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Fussy Dog Guide

How to Help a Fussy Dog Eat

Many dogs become fussy about their food, leaving their owners to question the reason, while feeling anxious for their furry friend’s wellbeing.

In this article, you’ll learn some of the most common causes for dogs with healthy appetites suddenly becoming fussy dogs, and how you can go about changing these frustrating behaviours.

Edited By: Anna Bain

How to Help a Fussy Dog Eat

Many dog lovers have experienced the frustration of their dog not eating. For whatever reason, your canine friend has become a fussy dog, and you’re stumped trying to figure out why. Whilst medical concerns can certainly play a part in this issue and should be ruled out, there are a number of other reasons for dogs not eating that have nothing to do with their physical health.

Helping fussy dogs become foodies is a specialist topic for Caroline Spencer, canine behaviourist with ProDog. Read on to discover insights from Caroline designed to re-ignite dinner time delight for your dogs.

Feeding a fussy dog that's not eating

It can be incredibly concerning when your dog suddenly decides not to eat. Many worst case scenarios can run through your mind, and understandably so. However, though it certainly could be due to a medical concern, more often than not it’s down to something less serious.

Many dogs experience anxiety on various levels, and for a multitude of reasons [1]. Being separated from you, other sources of fear, and even new food can all cause your dog to feel anxious and affect their willingness to eat. Also, teenage dogs go through rebellious phases just as human teenagers do, making them appear fussy when they’re simply testing limits. Giving too many treats throughout the day, where you feed your dog, the type of bowl you use, and bitches coming into heat can also be reasons for fussy dogs not eating.

Although not an exhaustive list, the above gives a small insight into some of the reasons for this seemingly perplexing behaviour. The good news is many of the causes for the sudden disinterest in food are easily resolved. Read on to find out more.

If you’re still concerned about a potential health issue, a trip to the vet can’t hurt. If there are any health concerns you’ll be made aware of them, and if not, you’ll find peace of mind at the very least.

fussy dog jumping up playfully on a dog walk having mealtime turned into a game

The best ways to get a dog not eating to eat

Consider their instinctual eating habits

Dogs didn’t invent the bowls they eat from; humans are responsible for this modern “convenience.” Therefore, it’s helpful to realise that the natural way dogs eat is actually on flat surfaces, rather than those with a concave shape. Bowls can make eating more difficult for dogs, as they’re often unable to navigate the curves comfortably. This can cause the development of anxiety around food, and can also result in fussy dogs not eating.

Flat, natural surfaces allow dogs to eat more comfortably. This is especially true for brachycephalic breeds (flat-nosed dogs such as Pugs and French Bulldogs), large breeds who can’t open their mouths wide within the confines of a bowl, and small breeds whose vision is obscured by the sides of bowls/dishes. A flat board made of olive wood, bamboo, or natural Nevea hardwood is a great choice for feeding your fussy dog; these are all antibacterial and encourage licking, which has a natural calming effect.

Place flat boards away from corners or walls to allow for your dog to walk around them completely. This gives them a 360° view of their surroundings, helping them to feel safe whilst eating. Also, remember to wash after each use, carefully rinsing away any washing liquid residue to ensure that your dog’s fantastic sense of smell doesn’t put them off again!

Natural eating routine

Dogs can sense how you’re feeling [2], and are more likely to eat when you’re both relaxed. Yes, how you’re feeling is important, too! This method is our go-to, no-fuss approach that we recommend for fussy dogs:

  • Choose a quiet half-hour at home.
  • Call your dog into the room you prepare their food in and shut the door.
  • Refrain from interacting with your dog. Allow them to watch you without distractions, which is how they learn best.
  • Play some calming music such as soft rock, classical, or reggae on low volume.
  • For some dogs warming their food by adding a splash of bone broth may help.
  • Place their food in dollops across their feeding board.
  • Put their food down without asking anything of them (this helps to keep anxiety/pressure to a minimum).
  • Step four paces away and sit down with your back facing your dog’s food.
  • Do something quiet to occupy yourself.
  • If your dog comes to you at any point, turn your face away from them to avoid eye contact (they will then return to their food).
  • When your dog comes back a second time, pick up their board and put any remaining food back in the fridge.
  • Repeat this process at every meal time. By the third day they should be eating their normal portion.
  • No treats or edible enrichment until your fussy dog is eating well, then keep to conservative amounts going forward.

If your dog doesn’t finish their meal, simply pop the leftovers in the fridge until their next meal time. Stick with the routine, and they’ll gradually eat more with each meal over a period of a few days. Preferred feeding times differ with each dog; for example, anxious dogs tend to do better with the evening meal, some dogs prefer an earlier breakfast, and others like to wait until after the family’s morning routine is complete. You know your dog best, so work with their natural preferences.

