Have a fussy eater on your hands?
If so, you’re not alone.
Picky eating can be surprisingly common, especially with smaller dog breeds.
But even though smaller breeds are somewhat prone to fussy eating (and they often have smaller appetites)… it can happen with any dog, regardless of breed or size.
While most dogs happily devour their dinner as fast as possible… others are much fussier.
In fact, it can sometimes feel like a struggle to get them to eat anything at all.
And it can leave you worried about their weight, or whether they have an underlying health issue.
In some cases, they may seem happy to eat your human food, but have little interest in their own meals, too.
So, what’s going on?
Let’s take a closer look.
Is My Dog A Picky Eater?
The first thing to determine is whether your dog is simply a picker eater or if there’s another underlying cause.
Smaller dogs have small appetites, so it isn’t unusual for them to leave food behind or seem uninspired by their dinner… especially if they haven’t been very active recently.
So, if your dog’s at a healthy weight, has a shiny coat, and is alert and happy, then occasionally leaving food behind isn’t necessarily something to worry about.
Of course, if your dog has always been picky with their meals, then you’ll have less reason for concern because you know their history, too.
However: If your dog’s losing weight and still not eating, then there could be an issue.
Is There A Health Issue Causing My Dog To Stop Eating?
Changes in your dog’s eating habits can be a sign of an underlying health issue.
If your dog usually dives into their food with gusto but has recently experienced a loss of appetite that’s out of character, then it’s wise to talk to a vet.
The key thing to look for will be any changes in their eating habits.
One common reason for a dog to stop eating can be tooth pain.
Other reasons can include hormone fluctuations, digestive issues, or dogs with food allergies.
But once your dog has received the all-clear from the vet, you’ll know if it’s just picky eating with no underlying problem, or whether there’s another cause that needs professional attention to solve.
Are Certain Breeds More Predisposed to Being Picky Eaters?
Yes. Some of the most common ones are the small and toy breeds. For example, Chihuahuas, Yorkies, and Shih Tzus are often the fussiest when it comes to what they want to eat.
This doesn’t mean these dogs won’t enjoy their food, but they tend to prefer certain types more than others.
For instance, many will love chicken, whereas others may not. Or they’ll be fussy about having dry kibble alone. Keep in mind that your dog is clever, and if they know you have something better… they may hold out for particular treats or attempt to persuade you to serve what they like most.
They may prefer to eat your dinner, for example, rather than eating from their own bowl.
What’s The Best Tasting Dog Food For Picky Eaters?
Once you’ve determined your dog has no health issues behind their eating habits, what should you feed them?
While we could give you a long list of various dog food products that score good reviews, the truth is that any high-quality dog food should be fine… and the brand of dog food may not be the true cause behind their fussy eater habits.
Instead, the trick is to make the food more appealing and appetizing, as well as making sure there’s nothing that’s distracting your dog from eating.
For example, some breeds may be sensitive to certain environmental factors you may have unknowingly overlooked.
In one case, it was discovered that a picky Chihuahua puppy wasn’t eating simply because they could see their own reflection due to the stainless steel finish of the bowl!
What Makes Food Irresistible To Dogs?
There’s no question about it: Dog’s love meat.
So ensuring your dog’s food comes with a high-quality protein source goes a long way toward triggering their appetite.
Dog’s also love fat.
Interestingly, dogs may also enjoy fruits and vegetables.
However: Certain flavors, tastes, and textures will appeal to your dog more than others.
Many dog food brands include a healthy selection of fruits and vegetables to provide the key vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants to keep a dog happy and healthy.
What’s more, for a finicky eater, the things that are left out of the food matter, too.
Low-grade fillers, additives, and artificial flavorings can affect your dog’s appetite… particularly if they’re on the fussy side.
Furthermore, the smell of the food is one of the main things that attract your dog.
So if there’s anything that makes the food smell less fresh (stale kibble, for example), then they’ll be less likely to chow down.
11 Ways To Encourage A Fussy Eater To Eat
1. Make Sure You’re Not Overfeeding.
A big culprit behind fussy eating is simply “overfeeding“… particularly for small dogs without high-calorie requirements.
It’s incredibly easy to fall into the trap of giving too many treats between meals, along with the occasional table scraps just to spoil your dog.
But as you’d expect, this can have a big impact on your dog’s lack of appetite later.
Just like humans, these tempting food flavors can be enjoyable yet unhealthy… while spoiling our appetite for later.
2. Cut Down On Those Table Scraps.
When your dog’s used to enjoying your tasty steak scraps… a bowl of kibble might not seem as appealing!
However, too many scraps can ultimately deprive your dog of the healthy nutrition they need, as they won’t be hungry enough to eat a well-balanced diet.
As such, it’s wise to cut down on the table scraps if your dog isn’t eating their usual food.
3. Stick To A Regular Feeding Schedule.
Another important tip is to keep your dog on a feeding schedule.
This means sticking to regular mealtimes so they don’t get confused, and the predictable routine can help them to eat more consistently.
Additionally, talk with the family to ensure everybody is on the same page. And make sure nobody’s feeding them sneaky treats on the side!
4. Upgrade Your Dog’s Food Quality.
If your dog isn’t interested in their food, take a closer look at the food you’re offering.
Dog’s love high-quality meat-based foods… so examine the nutritional labels to ensure it’s giving them the quality nutrition they need.
You’ll want to see whole protein sources such as chicken, lamb, beef, or turkey, or fish. Meat meal (like chicken meal) is okay too.
Try to stay away from any food that has low-grade fillers and additives.
5. Add Some Wet Food To Their Regular Kibble.
It can be useful to serve some wet dog food with their kibble.
Because the added moisture makes the food more aromatic and appealing.
Your dog depends on their sense of smell to experience the world… so making their dinner more aromatic can really encourage them to eat more.
