What to do when your dog is a picky eater

It is natural for most dogs to love food and to scarf meals down in a matter of minutes.

If your dog won’t eat her food, I generally do not recommend you switch her food or add extra goodies to her meals. Instead, these simple ideas typically work. But first, make sure your dog is not sick.

If a dog who normally has a good appetite suddenly won’t eat, there’s a good chance she is not feeling well. Watch for less noticeable signs such as more sleeping than normal, less interest in toys or a refusal to drink water.

If you don’t think your dog is sick, here are some tips to help a picky eater eat her meals. For raw feeders, see our post: What to do when your dog won’t eat raw meat.

What to do if your dog is a picky eater

1. Feed your dog on a regular schedule.

Dogs like a routine. I feed mine twice a day. I put their bowls of food out in the morning and in the evening, and they almost always finish their food.

Some trainers recommend feeding your dog after a walk, treating the meal as a reward or for allowing the dog to “earn” her meal. If your dog is especially picky, I recommend you give this a try because most dogs actually like to work for their food. They love to work!

2. If she doesn’t eat within five minutes, throw the food away.

If Ace doesn’t finish his food within a certain amount of time, I put the bowl away.

If he doesn’t eat his breakfast, I put the bowl in the fridge and offer it to him later for dinner. If he doesn’t eat it then either, I throw it in the trash.

3. Make your dog sit for a few minutes before she eats.

I always ask my dogs to do something before they get fed, even if it’s just a simple sit. That way, the food is a reward. This is a perfect time to practice obedience. Sometimes I have Ace sit for five minutes while I prepare my own breakfast. Then I release him, and he can eat his food while I eat mine. For a real challenge, I ask Ace sit and stay while I eat my entire meal.

4. Know how much food your dog is getting and decrease it.

If your dog is not eating her food or not finishing it, then she is likely getting more than enough to eat. So, for the next meal, decrease the amount a little. My dogs eats when they’re hungry, so if they don’t finish their food, I know they’re getting plenty. You can always increase the amount again later.

5. Give your dog more exercise.

Just like with people, a dog that doesn’t get enough exercise doesn’t need a lot of food. If your dog won’t eat, try increasing her exercise. Take her for a longer walk the next day, or throw the ball around the yard on top of a walk.

6. Make sure she is not distracted while she eats.

When Ace was younger, he would rather play with his toys than eat. And he would rather go for a walk than eat. So if I was anywhere near the front door after I fed him, he’d follow me around instead of eating. If his tennis ball was out, I had to put it away or he wouldn’t eat.

7. Cut back on treats throughout the day.

Except during training, my dogs don’t get extra treats during the day. They might get a bully stick here and there, but that’s about it.

8. Don’t add canned food, treats or people food.

I never add extra goodies to my dog’s food. He gets his dry dog food and that’s it. Dogs are not like humans. If you are feeding your dog a quality food, then she should be getting all she needs in that diet. A little something extra is fine every now and then. But don’t use treats to bribe your dog to eat unless you want to do this for every meal for the rest of your dog’s life. You are just teaching her to be a picky eater if you do this.

9. Don’t switch foods.

Don’t switch your dog’s food unless you plan to use the new food permanently. If you switch foods, go with a healthy dog food like a raw dog food diet or a grain-free food. I recently began switching my dog’s food because I want to feed him a different brand. I am still making the switch slowly, by mixing the two kinds together for a few weeks. If you switch your dog’s food cold turkey, you are almost guaranteed to have a dog with an upset stomach. The worst thing you can do is change your dog’s food over and over. Just stick to one kind of food.

18 thoughts on “What to do when your dog is a picky eater”

  1. Great Article!
    It always amazes me when people tell me their dogs wont eat. I have NEVER had that problem with my pack unless somepaw had a tummy ache. They lick out the bowls and each others… Dinner time is always at scheduled times and they have internal alarm clocks – incase I were to “forget” they sure let me know!

  2. My girl had an eating issue once when she wasn’t sick. She had been eating the same food for years and when I bought a new brand – she was fine! Even dogs get tired of eating the same thing over and over. Of course, I didn’t make this decision without speaking to my vet first – it was her idea.

    Apryl DeLancey’s last blog post..Wild World of Wednesday – April 23, 3008

  3. Great article. I’m having some problems with my dog gaining weight and my mom overfeeding her! Some big changes will be made to her diet to improve her health and after hearing a lot of good things about the BARF diet, I’m deciding to give it a go. What do you think about BARF?

    Liza S.’s last blog post..The Burial

  4. I feed my dog dry food, so I do not know a lot about the BARF diet. We did sell it at a store I worked at. It is a raw diet for dogs and claims to be all natural and healthy, and I’m sure it is. The BARF food comes in bags that need to be kept frozen or refrigerated. And this food looks pretty nasty because it is raw, after all. If you are willing to pay more, have enough freezer space and are willing to take a few extra minutes to prepare the food, then why not try it? Of course, switching to the BARF diet will not solve your dog’s weight problems, but it might be healthier for her.

  5. I personally would not feed my dog Purina, or anything you can buy at a big pet store chain. Those foods are mass-produced and full of…well, fillers. However, I have a friend whose mom has had dogs all her life and has always fed them whatever was on sale at the supermarket. Really! She would switch them cold turkey. She had three dogs she did this for, and all lived past age 14!
    So, while I would never do this personally, I can’t really compete against that. 😛

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      I’ve also known several dogs who lived long lives while eating cheap foods the whole time. I try to feed my dog the best food I can afford.

  6. my 12 months old female toy poodle is a very picky eater….i’v tried various brands of dry n wet food….i just don’t know what to do …..(1st choice,ishkan,royal canine, science plan……frisian…cesar…..pls advise……i’m residing in penang,west malaysiaq.

    1. Don’t worry my toy poodles are picky & may not eat much but will eat when they are hungry. My vet told me that would be the case when I first got them & he told me not to worry.

  7. I have a dog who is the king of picky eaters. I’ve tried every brand and type of food available. Had him to the vet several times but they never find anything wrong. The vet said not to worry because if the dog gets hungry enough,he will eat. Is this true or can a dog starve itself?

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      I agree with the vet. A dog won’t starve himself unless he has something physically wrong. I think your dog will eat a few bites when he’s actually hungry. That might only be every other day or so.

  8. I am so frustrated with my dog not eating, he will go days without and then he is physically sick bring yellow bile up. I even tried DIY raw feeding and he started to get picky leaving the mince beef. I am not confident in feeding DIY raw and much rather he had a kibble. I do all the right th8ngs, feeding after a walk, takng the food up if, he hasn’t eaten within 30 mins. He isn’t I’ll! HELP.!

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      Do you consistently pick up the food after 15 minutes each meal? If you do that twice a day he will eventually eat. Don’t offer him food other than those 15 minutes of meal times. He might not eat for a day or two but eventually he will because he’ll be hungry. Although, make sure there’s no medical reason for him not eating.

  9. This is incredibly poor advice that will lead to malnutrition if followed, particularly on a longer-term basis. These suggestions do not at all provide a solution to the issue at hand: what to do if your dog is a picky or fussy eater? Sure, the dog will not starve himself, but he might go several days without eating, eventually causing nausea and illness. I feel like the author of this article has never met a truly stubborn toy poodle.

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