NOTE: I recommend sitting in the room with your dog to avoid them becoming anxious about you disappearing, which allows them to remain relaxed and encourages eating.

Here is how ‘The Natural Eating Routine’ works in practice

Caroline Spencer, demonstrates step by step in this video.

 

YouTube video

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Enrichment/Forage feeding

Working for food is a natural and enjoyable activity for dogs: it gives them a sense of achievement and stimulates their minds. Wolves and wild dogs naturally forage for food between hunts [3], which you can also encourage in your pet dog. Fussy dogs may simply be bored with the easy, effortless delivery of their meals, which is why this method can be helpful:

  • As with the natural eating routine, ensure the environment is relaxing and calm, and that you’re relaxed, too.
  • Make time for your dog to eat whilst you sit nearby without watching them.
  • Stuff a natural, hollow product such as a dried trachea, calf hoof, or buffalo horn with your dog’s meal. If you have multiple, stuff small portions of their food into a few of these.
  • Put them down in the kitchen or garden, and allow your dog to dig in.
  • For dogs that are more comfortable with easier foraging methods, place dollops of their food on a flat board as outlined in the natural eating routine.

Opportunity Knocks method

This method is particularly useful for dogs who hang around and take advantage of any spills whilst you’re cooking. Though it’s not a great idea to encourage this, fussy dogs can actually benefit from this method, and you can always revert to the above processes once they’re eating normally again.

  • As before, create a quiet environment with soft music and no interaction from you.
  • Pop a board or plate on the floor on each side of yourself, a couple of feet apart.
  • Roll their food into little balls, dropping one on the board by your side.
  • Step and turn away, resuming your quiet activities.
  • As your dog comes around, drop another ball on the board by your feet.
  • Turn away and step towards the other board.
  • If there is food left on the board at any point, stop and pick up the boards.
  • Try again at the next meal time.
  • Migrate gradually to the natural eating routine by placing more dollops on the boards over the next few days.

 

Here is how ‘The Opportunity Knocks’ method works in practice

Caroline Spencer, demonstrates step by step in this video.

 

YouTube video

Recaller tactics

Dogs love playing games with you, which you can absolutely use to your advantage with fussy dogs not eating. Creating a game to disguise meal time helps them to relax, rewards them for a job well done, and gives them their favourite treat in the world: time with you!

  • Make little balls of food, ProDog’s raw dog food ranges are ideal for this, and pop in a bag.
  • Wear a latex glove or use a wooden spoon or a squeeze bottle for delivery.
  • Play “chase” in the garden or on a walk, using their food as a reward. Dogs will relax and enjoy themselves when you do the same!
  • Migrate to the enrichment/forage feeding method gradually after a couple of days.

Hand feeding

Puppies or very anxious/nervous dogs can often present as fussy dogs. Hand or spoon feeding can be helpful when getting these dogs used to eating normally, or when introducing a new food.

Remember to avoid eye contact and remain calm and quiet, keeping the environment relaxed whilst you feed them. Once they’re taking food happily and are accustomed to eating their normal portion this way, you can gradually migrate them to the enrichment/forage feeding method, and later, the natural eating routine.

dog not eating simply holding out for more treats

The causes of a dog not eating

Regular testers

If you find yourself buying new foods often only to find that your dog’s gone off their food a short while later, you may simply have a regular tester on your hands. These dogs appear to love their food for a few weeks, but then all of a sudden become fussy dogs, though they’ll happily take treats from you when offered! Of course, as a loving dog owner this is likely to concern you, as it seems your dog isn’t eating their food. Not to worry, though; the natural eating routine method, mentioned above, will help encourage your dog to eat more consistently.

Teenage rebellion

Your innocent puppy may have recently become a problem child, practising behaviours such as chewing, barking, and soiling the house. This can also include refusing to eat, and while it makes no sense to us humans, it’s all a part of growing up. Adolescent dogs are naturally rebellious [4], and between the ages of about 4-18 months they can be quite vexing. Thankfully, the methods outlined above and below will still help your teenage pup resume their eating habits.

Anxiety issues (theirs and ours)

Anxiety affects appetite, therefore dogs with these types of issues often struggle to eat. Their worry of you leaving them alone can play a part in this, as can general anxiety that simply causes their tummies to feel uncomfortable. Anxiety produces various behaviours such as barking, lunging, and backing away. However, some dogs’ nervousness is more subtle, leading to behaviours like refusing to eat.

Likewise, humans can understandably become anxious when our dogs are not eating, which dogs will pick up on. This only adds to their preexisting anxiety, causing a never ending cycle of worry for both of you. It’s important to know that dogs can miss a meal once in a while, just as humans can.

In fact, fasting has many known health benefits for dogs and humans. As natural scavengers, and opportunistic feeders, the natural evolution of dogs means they are anatomically designed to go long periods of time without food. Remembering this will help you to remain calm when your dog’s not eating.

