Food for thought: feeding picky eaters

By Charlotte Stiles

Key points:

As important family members, our pets share our homes, holidays, the odd shoe and even sometimes our beds. Such closeness means we learn huge amounts about their personalities, habits, and routines. Therefore, we can often spot signs of a problem, by noticing subtle changes.

With most dogs enjoying 2 or more mealtimes per day, a reduction in appetite is something which is easy to recognize. There are a few reasons why a dog may be a picky eater and handling them can be both worrying and difficult.

So, in this article, we’ll answer the following questions:

Picky eater help: why is my dog a picky eater?

Getting to know what’s ‘normal’ for your dog, helps uncover reasons surrounding any change in behaviour. Dogs react to situations and events differently to humans which means it can be hard for pet parents to understand them.

Have you ever heard of a dog going off its food when there was a change within their family? Perhaps someone passed away, or they moved house?

These are the kind of events which could trigger behavioural changes, such as picky eating, in dogs and probably not something we’d think of.

A dog’s specific character could further complicate such events. Some breeds often have ravenous appetites, whereas others are more the ‘eat to live’ kind. Medical problems, whether they’re associated with the gastrointestinal tract or not, can be another cause of picky eating.

But what about us, can picky eating be something to do with pet parents?

The huge range of products available helps us to give our pets the best possible care. Sometimes though, having so many choices can make things a little complicated. With so many different dog food options available, pet parents can become overwhelmed and unknowingly not make the best choice.

Our pets deserve to be spoilt, but sometimes we can overdo it with the treats. Meaning that dogs can become picky when it comes to their ‘official’ mealtime.

Do any of these points sound familiar?

In the next sections, we’ll explain everything a little deeper and offer some possible solutions.


Aside from their physical characteristics, dog breeds also have associated personality or behavioural traits. This can sometimes be because of their ‘purpose’ (working dogs), their origin or their previous life.

It’s difficult to prove, but not incorrect to assume that some breeds of dog can be considered ‘pickier’ than others. For example, Labrador retrievers are famous for eating everything, whereas more sensitive breeds such as Spaniels might be more sensitive to their surroundings when eating.

The circumstances surrounding character-related pickiness help differentiate it from more abrupt, symptom-accompanied illness-related pickiness which we’ll talk about in the next section.

Within a multi-pet household, a pet’s character is especially important. Is there a pecking order which means that more confident dogs may have first access to food? Sometimes, quiet, shy or sensitive dogs, may feel uncomfortable eating in front of another animal or human. Unwelcome changes in the household can also cause dogs to become picky.

Ensure your dog has a calm spot to eat their food at their own pace, uninterrupted by other humans or animals.

Medical problems

Just like us humans, when our pets aren’t feeling too good, they often become picky with food.

A sick dog who’s off its food, won’t lead a vet to a diagnosis straight away. Appetite changes in a sick dog aren't exclusive to any one illness; but they're an indication that there's a disease process going on.

If you notice appetite changes in your dog, whether they’re gradual or sudden, let your vet know. An appointment is necessary if your dog goes off their food for more than a day, or if appetite changes persist. Make sure to take note of any other symptoms, such as vomiting, diarrhea, or changes in energy.

To help prepare for an emergency situation with your pet, refer to our article Pet Emergency Kit.

We’ll finish this section with some health conditions that can lead to picky eating or inappetence:

Food suitability

When choosing your dog’s food did you consider….

Thinking about these points can help create a more enjoyable and suitable mealtime experience for your dog. Talk to your veterinarian for advice about suitable dog food if you’re not sure.

Pet parent habits

As much as we love our pets, sometimes our seemingly loving actions can create more problems than good. Our pets can be extremely persuasive with their longing stares and soft calls. However, in the longer term, giving into our pets by feeding them outside of their mealtime can create picky eaters.

Human food often has tastes or smells which are particularly appealing for dogs. If a dog learns to get the interesting human food they long for, it could cause them to become completely uninterested in their own food.

Here are some good habits for pet parents:

Tailored meals for picky eaters

After reading these points, maybe you’re thinking about taking matters into your own hands and making your picky eater their own meals. However, no matter how good your intentions, making home-made dog food isn’t as simple as you may think.

A dog’s exact nutritional requirements depend on many factors such as their age, weight, activity level and health status. There are also sometimes extra things to consider, such as when the dog is very young or nursing puppies.

If you’re thinking about making your own dog food at home in a bid to tempt your picky eater, you should know that it’s difficult to meet all their nutritional requirements. This means your pet could suffer from a deficiency as a result of eating an incomplete ration. You can read more about common inadequacies in home-made dog food in this article.

But it’s not all doom and gloom, as making home-made food isn’t totally out of the question! If you want to try and make your own dog food, do it in collaboration with a board-certified veterinary nutritionist. They’ll work with you to formulate a ration that caters to all your dog’s needs (and tastes!) and monitor the results of the diet to ensure it’s suitable. You can find a board-certified veterinary nutritionist near you here.

Conclusion: feeding picky eaters

Picky eaters can be frustrating to deal with and can cause pet parents lots of stress. However, with different approaches, and some patience, it’s possible to help a picky eater enjoy mealtime again.

The information provided and contained herein are the opinions of Pethealth Services (USA) Inc. which are based on external publication. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional veterinary advice. Pethealth Services (USA) Inc. assumes no responsibility or liability for any loss, claims or damages arising out of the within content.