When Your Dog Is a Picky Eater

How to get your canine to love dog food.

By Jennifer Dixon
WebMD Pet Health Feature

Reviewed by D. West Hamryka, DVM

Wonder why your dog refuses to eat his kibble? You may need to look in the mirror. If you give your canine yummy table scraps all day long, he's likely to turn up his nose at a dinner of just plain dog food.

“If you asked your child would she rather eat spinach or a Twinkie, the answer is obvious,” says Louise Murray, DVM, a diplomate ACVIM and director of medicine for ASPCA's Bergh Memorial Animal Hospital in New York City. “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?”

The good news is that even though your dog may be a picky eater, there are ways you can encourage healthier eating.

Dogs and Food

There are two kinds of dogs. The first live to eat. They will devour anything you put in front of them. The others are those who eat to live. They pick and choose, take longer to finish meals, and sometimes won't finish them at all.

A dog's size, breed, and age often dictate whether he adores food or could care less. “Every Labrador who ever lived is food motivated,” Murray says. Smaller canines, such as Maltese and Yorkies, tend to be more discriminating.

When Does Picky Eating Become a Problem?

Margaret Hoppe, DVM, of the Abingdon Square Veterinary Clinic in Greenwich Village tells WebMD, “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.” Now if your dog has always been a picky eater, there is likely no need for concern.

A picky dog that maintains a healthy weight, is alert and perky, and has a shiny coat, is much less worrisome than one who has dropped a few pounds and has a less lustrous coat. Also, as Hoppe points out, “If you have a dog who is a regular eater that suddenly stops, that can be a sign something is wrong. Picky eating is one symptom.”

“What concerns me most is change,” Murray says. A plethora of illnesses, from dental disease to gastrointestinal issues, could explain why your dog refuses to eat. Even problems associated with old age, such as joint pain while walking to and from the bowl, could be the cause. The only way to get to the root of the problem is to visit the vet. “If your dog has always been a voracious eater, and is becoming more selective, go to the vet after about 48 hours,” Murray says. For puppies, who have less reserves, don't wait more than 24 hours.