One of the most common “complaints” we hear from customers is that their dog is finicky or a picky eater.    Most people expect dogs to eagerly anticipate dinner time and eat with gusto.  However, some dogs are just not very food motivated.  Smaller dogs tend to be picky more often that larger dogs and generally there is no cause for concern.  If your dog maintains a healthy weight, has a shiny coat, is active and alert you shouldn’t worry too much.   However, If your dog normally has a healthy appetite and the change in appetite comes on suddenly, especially if accompanied by diarrhea or vomiting, then there could be a medical issue.  In this instance, see your veterinarian if your dog does not eat in 48 hours, 24 hours for puppies.     

Barring any medical issues, what can cause a dog to be picky?  The number one reason is humans who feed table scraps.  It’s hard to resist those big brown eyes staring at you while you eat but please don’t feed from the table.  This will only reinforce the begging behavior.    

You should also evaluate how you respond to your pet being picky.  Do you pet them to try and get them to eat?  Perhaps you console your pet or feed them by hand.  Your pet could be craving attention more than they are craving food.  Giving a pet this attention at mealtime will only reinforce the finicky behavior.    

Is your pet anxious or have there been changes in the household?  Anxiety is often a cause for not eating.    

They may just not be hungry.  If you think this is possible, look for other sources of food.  Are they getting into trash and finding food there?  Are they eating feces in the backyard?   Is a neighbor or other family members giving them treats when you are not looking?  Make sure they are not being fed by multiple family members. Any of these situations could cause your dog to feel full and not want to eat at dinner time.   

Finally, he may just not like the food he is given.  Check to make sure it is fresh.  Both canned and dry food have expiration dates.  Manufacturers can also change their formulas.  Suspect this if your pet suddenly decides he no longer wants to eat a food he previously ate.   After you have tried three different brands and both wet & dry formulas, look for another reason for not eating.    

Here are some practical tips for dealing with your picky eater:  

Start early, have a plan even before bringing home a new dog.  

Don’t feed from the table. Keep dog food and people food separate, you don’t want them to associate your food with their food.   

Set a schedule for meal times and stick to it.  Dogs appreciate routine.  

Require 100% participation from the whole family.  One person feeding too many treats can undermine all of your efforts.  

Try changing their food by using a new protein or texture.  

Putting a treat or two in with their regular meal may be the enticement your pet needs to eat.  

Try add-ins such as toppers, canned food, bone broth or healthy “human” foods like bananas, blueberries or carrots.  Make sure it is mixed in well so they can't pick out just the goodies.  

Try warming their food with the water or broth you are topping it with.  Dogs senses of smell are much more acute than their sense of taste.  Warming will help release scent molecules that will entice your pet to eat.  

Try “preparing” their food on the stove or counter.  It may make them think it is people food.  

Setting up a specific place for your pet to eat can also help.  Put their food down and walk away, especially if they have been using picky behavior to get your attention.   

If they do not eat after 15 to 20 minutes remove their food.  Stay strong and don’t give in to begging. Eventually they will figure out they need to eat at mealtime. 

Finally, be patient with the change.  Don’t worry about skipping meals.  Your dog will eventually choose to eat rather than go hungry.