Why is my dog a fussy eater?

katy towle 03 June 2021

There is something disconcerting about realising your dog has left their bowl of food untouched. Naturally, we start to wonder if something may be amiss. This is especially true when our dog turning up their nose at dinner time becomes the norm.

Some dogs will earn themselves a reputation as ‘fussy eaters’ and can go through periods of not being very interested in their food. Owners may rotate from one food to another, desperate to hit on a ‘winner’ that will get eaten every time. However, with a truly fussy dog, you may be fighting a losing battle.

Some dogs are born fussy; why is this?

The term ‘fussy’ is a little misleading. When a dog refuses their meal, it isn’t often because they are being pernickety. It is more likely to be a case of not being especially hungry at the time the food is offered. Certainly, they may be happy to chow down on some chicken or a treat, but I liken this to a toddler eating a slice of chocolate cake even though they claim to be ‘too full’ for their plate full of spaghetti and meatballs!   

We are more likely to encounter this in those dogs with lower calorie requirements such as adult toy breeds. Chihuahuas, Maltese dogs, Poodles and Shih Tzus all fall into this category. These dogs can happily skip a meal without feeling hungry because they don’t need very much food to keep them fuelled. 

Other breeds of dog are very food-driven and have high calorie requirements; the Labrador and Beagle come to mind. We are much less likely to ever class these guys as ‘fussy’.

Dogs may refuse meals if we are offering treats, chews or dental sticks between feeding times. Rather than trying to fill them up with an alternative, let them wait until their next meal when they will be hungry.

Try not to fall into the trap of offering a second option if your dog refuses their meal. This creates a cycle whereby dogs won’t eat their dog food in the hope they will get something ‘tastier’ (and less healthy!).

Most smaller breeds and ‘fussy’ pooches prefer wet diets. Our wet food options (including our ‘Turkey & Duck’ or ‘Chicken, Pumpkin & Pea’) tend to be real favourites. Wet foods are easy to eat and highly palatable. Do be sure to brush teeth in the evenings though, as wet food can cake on to teeth easier than dry kibble does.

What about dogs who become fussy?

Perhaps your dog has always been a good eater and has suddenly gone off their food; why might this be happening?

Possible causes could include:

  • An underlying medical issue such as a sore tooth or nausea
  • A food aversion (this can occur if a dog was feeling nauseous when eating a certain food)
  • The food being off-putting due to it coming cold from the fridge or being left out too long
  • A reduction in exercise, for example, dogs who are being crated after an injury
  • Another source of food being given such as treats at doggy day-care 
  • A decline in appetite in an elderly dog

It is also very important to mention that when a puppy’s growth rate starts to slow down, they will start to need a lot less food. Depending on breed, this tends to be at about 6-12 months of age. Pups who would once wolf down 4 full bowls of food are now just about managing 1 or 2 meals. While this may worry an owner, adult dogs have far lower calorie requirements than developing puppies, so this is a normal part of growing up.

When do I need to worry?

A reduced appetite that coincides with other signs such as weight loss, an upset stomach or lethargy is a concern. Indeed, it is sensible to monitor your dog’s weight every few weeks, ensuring it remains stable.

If a dog declines their meal as well as any other food on offer for more than a day or two, we need to pay attention. A vet visit is sensible to have your four-legged friend checked over if they are clearly off their food.

How can I encourage my fussy dog to eat more?

Well, you may not have to! If your dog is a healthy weight and has no other signs, try to take more of a back-seat approach to mealtimes. Provide the food they are supposed to have. Leaving it down for 20 minutes is plenty of time. If it is not eaten, it can be taken up. Once hungry enough, it will get eaten.

Pandering to your dog and feeding them what they ask for (perhaps a packet of treats or some chicken or ham) is not in their best interest. Dogs need a complete diet which is balanced and contains all of the essential macro and micronutrients. Dogs are at risk of deficiencies if not eating enough of their dog food.

What about the senior dog?

Senior dogs experience a natural decline in appetite. This is because they lead a less active lifestyle and are more sedentary than their younger counterparts. Their metabolism naturally slows down and their calorie needs are slightly reduced. On top of this, their sense of smell and taste can decline, making food seem less appealing.

It is important that any sudden reduction in appetite is looked in to as it can be a sign of a medical issue. Periodontal disease, liver disease, kidney disease, certain cancers and a source of pain (such as joint disease) would all need to be considered in the older patient.

Offering your dog a diet aimed at the elderly canine, such as our Senior Superfood is a smart move. It is highly palatable and packed with easy to digest ingredients such as chicken, sweet potato and carrots. This kibble also contains prebiotics which help to support a healthy gut microbiome and prevent upset stomachs.

So if you find you own a ‘fussy dog’, ask yourself if they may simply need less food than you think. A dog who declines meals from time to time but is otherwise healthy, is a dog who knows how to regulate their own calorie intake. Be consistent in offering your choice of dog food (we recommend our Pooch & Mutt wet food cartons) at each meal time. If concerned, a trip to the vet is never a bad idea to rule out any underlying conditions.