Is your dog actually a fussy eater? And tips to get your fussy pup to eat

We all know a pup who’s a fussy eater. Whether it’s our own, our friend’s, or a regular at the park. Sometimes we joke about it because it’s funny to see a dog acting like a furry diva. They really are just little humans sometimes! Just like we have our preferences, so do they. But as funny as it may be to watch them turn their noses up at their dinner, real fussiness can be frustrating and worrying.

If it goes on long enough, it can send you into a panic spiral. 

“Why are they so fussy!?”

“How do I even fix this!?”

“Are they actually fussy about their food or is there an even bigger problem!?”

Your mind races with these and probably a million other questions. But let us be the first to say don’t panic – it’s not an impossible situation to solve.

Often, dogs aren’t truly fussy at all. There are plenty of reasons why they might be refusing their food. So before you go out and splash your cash on expensive new foods, we need to find out if they’re actually fussy or if something else is at play here.

And if it turns out they are being divas, we’ll offer some tips to help you get them to eat their kibble.

So let’s just dive straight in.

Are they actually fussy?

If you’ve put down a bowl of delicious, nutritious, mouthwatering kibble and they look up at you like you handed them actual garbage, it might not be because they’re fussy.

Now, obviously it looks that way, but there are loads of reasons your pup could be behaving like this. Let’s look at some possibilities. 

First, imagine you’re lactose intolerant. Now imagine that every time you sit down to eat you’re given a nice, big, cheesy slice of pizza, and there’s no other option. The pizza is always delicious but after every single meal, it leaves you feeling bloated, sick, and on the toilet for hours. Safe to say you’re going to be reluctant to eat it again. 

And it’s the same with dogs. If a certain food doesn’t go down right, they aren’t going to be ecstatic about eating it again. So that “fussy” doggo could actually just be one that’s tired of feeling ‘ruff’ after each meal. 

If you think your pup has a food intolerance, keep an eye out for other symptoms like vomiting, yellowish diarrhoea, excessive farts, scratching, inflamed skin, and chronic ear infections. 

Allergies can also cause what seems like fussy behaviour, although other symptoms such as scratching are more common. 

Takeaway for breakfast, lunch, and dinner

Another possibility is that the food you’re giving your pup just isn’t…. very good. They need a balance of nutrients from high-quality sources, so if they’re getting food made from animal derivatives, starch, and other nasties, they won’t want it.

Since “animal derivatives” could mean literally any part of any animal, they might struggle to digest all these various animal parts in one go. Especially if there’s more than one kind of animal in there. Many doggos benefit from sticking to one main protein source as it’s easier to digest.

Your pooch could also just be tired of eating food that makes them feel sluggish. Think about it. If you had your favourite takeaway for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, you’d be sick of it by the end of the day. And that’s because it makes us feel rubbish.

We don’t want to eat low-quality ingredients day in, day out, and neither do our pups.

A real pain in the mouth

Your pup could have a problem with their mouth. Imagine your wisdom tooth is coming through and the only food you have to hand is apples. You wouldn’t even bother trying. You’d probably just wait until you can get your hands on some yoghurt. Your doggo could be doing the same. 

If something hurts to eat, they won’t want it. So check their gums, teeth, and tongue for any inflammation, cuts, swelling, or a stuck foreign object such as a splintered piece of stick they were chewing on. If you see anything, it’s always best to take them to the vet. 

When you can’t see anything but are convinced there’s something wrong, look out to see if they chew on one side, have bad breath, drool, rub their paw on their face, keep their mouth open, or cry when they yawn. These are all signs of something painful happening in their mouths. 

Their environment and mental health

Have you ever felt so stressed you couldn’t stomach a normal portion? Or maybe you were so tense you didn’t even feel hungry at all? Humans and dogs are more similar than many realise. Mental distress can easily put your dog off their dinner. And, just like humans, their environment can have a big impact on their emotions.

If you’ve just brought your new pupper home and they aren’t eating, it could be because they aren’t used to it yet. Some dogs develop separation anxiety, which can contribute to their lack of desire to eat. And that noisy bathroom renovation your next-door neighbours are doing can put them off their food too. 

Other symptoms that indicate stress include destructive behaviour such as ripping up your slippers, diarrhoea or constipation, going to the toilet indoors, aggression, and excessive sleeping. 

If this is the case, the key is to calm them down. Ensure the environment they’re eating in is relaxing. It can help to ensure there are no other dogs or people in the room when you give them their bowl. Establishing a strong, consistent eating routine isn’t a bad idea either. 

The good news is that if it is stress, it’s usually only temporary. They’ll adjust to their new life and be wolfing their food down in no time. However, if the problem seems to be ongoing, comes with other symptoms, or even gets worse, you should definitely speak to a vet. A stressed-out pup is no good for anyone.

