more or less of it. If your cat becomes less enthusiastic about their food, it may be time for a change. Not because of the smell or taste, but because their nutritional requirements have changed.

It all boils down to two basic needs.

Taking your pooch from a finicky eater to a fantastic eater requires:

🥩 The right food and

💁 🦮 The right behavior on the part of you and your dog.

The pet food space is a HUGE market. There are so many options it can be hard to figure out what’s best. Is kibble okay? Should you feed raw? What about freeze dried vs. dehydrated? Are toppers the easy answer?

If you can, get advice from a pet nutrition expert who is not compensated by any dog food company.

At The Healthy Animal Healing Center, we offer customized nutritional consulting based on your goals and your dog’s individual. And since we don’t get any commission, you can rest assured the recommendations are based solely on your unique needs.

We can also offer support as you make behavior changes in your picky dog. Sometimes pet parents are too close to the situation to recognize how they might be inadvertently doing counterproductive things. We can offer guidance and support as you work with your dog to make mealtime easy.

Contact us to schedule your one-hour consultation. It can be done either in person or virtually.

With the right food and a few behavioral changes, soon you’ll be serving meals to a hungry dog rather than a picky dog!

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