Feeding too much

Whilst it’s true that some dogs will eat until we stop them, others do know when they’ve had enough. This might be what your dog is trying to tell you; they may not be a fussy dog at all!

A quick check of their body condition score will help you to determine if they’re over eating. If their results are normal, consider giving less treats and see if their meals start disappearing again. If they’re not big treat eaters, a reevaluation of their meal size may be in order. ProDog’s raw dog food calculator will help you to figure this out.

The best food for fussy dogs

Whilst all dogs are different, many times introducing a raw, species-appropriate diet is all they need to get excited about meal times again. Often dogs eat the same meals day in and day out, leaving their appetite bored and food seeming less than appealing. Likewise, their dry or canned food may simply not be providing them with the nutritional satisfaction that they need, causing them to instinctively avoid it.

Trying new and varied proteins such as ProDog’s many complete raw dog food options will not only excite their palate, but also provide them with the nutrients they need for balanced digestion and optimal health.

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What to do if your dog has gone off raw food

When it comes to raw feeding dogs, it is not unusual to hear reports from dog owners that their dog has gone off raw dog food or won’t eat raw food anymore. Often the dog has been on a raw diet for a while, seemingly loving it at first, before becoming increasingly fussy and appearing to favour certain options over others.

This situation can be concerning, and a typical response when a dog stops eating raw food is to try another raw brand or revert to processed foods. Many owners assume their dog doesn’t like the old food any more, but often this is not the case. 

All of the tips contained in this article apply, regardless of the type of food your dog eats. In our experience, many times a dog seems to have gone off their raw food the reason is straightforward; they just aren’t hungry.

If you analyse how much you feed your dog, including ALL of the treats they get in a day versus what they should be eating, you may be overfeeding them. 

Of course, this scenario occurs with the best intentions and sometimes without realising it. We have dog owners contact us frequently to say their dog won’t eat, only to discover that this is because they are being fed more than they need and therefore aren’t hungry. 

This is especially common around 9 or 10 months old when growth rates slow, and puppies no longer need as much to eat.

To add further confusion to the issue, a dog refusing to eat raw may be drawn to a new raw option or alternative food, but this is often short-lived as it’s just the new and exciting smell they are enticed by. If they are not hungry, the dog will eventually behave the same, refusing the food again. 

It’s not uncommon for some dog owners to go through every raw food on the market until they give up or figure out that the dog is not hungry.

If this sounds familiar, assess your dog’s food quantities as a priority. You can use ProDog’s raw food calculator as a guide, don’t forget to include EVERY treat and titbit that passes your dog’s lips into your overall daily food quantity calculations. 



Ways to make your dog’s food more appealing

Adjust the temperature

Every dog is different, and as such, so are their eating preferences. Some dogs are fine with their food being cold, whilst others prefer it to be at room temperature or even a little warmer. Try playing around with your dog’s meal temperatures and see if that changes how they feel about their food.

Please note, if you’re feeding raw food containing bone the food should only ever be flash fried (for a few seconds) or warmed with hot water or bone broth. Cooking bone content through can result in splintering.

Add extra incentives

Adding something irresistible to their meals will often help fussy dogs find their way back to eating normally again. Drizzling some warm bone broth over their food, mixing in some crumbled Black Pudding Training Treats, or adding a raw egg can work wonders to change how they feel about their meals.

Change the delivery method

Some dogs prefer smaller patties/nuggets over large piles, and vice versa. Their preferences depend on various factors, from mouth feel to ease of access, etc. Consider how your dog’s food is delivered, and try switching it up a little. This may make all the difference!

Causes of loss of appetite in dogs

There are a plethora of reasons why dogs may lose their appetite, medical and otherwise. It’s important to note that if your dog’s loss of appetite has come on suddenly, a vet visit is in order. The various causes of loss of appetite can be perplexing to decode, but here are some common reasons your dog may have gone off their food:

  • Pain or feeling otherwise unwell
  • Puppies overwhelmed by new environment/new food
  • Texture/smell/taste of new food that they’re unfamiliar with
  • Anxious behaviour/fussing by humans
  • Saving their appetite for more treats
  • Put off by bowl/dish
  • Not liking location of feeding area
  • Females being in season
  • Male dog scenting a female in season
  • Unbalanced pack dynamics (one dog uneasy eating around other/s)
  • Dental issues such as puppy teething or something stuck, painful teeth/gums for older dogs
  • Constipation or other digestive issues
  • Rebellious teenagers between 4 and 18 months
  • Medications including vaccinations and chemical parasite control methods
  • Warmer weather

Fussy dog not eating FAQs

Why won’t my dog eat his food?

There are multiple reasons that dogs refuse their food, from medical concerns to simply not being hungry, female dogs being in heat, anxiety, and several others. Getting them checked by your vet will help to identify or rule out any medical issues.

