Why is My Dog a Picky Eater and How Can I Help?

Nov 16, 2020

When your dog is a picky eater, it can be frustrating because he can’t tell you why he’s not eating. Maybe he doesn’t like what’s on the menu or maybe he has something going on inside his body and lack of appetite is the only sign. Either way, we want the best for our dogs, and we know that means proper nutrition. If your dog is a picky eater, you’ll definitely want to help!

What does it mean if your dog is a picky eater?

In a nutshell? A lot. Dogs who are picky eaters are sort of like toddlers who are picky eaters–you always have to worry if their picky eating habits are lending themselves to proper nutrient absorption.

Dogs can’t tell us exactly what’s wrong, and generally speaking, dogs like to eat. So if they’re not eating, that’s a good sign that something may be wrong in their world. Sometimes, it’s as simple as them preferring chicken over beef, but other times, it can be a sign of something more severe and you always want to be sure they are getting nutrients they need to fuel their furry little bodies.

Most experts will tell you that a dog who won’t eat food set out within 20 minutes or so is considered ‘picky.’ Consequently, a dog who won’t eat their dog food but will eat your table scraps is also considered picky.

You’ll often have vets tell you just to continue to offer high-quality food to your dogs and they’ll eat when they’re hungry. For the most part, that’s true.

But dogs are also sentient creatures, and let’s be real…they clearly have likes and dislikes like the rest of us. So it may just be a situation where you need to find the right combination of high-nutrient food that your dog also prefers to eat.

And it’s always a bit concerning when your dog suddenly loses their appetite and you’re not sure why (no life change, food change, apparent or obvious reason)…it could be the sign of a health issue your vet needs to look into.

What inspires a dog’s appetite?

Some dogs come from long breed lines of dogs who like to eat. (Cue music to, “I Like Big Mutts and I Can Not Lie…) It’s true, some dog breeds are generally thought to be garbage disposals (we’re looking at you, Retriever family!) while others maintain their dignity and are far more selective when it comes to din-din (Any Pomeranians in the house?).

Most experts agree, though, it’s usually a combination of your dog’s preferences and environment.
And when it comes to their environment…we humans are usually the root cause of our dog’s pickiness. Do we offer them food on consistent schedules they (and their stomachs) can count on?

Do we over treat them, leaving them not super hungry when it’s time for their regular meal?
Do we have their food in a place they feel safe to eat (especially if you have multiple dogs or young children)?
Do we regularly clean their food and water bowls? As regularly as we clean our own daily dishes?
Do we feed from the table? (We know, we know…it’s hard to ignore those puppy dog eyes!)
Yes, we can play a part in our dog’s ‘pickiness’ but that’s also good news in that we can help them be less picky too!

How can I help my dog eat better?

Most experts and behaviorists agree–sticking to a consistent mealtime schedule is a key for ensuring your dog eats well. Just like humans, their tummies will adjust to regular mealtimes (now you know why your dog sits by his food bowl at 6pm every day like clockwork!) and they’ll come to expect and seek food out at those times. Many families have dogs who are ‘free feeders,’ meaning that they’ll set their food out at the beginning and end of each day and let their dogs ‘graze’ as they want. That’s fine if your dog eats what he’s supposed to each day, but if your dog’s a picky eater? Free feeding is not likely to be a good fit for you.

Leave your dog’s food out for 15-20 minutes and if they don’t seem interested, just take it away. Try to refrain from giving treats in between meals so they will be hungry for their next meal. Sometimes they just need to have a little help to get in the habit of eating.

And when it comes to ‘topping’ dog food to entice them to eat…the jury is out as to whether that’s a good idea or not. Many behaviorists will tell you that you’re the problem and you’re training your dog to expect the topping and turn down perfectly good food, while others will tell you that there are some really great quality toppers out there and if your dog is happy and healthy, why not? In that decision, it really boils down to what is best for you and your family–furry members included.

When should I worry about my dog’s picky eating?

Sometimes your dog won’t eat because like humans, their food may give them a bad reaction due to intolerances, sensitivities or allergies in the food. As long as your dog is a healthy weight and has quality stool, it’s most likely not an issue. But, it can explain why they’re not eating if that’s the case, and if they’re losing weight or their stool is runny or they’re constipated, you might want to talk to your vet.

Additionally, if your dog seems to lose their appetite and not want to eat for more than 24-48 hours, you’ll want to talk to your vet. If you have a puppy or senior dog or dog with diabetes, you’ll not want to wait longer than about 12 hours for them to not want to eat. There’s a difference in being a picky/selective eater and having an underlying health issue, and you’ll want your veterinarian to help you know the difference.

The best way to tell if your dog is getting the right nutrition is from his stool. The right color, consistency, shape and odor will mean that your dog’s eating as he should, absorbing all the nutrients that he should, and excreting waste as he should. The unique 4-in-1 combination of fiber, pre- and probiotics and enzymes in Bernie’s Perfect Poop helps ensure that proper nutrient absorption, but in delicious flavors your dog thinks is a treat! For picky eaters especially, with Chicken or Cheese flavor, Bernie’s can be an enticing topper for your dog’s regular meals. Better, it’s also a healthy and convenient way to keep their gut health in check and make sure that picky eating doesn’t leave them vulnerable to illness or poor health. And the best part is that Bernie’s offers a Free Flavor Swap if it turns out your dog prefers Chicken to Cheese or vice versa. Even picky eaters can agree there’s a flavor for everyone!

Sign up now to receive the latest updates via email.