Signs your dog is a fussy eater - and how to fix it.
A study found that 7 in 10 parents found their dog is fussier than their children when it comes to food. And like many others, you may have tried swapping their food to see what your dog would like to stick to, but that hasn’t seemed to work. Not liking the food isn’t the only cause of fussy eating in dogs, and Barking Heads' vet Dr Scott Miller shares how to help your fussy pet love food again.
How can you tell your dog is a fussy eater?
Rest assured, your dog may not be a fussy eater if they refuse dinner here and there. Remember, just like humans, they might not be hungry at the time and may come back for it later. However, if the evening passes into night and they still haven’t touched the food, they may be a picky eater.
Some signs to look out for with fussy eating pups are:
· Not touching their food when placed in front of them
· Pushes food around their bowl but doesn’t eat much of it
· Consistently not eating the food you present
Why is my dog fussy with food?
When it comes to why your dog is a fussy eater, there are a lot of reasons, some more simple than others, such as:
· May not enjoy the flavour of food
Unlike humans, dogs have a weaker sense of taste as they have far fewer taste buds, with around 1700, whereas humans have around 9000. So, they can’t pick different flavours out as well as us. However, dogs can still taste their food, and they might not like the flavour you have chosen for them, but they don’t need the same variety as us to enjoy the food.
· Aversion to the food texture
Your pup may not like the feeling of the food as they eat it, which may lead to them not wanting to have more if they start to eat or be wary of the food again after the experience.
· Too much choice
When offered a wealth of choices of tasty food over a period of time, your dog may not want to continue eating a new food because they prefer one they’ve tried before, but as a pet parent, you may not know which food that is for them.
· Too many treats between meals
· May have a taste for human food and is reluctant to go back to their food
Like us, when dogs have a taste for the finer things in life, it’s hard to turn back. So if you find you’ve been slipping leftovers to your pup, you may have spoilt them with rich human food, and it may mean that your dog doesn’t want to eat their kibble anymore because it doesn’t match your dinner.
What other issues can cause fussy eating?
Although there are harmless habits that may lead to a dog's fussy eating, other more serious causes of fussy eating may need a vet to fix.
These are the 5 reasons your dog may need to see a vet for their fussy eating:
· May have been ill after eating a specific food
Have you ever found yourself avoiding a type of food or drink after a bad experience? Well, dogs do the same. If your dog found themselves ill for one reason or another directly after eating a meal, they may be hesitant to tuck in again to avoid being ill again.
· May have an injury in its mouth making it uncomfortable to eat
Any injury in the mouth, such as a cracked tooth or even just toothache, may lead to your pup. You may want to give them a gentle examination of their mouth to see if everything looks good. If you do notice a problem, take them for a doggy dentist appointment to get everything fixed so your pup can enjoy their meals again.
· May have anxiety
Dog behaviourist for Barking Heads, Adem Femhi, shares how anxiety can cause fussy eating. “Anxiety in dogs is often displayed through pacing, whimpering, whining or barking, shaking, panting, excessive salivation, clingy-ness to key people or pets in the home, avoidance of certain triggers, and even destructive behaviours, to name just a few of the signs.
Anxiety in dogs, just like in humans, can be a complex behaviour issue and can also affect a dog’s relationship with food. For example, in the many cases of separation anxiety that I see, a dog may be happy to eat in the presence of their owner but refuse to eat when separated. Anxiety can also play a part in digestive issues, and a worried dog can become more sensitive to some foods and even develop symptoms such as loose stools. This can make a dog feel poorly overall, and further affect their behaviour, mood and desire to eat.
· Allergies or sensitivities
Unlike people, dogs can’t tell you when they think something is wrong with their food or themselves, let alone when they are negatively reacting to food. You may notice other reactions to their food other than them avoiding it, such as your dog starting to itch after meals, they may experience diarrhoea or swelling and these may be signs of an allergic reaction to an ingredient in the food. Think of it this way; you wouldn’t want to keep eating food you’re allergic to, so why would your dog? To be sure your dog is avoiding their food due to an allergy or sensitivity, take them to a vet to formally diagnose them.
· Reaction to medication
If your dog is on medication, some ingredients in their dog food may have a negative reaction to the medicine. The symptoms are similar to those of an allergic reaction. So if you know your dog has started a new course of medication, contact your vet for further advice on what dietary changes need to be made whilst they are on the medication.
How to help your dog get over fussy eating?
Now that you know the different reasons a dog may be a fussy eater, the first step should be to identify if they have a problem with the food or whether there is a deeper issue that a vet can help you address.
Whilst a vet will put you on the right course of action, here are the steps you can take yourself to address your dog’s fussy eating:
· Reduce their options
If your dog is used to having lots of different food on rotation, slowly ween them down to one or two options they really like, limiting their options down to the ones you know they will eat.
· Limit their snacking
Keep the mid-meal treats to a minimum to encourage your pup to enjoy more of their dinner, as they may not be eating because they’re already full.
· Don’t force them to eat
You wouldn’t like to be forced to eat a dinner you’re not hungry for, or you don’t find appealing, and your dog doesn’t like this either. Leave the food for them to come to when they are ready to eat.
· Change their routine
If you find they’re not that active in the hours before a meal and then not being interested in their dinner, you may want to take them on a walk to work up an appetite before a meal. Get them moving and using their energy to encourage hunger.
· Don’t deny them food
Although it may be frustrating to see your pup not eat, don’t take away food because you don’t think they’ll eat. It may be the case that they’re not hungry at that moment so, it could be best to leave the food out for 10 minutes and then keep an eye to see if they eat it. If the food goes untouched you should pick it up and wrap it so it remains fresh, and then offer it again in an hour. This way you’re not taking their food away and you are still allowing for access and appetite to facilitate eating.
· Try giving them a little more TLC around meal
Like children, dogs may need the extra push to eat their meal, so why not try sitting with them as they eat or hand-feeding them some kibble to get them interested in the meal until they are happy to continue without you.
· Do not share human food with them
Although it may be tempting to drop your dog a piece of chicken or beef from your plate, do your best not to taint their appetite with human food. This will encourage them to eat their dinner instead of waiting for you to share yours.
· As a last resort – change their food
If all else fails, it may be time to try a different food. As mentioned before, your dog may just not like the flavour of the food, so trying a new one may encourage them to give it a taste.
What is the best dog food for fussy eaters?
When it comes to finding the best dog food for a fussy dog, it can change on a case-by-case basis depending on what food they used to enjoy and the flavour of the snacks they like. But if you’re not sure, it’s good to try flavours that appeal to dogs. For example, food that has an oily fish flavour like salmon or a gamey meat flavour like duck.
Just remember, your dog may not be a fussy eater for the sake of being fussy. Make sure to monitor how they eat and if you see any signs that may cause concern, visit a vet for the right course of action.