Why has my dog suddenly become a fussy eater?

Illness, injury, loud noises around their food bowl, and many other reasons might cause your dog to become a fussy eater. If this has come on suddenly, take your dog to the vet to ensure they’re not ill or in pain.

Why is my dog hiding food and not eating?

Hiding food often happens when dogs aren’t hungry at the moment, causing them to “bury” their food (nosing around the bowl trying to cover it). Anxious dogs may hide their food in a quiet place, and dogs with food possession issues may attempt to reserve their food for later. There are several reasons for dogs hiding food; trying the above methods should help to curb these behaviours.

Do dogs go off food when in season?

Yes, they can. Hormonal changes can cause irritation, they may be feeling discomfort, or possibly just need less sustenance due to decreased exercise. Also, males may be less interested in eating when a neighbour dog or pack mate is in heat, as they’re instinctively drawn to her and distracted from their food.

Will dogs not eat if they miss someone?

Possibly, yes. Separation anxiety is a common cause of dogs not eating, leading them to wait until their person is safe at home before relaxing enough to enjoy their meal.

My dog won’t eat from a bowl but will eat from my hand, what do I do?

Some dogs feel more relaxed about eating when you’re present, and may find comfort in being hand fed. Try swapping their bowl for a flat board as detailed earlier, and start hand feeding just above it. Eventually, you can drop the food from your hand onto the board, whilst staying close until they’re more confident.

When should I worry about my dog not eating?

If your dog is suddenly not eating when they’re usually fine with their food, take them to the vet. Puppies under eight months need to eat regularly, so they should also be checked by your vet if their eating habits change. If all is well, try not to worry; your anxiety is felt by your dog and will affect their eating habits.

How long should you wait to see a vet with a fussy dog?

As above, if your dog suddenly stops eating, seek veterinary attention immediately. Likewise, a vet visit is warranted if any vomiting or other digestive upset symptoms are present. If your vet rules the cause behavioural, feel free to contact ProDog Raw’s expert feeding advisors for support.

Can a dog not eat for a day?

Yes, dogs can handle (and even benefit from) a break from their normal feeding routines. In fact, a fasting day once a week can be a helpful way to reset the gut, restoring balance and encouraging a healthy microbiome. This helps their immune systems remain strong, keeps digestion regular, and contributes to their overall health.

How long can a dog not eat for?

Whilst dogs obviously need food to survive and remain healthy, they can actually go without eating for 3-5 days as long as they’re drinking water. However, there are cases where dogs go much longer and manage to survive; not that this is ever recommended! Puppies, however, need to eat every day to maintain their growth and development.

Is it cruel to feed a dog once a day?

Not at all! In fact, many owners of perfectly healthy and happy dogs choose to feed once a day. However, puppies shouldn’t be fed once a day until their growth and development are complete.

What to feed a fussy dog?

Fussy dogs, like all dogs, thrive on a species-appropriate, raw food diet. High-quality meat proteins, healthy fats, bone, offal, and small amounts of healthy plant fibre provide dogs with all the nutrients they need for optimal health. If your fussy dog is picky about their protein, try another! Varied protein sources are the best way to ensure all nutritional needs are met, so they can pick and choose their favourites.

Transforming fussy dogs with the diet that nature intended

When dogs are off their food it’s natural to worry. However, there are many causes for this behaviour that are simple to fix, and they’re not always as serious as you may think.

Feeding a raw, meat-based diet ensures that dogs are getting all the nutrients they need to thrive, even the fussy ones! The helpful methods outlined in this article will aid you in getting your dog back on track.

Dog not eating?Contact ProDog Raw for tailored advice from our expert team

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References

1. Salonen, M., Sulkama, S., Puurunen, J., Hakanen, E., Tiira, K., Araujo, C., Lohi, H. Mar 2020. Prevalence, comorbidity, and breed differences in canine anxiety in 13,700 Finnish pet dogs. Scientific Reports;, 10(2962). Doi: 10.1038/s41598-020-59837-z

2. Albuquerque, N., Guo, K., Wilkinson, A., Savalli, C., Otta, E., Mills, D. Jan 2016. Dogs recognize dog and human emotions. Biology Letters,; 12(1). Doi: 10.1098/rsbi.2015.0883

3. Stahler, D., Smith, D., Guernsey, D. Jul 2006. Foraging and Feeding Ecology of the Gray Wolf (Canis lupus): Lessons from Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, USA. The Journal of Nutrition,; 136(7):1923S-1926S. Doi: 10.1093/jn/136.7.1923S

4. Tonya Wilheim, Dogs Naturally Magazine. Adolescent Dogs: The Teenage Years. Accessed June 2023. https://www.dogsnaturallymagazine.com/the-teenage-years-adolescent-dogs/

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1 comment

avenue17

It seems to me it is excellent idea. Completely with you I will agree.

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