What to Do if Your Pet Is a Picky Eater

When it comes to your pets eating habits, there’s picky and there’s problem. Margaret Hoppe, DVM, of the Abingdon Square Veterinary Clinic in New York’s Greenwich Village says, “If you’re having trouble getting your pet to eat on a regular basis, and he won’t consume his food at least once a day, your dog is a picky eater.”

The question is, when does picky eating become a problem for your pet? Most veterinarians seem to agree that if a pet’s eating habits noticeably change in a short period of time, that could indicate a problem, and the best thing to do is seek a professional medical opinion.

According to Hoppe, if your dog is usually a regular eater and suddenly turns picky, that can be a sign something is wrong, because picky eating can be a symptom of a more serious problem.

Louise Murray, DVM, director of medicine for ASPCA’s Bergh Memorial Animal Hospital in New York City agrees. What concerns Murray is a change in eating habits, and the best thing to do to get to the bottom of things is to visit the vet. Murray’s advice: “If your dog has always been a voracious eater, and is becoming more selective, go to the vet after about 48 hours.”

If you’re comfortable ruling out the possibility that it’s a problem and you’re just dealing with a picky eater, here are five suggestions for getting your pet to eat well:

1) Turn delicious down 10 notches.

Humans cause pets to become picky eaters by feeding them tasty human food. In fact, it’s one of the most common causes of picky eating in pets.

Try eating a dry hot dog bun every day for a week with nothing on it. Then someone feeds you a big hunk of warm, fresh, just-out-of-the-oven herb encrusted focaccia. The next day, hunger strikes, and all you see on your plate is another hot dog bun. But you can smell better. Sure, you’re hungry, but it’s worth the wait, isn’t it?

That’s how your pet feels. An easy way to get your pet to stop being so picky is to stop doling out yummy human food, then expecting him or her to downgrade its palette and graciously accept whatever pet food morsels you normally dish out. This means cutting out table scraps, and making sure everyone else in your household is on the same page about this.

Murray agrees: “If you’re going to sometimes give your dog bacon for breakfast or steak from your plate, why would you blame him if he shies away from dry dog food?”

2) Avoid treat overload.

Pet 360 says, “Feeding your dog extra treats during the day that are tastier and more interesting than his normal dry diet can cause a finicky appetite to develop over time.”

It may not be human food, but pet treats are often richer, tastier and smellier than plain old pet food, so be mindful about how many treats you’re giving your pet throughout the day.

You could be inadvertently ruining your pet’s appetite, or worse: giving your pet a reason to hold out for something tastier. Plus, too many treats could lead to weight issues, especially if you’re not the only one in the household doling them out.

3) Get into a feeding routine.

Besides cutting out human food and excessive pet treats from the equation, another thing you can do is stick to a daily scheduled feeding routine. Pet360 advises:

Put down the proper amount of food at a regular time each day and wait. If your dog won’t eat the food, try again the next day. It won’t hurt for a day or two to go by without him eating, as long as he’s in good health and not a very young animal (or diabetic). This will help encourage his appetite for his dog food, and after a short while he should learn that this food is the only food he will be getting every day.

4) Pay attention to what you are feeding your pet. 

No one wants to eat crappy food, including your pet. Make sure the food you feed your pet is fresh and not out of date, because spoiled food could lead your pet to suddenly stop eating it. Also, choose food that is nutritious and consistent. That means you should refrain from changing the food often because this can upset your pet’s digestive system.

It’s possible that a new food flavor may just be enough to arouse your pet’s hunger, but if you do decide to change your pet’s food, do so gradually and mix some old with the new food to make the transition easier on digestion.

While there is no magic trick to get your pet to eat whatever, whenever, here are a few food tips you can try to enhance your pet’s mealtime experience, courtesy of Pet360:
• Mix in a tablespoon or two of canned food to dry kibbles for a boost of flavor
• Canned food can be warmed slightly in the microwave
• Warm water or chicken broth can be spooned over dry food to give it some warmth and extra aroma.

Vetwest points out, warming the food to body temperature will enhance the aroma of the food and also directly improve the palatability.

5) Pay attention to how you are feeding your pet.

To get your pet to eat, Vetwest suggests feeding your fussy-eater at regular times and providing smaller meals more often (3-4 times daily). Here are some of their other suggestions for getting your pet to eat well:

• Staying with your pet when food is offered;
• Petting, in conjunction with vocal reassurance, may be all that is necessary to induce eating;
• A pet that will not eat from a bowl may take food from your hand, and once they begin eating, they will usually continue voluntarily;
• Place the food in a “happy environment” that is in a quiet, traffic free area of the house or yard.

Dr. Tony Buffington of Vetstreet.com explains in this Care2 article, there’s more to pet nutrition than pet food:

“While many pet owners believe that good nutrition for their pet is all about diet, the topic is actually much broader than that. Optimal nutrition comprises complex interactions between the animal that eats the diet, the diet itself, how the diet is fed and the surroundings in which the diet is eaten. All these elements combined affect a pet’s relationship with his food.”

The best thing you can do to tackle picky pet eaters is remain positive and patient. Even if you do everything right, you may still end up challenged by a picky eating pet.

Keep in mind– some breeds are just pickier than others. So do what you can to help your pet consume a healthy amount of nutritious food, and remember that drastic changes in your pet’s eating habits can indicate a more serious problem, so when in doubt, call your vet.

For more about picky pets, check out 12 Tips to Get the Most Stubborn Cats to Eat.

Photo Credit: Thinkstock


Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus3 years ago

Thanks for sharing

Pamela A.
Pamela A4 years ago

My Lenny looooved boiled chix mixed with rice and veggies I think most dog chow on market is... Well.... Shit

Pamela A.
Pamela A4 years ago

If your dogs eating habits change there is something wrong

Ruhee B.
Ruhee B4 years ago

Never known a fussy dog but cats are usually pretty fussy. Mine is spoon fed the most expensive cat food around - I just love to spoil her :)

Fi T.
Past Member 4 years ago

No pet is bad but their master

Hussein Khalil
Hussein Khalil4 years ago


Manuela C.
Manuela C4 years ago

One of my dogs is a picky eater, but always has been. Probably his former family (he's a rescues) gave him scrapes.... He only eats if someone is there while he eats and usually after strong petting and vocal reassurance.

Telica Randall-Fraser
Telica R4 years ago

Thank you for sharing

Jan N.
Jan N4 years ago

Bubba WILL NOT eat dry food at all. I assume that was all he got when he was part of his breeder's production equipment, so I'm not going to argue with that.

He will usually eat wet food if it comes with people food, but he is also picky about that. He apparently wants new taste sensations every time, as the steak and dog food he ate one night is not acceptable the next night.

Steak! Prime rib! Hamburger! Chicken chunks! Pulled pork! (All courtesy of the housemate, who brings leftovers home but doesn't eat them). What kind of dog doesn't inhale that? The Bubba kind.

I switched him from a bowl to a plate in case he had an issue with his ears getting in his food. I always stay with him when I feed him so the cats don't eat his meal as he won't defend it, and I pet him and tell him to eat (nicely). No go. If he wants it he'll usually dive in immediately (it happens once in a while); otherwise, no encouragement will get him to eat.

His meal is what it is, so if he doesn't eat it he goes without.

Elizabeth Brawn
Elizabeth Brawn4 years ago

thank you