How to Get Your Fussy Dog to Eat (top tips for success)

Is your dog fussy and you're just asking yourself how do you get a fussy dog to eat?  Well stick around and in this article I give you my top tips to get your fussy eater eating the food you want them to.


Are they hungry?

I was asked by one of my YouTube subscribers Kay, who's got a 4 month old Labrador, about getting fussy eaters to eat.  My first thought is always "are they actually hungry".  It's very easy to overestimate the amount of food that we think that our dogs should eat, especially if we're giving them a biscuit kibble.  This is because many are actually really energy dense.  We just put down how much we think they should be getting and often we are probably be putting a little bit too much.  to make matters worse I also feel that the packaging actually does slightly overestimate the amount that we should be feeding.

So we're over feeding our dog and they're not actually finishing what we want them to (or what we think that we want them to eat).  What we then do is put something really tasty down and sure enough our dog will go and eat it.  And we say "oh they must be hungry because they've just gone  and eaten that food".

when i hear a dog is fussy, my first thought is always “are they actually hungry?”. It’s very easy to overestimate the amount of food that we think our dogs should eat

The comparison that I make is: if you had a toddler and they were full with their normal meal but you then gave them a chocolate bar what do you think would happen?  They'd eat the chocolate bar!  It's the same with our dogs.  They might be full already but you give them something really tasty and they just can't help themselves.  You might also be giving them too many treats, too many table snacks and other things.  So actually by the time it comes to mealtime, they're not hungry.

What you can do here is find out your dogs body condition score. This lets you know if your dog is a healthy weight, if they're overweight, or if they're underweight.  If your dog's a healthy weight, or if they're overweight, you know that they're getting the energy that they need.  This means that you don't need to worry about how much they're eating.  If they're overweight then clearly they are actually eating too much!

If you're wondering how much should I actually be feeling your dog then make sure you sign up to my newsletter to get your free copy of my weight and diet calculator.  This will quickly let you know what your pets ideal weight is, how much to feed them and how many treats they can have to either maintain their healthy weight or lose weight.

Is your dog healthy?

The next thing to ask with any fussy eater is "are they actually healthy".

If you're dog has always eaten really well and all of a sudden they've gone off their food, they're a little bit picky, they're not eating with their normal voracious appetite then that might suggest that they're not healthy.

if your dog has always eaten really well and all of a sudden they’ve gone off their food, it’s likely they’re not being fussy, they’re unwell

Are they vomiting?  Have they got diarrhea?  Are they starting to drink a little bit more than normal?  Do you see them urinating an awful lot more frequently?  Again, these are all signs that there might be something wrong.

Are they actually losing weight and are they losing weight quite quickly?  Again this would be a real flag that something's wrong.

We can then move to the mouth as oral health can obviously play a role in your dog being fussy if there is pain or discomfort when eating.  Have they got lots of yellow plaque and tartar over their teeth?  Is the line of their teeth and gums really red and inflamed with marked gingivitis.  The gums might even be bleeding in some cases!  Has your dog got a broken tooth?  Is their breath really smelly?  This may indicate either a dental or an oral health issue.

If you've noticed any of these things or have any other concerns then you should definitely be getting your dog checked out by your veterinarian.  Just to check that they are healthy and there's nothing else we need to worry about that could be causing a reduced appetite and it's not just your dog being fussy.  They're actually ill.

A hungry dog will eat

a hungry dog will eat, if they are being fussy they might not be hungy

Once we've established that our dog is not being overfed, that they're healthy and that they really are just fussy then we need to go about getting them onto the diet that we want.

To start with, you need to decide what diet you want to feed your dog.  There's a lot of different things that go into this which is far too much to go into today.  But once you've decided that and worked out how much you should be feeding then pop that down in the bowl and leave it down for 20 minutes.  If your dog doesn't eat it, doesn't touch it then just take up that food bowl, put it in the fridge, cover it over and leave it there.  Don't give your dog any more food at this stage.

A few hours later, pop your dogs bowl down again.  They'll be that much hungrier and they'll likely start eating.  You might though have to leave it down for another 20 minutes, take it up, put it away and again repeat the process.  If after 24 hours your dog really hasn't touched anything you may want to try and give your dog something else, something a little bit tastier, that you know they'll enjoy.  

What you really must never do though is take up an uneaten food bowl and immediately replace it with something else.  What this does is actually teach your dog that by turning their nose up and refusing their normal food they're going to get something really tasty.  If we go back to our toddlers, if every time you try to get them to eat their vegetables and they turn their noses up at them and you immediately gave them some chocolate they would learn to always refuse their vegetables.  It's the same with our dogs.  They're actually really good at training us to give them snacks that we really know aren't in their best health interests.

what you really must never do with your fussy dog is take up an uneaten food bowl and immediately replace it with something else

Transition slowly

An alternative technique to get your fussy dog to eat, and one that can work well, is to actually find something that your dog likes.  Any food that your dog enjoys eating although preferably of a similar type to what you ideally want to feed (e.g. wet or kibble).  What you can then do is slowly transition them on to the diet that you actually want them to eat.

What you do is get them eating whatever it is that they like to eat and then slowly, over the course of 3 or 4 weeks, increase the proportion of the diet that you want them to eat and reduce the amount of the other diet that they're getting.  A really slow transition means that your dog is not likely to notice it happening.  Within three to four weeks you'll have them eating the diet that you want them to eat quite happily.

Remove distractions and increase appeal

A couple of other tips and strategies that may just help the most fussy of dogs include:

  • Walk your dog, give them a lot of exercise, just before mealtime. This will help them build up an appetite so by the time it comes to dinner time they will be that much hungrier and more likely to eat.

  • Put your dog's food down and leave them to get on with it. Walk out the room and close the door. Don't hover over them anxiously. Our dogs are great at picking up on our feelings. If we are anxious then they will be too which is only going to put them off eating. Just put their food down walk away and see how they get on.

  • Feed your dog and let them eat before you start preparing any of your own meals. This will mean that your dog is not getting distracted by the sounds, sights and smells of all the food that they're not getting. Remove these and they're going to just focusing entirely on their food bowl.

  • For those dogs that really don't want to eat (especially if they are unwell rather than just fussy), is to add a little bit of warm water to their food. Alternatively we can just warm it up a little in the microwave. If you do this though make sure to mix it and leave the food to sit for a bit to make sure there are no really hot spots. Warming up your dogs food will make it smell that much stronger and more appealing.

  • Add something like a chicken or vegetable broth to your dogs food. Make sure though to avoid anything with a high salt content or any additives. This will add that little bit of extra flavor. If this works then you can slowly reduce the amount of broth you add much like the diet transition described earlier.

  • For those dogs that are unwell and really need a bit of extra encouragement, hand feeding can really make the difference. This is not something you want to do on a regular basis for a fussy dog but if they're a bit off their food for whatever reason hand feeding can help get them started again.

  • My final tip would be to maybe just add some raw vegetables such as raw carrots, broccoli or green beans to your dog's food. This can provide just that little bit of extra flavor, texture and interest to encourage your fussy dog to eat the food that you're giving them. As a bonus these are all healthy, low fat additions and don't take too much effort to prepare.

Those are all my tips for getting your fussy dog to eat.  I hope you found them interesting and useful.  I'm sure if you follow them your fussy dog will be eating the diet you want them to without a problem.

If like Kay you've got any questions or if there are any topics that you'd like me to cover then please leave a comment down below, I'd love to hear from you.

Also remember to sign up to my newsletter to get your free copy of my weight and diet calculator.

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