6. Warm Up Your Dog’s Food A Bit.
Another useful trick is to warm up their food in the microwave.
This tactic is great for dogs who get excited about table scraps and human food. (After all, they think you’re giving them what you’re having!)
7. Try Feeding By Hand.
You may not want to make this a regular habit… but many dogs will be more encouraged to eat if you feed them by hand.
It’s time-consuming, but it works, in the short term, for many picky eaters. Especially if you really need them to eat.
You can also transition from your hand to your dog’s bowl over time.
8. Try A “Limited Ingredient” Dog Food Brand.
Is there a certain ingredient your dog dislikes?
If so, consider a limited ingredient dog food formula.
This type of food comes with as few additives as possible, and the simple, basic ingredients can help to restart your dog’s appetite in some cases.
It’s also an option for dogs with food allergies, and it can remove some of the sensitivities that trigger digestive health problems.
9. Take The Dinner Away (If They’re Not Eating).
Leaving your dog’s food available at all times isn’t always a good idea, especially if you’re trying to establish a better feeding schedule.
Instead, take the food away if they don’t finish it. Next time, they could become more motivated to eat when it’s available, and the scarcity adds an extra incentive for them.
10. Give Your Dog More Activity.
Giving your dog enough physical activity is very important to stimulate their natural appetite.
Taking them for a long walk or having a vigorous play session can really help, even if it’s just playing fetch for a little while.
11. Keep Their Bowl Clean and Fresh.
Keeping your dog’s food bowls clean and free of dirt and debris can help some fussy eaters to become more curious about their food. Just like humans, dogs generally prefer fresh food.
So make sure the bowl is fresh and there’s nothing that distracts them (especially for the fussiest small breeds).
What’s The Best Dry Food Kibble For Picky Eaters?
Dry dog foods come in two main types: grain-based and non-grain-based.
Grain-Based Dog Food
The most common type of dry dog food is those made with grains like corn, wheat, barley, oats, etc. They tend to have high levels of fiber, which helps keep things moving through your pet’s digestive system.
But these foods do contain carbohydrates, which provide energy to your dog’s body.
Grain-Free Dog Food
These diets are usually based on meat, fish, eggs, vegetables, fruits, and/or dairy products. They’re often called “natural” because they don’t include any grains.
They typically offer fewer calories than grain-based formulas, but they still give your dog plenty of nutrition.
How Do I Know Which One Is Right For My Pet?
There are pros and cons to both kinds of diet. A lot depends on how active your dog is, whether they have any allergies, their age or life stages, and other factors.
Some people swear by one kind of food over another, but we recommend starting out with something safe and easy to digest first.
Then once your dog seems comfortable eating whatever you put in front of them, you can start experimenting with different options if required.
However, there may be some links between grain-free products and heart conditions, based on this FDA report which investigated the matter.
It seems veterinarians were finding heart conditions in dogs that weren’t ordinarily predisposed to these issues… and upon further investigation, it was discovered that within the 515 reports, 90% were eating grain-free food.
What To Look For
In general, it’s best to look for a dog food product that:
- Contains a high-quality source of protein (chicken, turkey, lamb, beef, fish) and ideally, these will be whole protein sources rather than cheaper meat by-product sources.
- Includes healthy fats (such as flaxseed, fish oil, sunflower oil, animal fats). These improve the scent and flavor of the food as well, which helps with fussy eating.
- Have no unwanted fillers, additives, or artificial flavors. These are less healthy, and while the artificial flavors may enhance the taste to some degree, it may also make your dog less engaged with other healthier foods.
The best dry kibble options will often feature “human-grade ingredients”, real meat, and fresh vegetables and fruits which ensure the pet food is both appetizing and nutritionally rich.
You may also find labels that state the formula is “complete meal”, which means they’re nutritionally complete.
You can also find natural prebiotics to aid healthy digestion.
Some popular brands include: Blue Buffalo, Rachael Ray Nutrish, Wellness Core, and Taste of the Wild.
What’s The Best Wet Foods For Picky Eaters?
Wet food is available in many forms including canned food, dehydrated, freeze-dried, and frozen.
It tends to come in smaller portions compared to kibbles or pellets, so it’s easier to feed multiple times per day, and it’s also more aromatic and tempting for most dogs.
So, it can be a useful addition to a fussy eater’s diet.
What To Look For
The best wet dog food will:
- Contain a specific meat source as the primary ingredient. For example, farm-raised chicken, or chicken meal.
- Offer quality fat sources, likely from animal fats (such as chicken fat), along with omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids (which promote healthy skin and shiny coat).
- Vegetables and whole grains that complement a dog’s nutritional needs (Sweet potatoes, carrots, or brown rice, usually reveal a quality product).
- Have a ‘complete and balanced’ formulation (look for the sticker on the label).
- No sugars, sweeteners, artificial flavors, colorings, or preservatives.
Should I Use Dog Food Toppers?
A good quality dog food topper can not only add some extra moisture and nutrition to your dry dog foods and kibble, but it can also improve the flavor and aroma… both of which can help with the picky eating situation.
Wet food toppers that have gravy and chunks of protein can be perfect for tempting your dog to eat, and the added moisture helps with hydration as well.
As such, using a dog food topper can be a good idea when you’re trying to encourage a picky eater to consume more food.
If you’ve tried everything else and nothing works, then maybe it’s time to try switching up what you offer your dog.
You might find that adding new flavors and textures into their daily menu may get them interested again. Or perhaps they just need something completely different.
Check all of the tips revealed in this guide and see if there are any you haven’t tried before, and track your results.
We hope our guide will give you some new tactics to try, and if you’re concerned about your dog’s eating habits then be sure to consult with a veterinarian who can take a closer look at your specific situation.