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Why is my Dog a Picky Eater?

Reduced or lost appetite in dogs can be stressful for pet owners and often indicates an underlying medical condition. But is there any specific reason why dogs tend to become picky eaters at some point?

There are many reasons a dog won’t eat, but they generally fall into three major categories: medical, behavioral, and food-related issues.


The medical causes of dog anorexia or hyporexia are numerous and can include anything that causes pain, nausea, lethargy, or stress:

  • Dental disease
  • Oral pain
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Intestinal parasites
  • Pancreatitis
  • Stomach upset from eating table scraps or other forbidden foods or a sudden change in food or treats
  • Infection
  • Fever
  • Cancer
  • Liver disease
  • Kidney disease
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Lung disease

These are just a few medical issues that can cause dogs to lose their appetite; there are many more possibilities.


Anxiety, stress, or fear can all cause a decrease in appetite in some dogs, just as they can in humans. Remember that what you consider stressful may not be what your dog feels stressful, and even minor events can cause anxiety and cause them to refuse to eat.

Anxiety can be triggered by changes in a dog’s routine or environment, such as new people or pets in the house, traveling, or loud noises such as construction, storms, or fireworks. Even something as simple as changing the time or location of a meal can cause stress in more sensitive dogs, making them less likely to eat.

A dog may shun their food bowl due to intimidation from another pet in the house. Many dogs dislike dining next to their housemates because there may be intimidation that we humans are unaware of. To reduce any resource guarding or intimidation, it is advised that dogs be fed separately.

If the problem is stress or anxiety-related, dogs will typically start eating again after a day or two once they have gotten used to the change. If stress and anxiety are common, some dogs may require behavioral modification or medicinal treatment to reduce them.

Food-Related Issues

The food itself may be a problem if it is stale, expired, old, or ruined. Some dogs, like jovial Labrador Retrievers, might devour whatever they see, but other breeds, like Yorkshire Terriers, might be a little pickier.

If a dog has been eating the same food for some time and has always done well with it, check the bag or can expiration date and make sure it is kept in an airtight container.

All bags and containers for dog food should be sealed, and if the expiration date has passed, the food should be discarded. Open canned food can be refrigerated for two to three days by covering it with plastic wrap or a lid to fit dog food cans.

Many pet owners wonder if their dogs might get sick of their food if they stop feeding it. A healthy, hungry dog should continue eating a particular food even if they have been eating it for a while, even though some dogs may be picky eaters.

Finding the dog food that your dog prefers can sometimes take a few attempts, but if your dog seems to get bored with one meal after another, it may be because they are receiving too many treats or human food, or they could be suffering from a medical issue.

Dogs are intelligent creatures, and they quickly figure out that if they don’t immediately consume their kibble, they might get some yummy goodies instead. Check to see if mixing kibble with canned food or gently heating the canned food is helpful before moving on to table scraps or a portion of new food.

Quickly switching diets can be counterproductive because it frequently causes stomach trouble, decreased appetite, vomiting, and diarrhea. It would be highly unusual for a dog to go without food for several days just because they are finicky. Thus it is crucial to consult your veterinarian to rule out any underlying medical concerns if this occurs.

Ways to Get a Dog to Eat

If your dog isn’t eating, you can try a few tricks to get it to eat at home.

  • Call your veterinarian to see if they have any safe suggestions or foods to feed your dog. Before introducing anything new to your pet, consult with your veterinarian.
  • Warm your dog’s food in the microwave for a few seconds before serving, and always check the temperature to ensure it won’t burn your dog’s mouth.
  • Offer baby food, beginning with plain turkey or chicken. Make certain that no additional seasonings or foods are added.
  • Feed a bland diet of cooked white rice and unseasoned boneless, skinless boiled chicken breast.
  • Make your dog’s food with sodium-free chicken broth or water.
  • Place your dog’s food on a plate that a person would eat from.
  • If your dog suffers from neck or back pain, consider placing their food on the floor rather than in a dog bowl.
  • Sprinkle the food with a small amount of low-fat mozzarella or peanut butter.

Different options may be more effective for your dog than others, and the alternatives’ efficacy may depend on the cause of your dog’s anorexia. Softer foods may appeal to a dog with dental issues; warmed food may appeal to a dog who cannot smell well due to respiratory issues, and additives such as canned chicken or chicken broth may appeal to a picky eater.

It is important to note that many picky eaters suffer from chronic low-grade GI inflammation. This means that a sensitive stomach diet may be beneficial to them. Consult your veterinarian about your dog’s eating habits to see if she can recommend a diet that will encourage your pet to eat more frequently without adding extra toppings or food. If used often, these additional toppings can add a lot of extra calories, which can lead to obesity or cause further GI upset.

When Should You Call Your Vet If Your Dog Isn’t Eating?

If you are ever concerned about your pet’s health or behavior, the best thing to do is to contact your veterinarian. They can advise you on what to look for and when to be concerned. They are aware of your pet’s history and may be able to offer advice or food to help them eat more quickly.

If your dog is refusing to eat but otherwise acting normally, you can continue to offer food and watch for any other changes for 12 to 24 hours. If the anorexia persists, or if your dog begins to lose weight, is not acting normally, is vomiting, or has diarrhea, or you notice any other changes in your dog, contact your veterinarian immediately. Share with your veterinarian any foods or treats your dog has been eating, as well as the date you first noticed changes in appetite. X-rays, blood screening, and other tests, in addition to a physical examination, may be required to determine the cause of your dog’s anorexia.

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