We have a lot of clients with picky dogs. It’s a frustrating experience, especially since dogs are supposed to be food motivated! Isn’t that sort of the point? Apparently mini poodles missed the memo…
Over the last couple years we’ve cracked some pretty good tips for when your dog won’t eat. Follow these steps, and leave a comment below or contact us if you have any questions!
Step 0: Rule out health problems
This guide assumes your dog is in good health. Not eating or having a low appetite is a common sign of many forms of illness. If your dog is normally fine with their meals and stops eating suddenly, check if they’ll take their favourite treat, look out for other possible symptoms like lethargy, and make a call to your vet.
Ok onto the steps!
Step 1: Limit food availability to specific meal times, preferably after exercise
Do not leave food out all day. Dogs may become complacent about their food if it’s always available; you want them to have a little drive when it comes to their food.
Our guidance is to leave food down for 15 minutes, then pick it up (put it in the fridge if it’s not a shelf-stable food) and offer again in an hour or so. If they still won’t eat, wait until the next meal time to offer food again.
Giving your dog a good walk or run before their meal will build up some hunger, and even stimulate digestive juices so they are ready to get all the nutrition they need.
Remember, puppies under 6 months should be eating 3 meals a day, 6-12 months twice a day, and healthy adults can eat just one meal a day. We go back to 2 meals a day when they become seniors at around 8 years.
Step 2: Reevaluate their feeding amounts and check their weight
Some dogs don’t finish their food because there is simply too much! If they are always full, of course they won’t be ready to eat anything you offer them.
Assess if you’re feeding too often, or if they are overweight (see chart below).
Remember, feeding guides on the box or bag are guidelines, not hard rules. Your dog’s age, exercise level, and metabolism mean they may need less food than it suggests!
[image from The Vet UK]
Step 3: Offer a smaller portion
A big plate of food can be intimidating, especially for small dogs.
Start by offering them ⅓ of their meal size and if they finish, give them the next ⅓ and so on until they’re done.
Step 4: Try a new kind of food
Whether it’s just a topper, trying a new protein, or switching food completely, these are the most palatable foods we’ve seen, in order:
- Tripe - this is a stinky ingredient which is nutrient packed and most dogs LOVE. Feed it as a topper or find a recipe that contains it
- Freeze-dried foods - this can be a fully balanced meal (see our collection here) or just add freeze-dried toppers to the food you’re feeding.
- Raw - we prefer feeding this on its own but some people combine raw and dry foods
- Wet food - canned wet food is popular as a topper for kibble, you can get canned tripe which often is a hit
- Home cooked/gently cooked - you can again select a balanced premade gently cooked, or partly cook some meat at home to add to their food
- Dehydrated - Smack is a meat-forward dehydrated that picky dogs generally prefer. Air dried foods like Zeal and Ziwi Peak are also a favourite!
Step 5: Make meal-times fun
Some dogs don’t want everything handed to them on a silver platter. Try putting their food in a slow feeder, or giving them pieces of food as a reward on walks and in training sessions.
Part out their recommended feeding amount in the morning so you know they’re getting the right amount by the end of the day.
Step 6: Play with moisture, temperature, and texture
Some picky dogs really are picky about a specific aspect of their foods. Here are some ways to adjust this:
- Add hot water just before mealtime to warm up their food.
- Try feeding frozen nuggets, some dogs prefer the food cold!
- Soak their food for longer or shorter to see if that makes a difference
- Add more or less water for a different texture.
- Try a dehydrated food like Honest Kitchen that is more powdery for an oatmeal-like consistency, or Smack for a crunchier texture.
- If feeding raw, check how many times the bone or meat has been ground. For example Iron Will is triple ground but there are still some chunks of bone visible, where Red Dog is very soft and mushy.
Step 7: Mix it up, a LOT
If you’ve been trying to find something your dog will eat and you feel like you’ve hit the jackpot with a specific freeze-dried protein, think again. They will likely be bored of that in a week and you’ll be back to square one.
Keep their meal times interesting by rotating proteins, adding a different topper every couple of days, and feeding out of different toys. Staying one step ahead of them may feel like more work, but it will prevent that familiar headache you get when they take one look at the food, look up at you, and take two steps back.