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  • Writer's pictureVirginia Dare

What to Do About Picky Eaters

Does your dog shun the meals you offer?

Do you have a dog who is very fussy about their food? Do you worry they're not eating enough and/or do you find yourself switching foods or doctoring up their bowl to make the meal more enticing? Is mealtime becoming a stressful chore? If so, you may find some helpful tips in this article, which is geared toward picky eaters who do not have an underlying health problem that's causing a lack of appetite.

I've personally only had one dog in my life who was a grazer, meaning he picked at his food during the day whenever he felt hungry. When I adopted him, he was the only dog I had, so allowing him to graze didn't really cause me any concern. But when a pup joined the home, he was switched to a scheduled-meal routine because I wasn't going to leave his food out indefinitely for the pup to snarf up instead. (Turns out, he was suddenly motivated to eat his meals when served thanks to some competition inspired simply by the new pup's presence.)

If you have just one pet in your home who chooses to graze throughout the day, that's not necessarily a problem, unless:

  • Your dog isn't yet house-trained and the unpredictable times when food is consumed makes it harder to predict the timing for potty breaks

  • You plan to have someone else care for your dog in their home where only scheduled feedings are possible, i.e., to prevent other household pets from eating the food. This could make for an unhappy transition for your dog while staying in that home.

Personally, I would no longer want my pets to graze, nor do I want to doctor up meals in an attempt to entice a dog to eat. Instead, I serve a variety of healthy foods at certain times of the day and they have a few minutes to eat. If anything is left over, it is picked up and food will be available again at the next scheduled meal. No healthy dog will starve themself, and will simply catch up on calories when hungry. (And, as an aside, lots of my clients' dogs who are described as fussy eaters are at a perfect weight, so they are eating exactly the right number of calories to maintain that healthy weight and there's zero reason for the person to fret.)

If you don't mind doctoring up your dog's meals to entice them to eat, that is certainly your choice. If you don't mind hand-feeding your dog or placing their bowl in various locations around the house while softly pleading with them to eat, that too is your choice. But here are a few reasons why doctoring up meals and adding drama to feeding times can pose problems down the road:

  • If someone else has to care for and feed your dog, will they be willing to jump through hoops to get your dog to eat?

  • If one day an underlying illness causes your dog to have a low interest in food, it could take you longer to notice that something is wrong and thus delay vet care.

  • If your dog is ever sick and your vet has told you it's important for them to be eating at least a small amount of food each day, special and rare foods can be used to pique the dog's appetite. But if you regularly have to cycle through all kinds of special foods to get your dog to eat when he's feeling fine, those foods won't be sufficiently enticing when you really do need them.

Some kindhearted pet parents create fussy eaters unintentionally. After all, many of us see providing food as a way to show our love. But, when mealtimes become stressful for both the person and the dog, something needs to shift. The good news is, this problem is usually quite easy to resolve!

If you need some assistance in reducing mealtime drama, I'd be happy to help and can easily provide advice remotely for this issue. Please contact me at

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