So now we’ve looked at some reasons it might look like your dog is fussy when they actually aren’t. But what if they actually are fussy? What could cause it?

Addicted to the high-life

We know human food isn’t the best for our dogs, but we can’t help but give them a bit every now and then. George’s face when I give him a bit of my leftover kebab is enough to make my week. So it’s pretty much impossible to never give him human food again. You probably feel the same with your doggo. Or maybe you’ve just been giving them a few too many T-R-E-A-Ts lately.

Both of these behaviours are fine. But when you start doing either too often, your pooch could get too used to eating these delicious, addictive foods. And when there’s this much tastier food on the line, they’ll happily sacrifice one or two meals to get some delicious treats, prawns, lamb, chicken, McDonald’s, or whatever it is they’ve got their heart set on. 

Yep, your pup will literally starve themselves until they get their fave food. It’s happened to millions of pawrents. And many can’t help but give in because they don’t want their babies to get ill or feel hungry. But that just encourages the behaviour. It’s hard, I know, but it’s part of the package of being a pawrent. They don’t know what’s best for themselves, so we have to choose their food for them. Which means cutting down on the tasty junk food until they eat their healthy dinner first.

How to get your fussy dog to eat

You’ve checked their mouths for any problems, reluctantly scoured their stool for intolerances, and cut the Red Leicester from their diet. But they’re still fussy and you’re probably losing the will to live. So here are a few tips and tricks to get your pooch eating again.

Make their food tastier

So they won’t eat their food? Mix it up with some other tasty ingredients. Try topping their food with some animal-appropriate natural foods. 

Both, for example, is a great choice as doggos love it and it’s full of nutrients. Triple check the ingredients before serving as garlic and onion (common broth ingredients) can be toxic to dogs. 

Salmon oil is also a fantastic idea as it’s packed with Omega-3, which is essential for a happy, healthy doggo. Omega-3 contributes to heart and kidney function, as well as optimal mental health and more.

You could even try microwaving their kibble. Heating it up makes it smell stronger. And since dog food is full of palatants that make their food smell amazing (to them, obviously, not us) it just makes it that much more enticing after a quick whizz in the microwave. Alternatively, add warm water instead. But check the temperature before you put their bowl down – you don’t want to burn their mouth.

Tough love

It may sound harsh, but strict pawrents of fussy doggos swear by taking their food away.

They put their food down, and if it isn’t eaten in 15 minutes, they take it away. In the morning, they put out a fresh bowl of kibble and if the pup doesn’t eat in 15 minutes, they take it away again. By dinner, they will have gone almost a day without eating. At this point, any healthy dog will simply eat their food. They’re hungry and this is the only option. 

It may seem scary, but healthy dogs at a good weight can go days without food. So, in terms of their health, a day without food shouldn’t harm them as long as they’re a healthy weight and drink enough water. 

Try a different, high-quality food

Taking the time to research and understand dog food can really pay off. Dog food brands spend millions on marketing and branding to make their food look the best. So there’s no way the average pawrent can tell if that food is good or not.

Read our guide on how to choose the right food for your pup. High-quality ingredients could be all your pup needs to get eating again. And fussy dogs seem to love fish. So if your pup has been eating chicken, perhaps it’s time to try some salmon or tuna. 

Let them play with their food

For smaller breeds, toys like Kongs are perfect. Fill it up with kibble and they might suddenly love the food they refused moments ago. For whatever reason, this works on many doggos. And since Kongs are a great toy to have anyway, it’s definitely worth a try.

Or, if you have an intelligent breed with a powerful nose, snuffle mats are great, too. Finding their food is like a little reward. And since these dogs are incredibly smart, they enjoy the challenge of sniffing out each piece.

If you have a fussy but playful puppy on your hands, they might enjoy eating off the floor. Instead of mealtimes being a chore, your pup thinks you’re playing a game. After putting their food on the floor a few times, they should be ready to eat from their bowl.

Create an atmosphere for dining

Would you want to eat with someone pulling on your ears? Or with people shouting to each other from other sides of the house? Probably not. I wouldn’t. And neither does your dog. 

At mealtime, it’s important to have the right setting. Kids shouldn’t be near and it should be quiet. In many cases, it’s also a good idea to make sure no other dogs are around in case they get territorial over their food.

It helps to establish a routine. Some dogs won’t eat if you buy them a new bowl. Others won’t eat if you move their bowl from the kitchen to outside. And some won’t eat if you try to feed them at 8 o’clock instead of 10. Dogs need consistency. Whatever you can control, control it. Keep it the same every time.

Another factor to consider is their breed. Pugs, Frenchies, Bulldogs, and other members of the #squishyfacecrew sometimes struggle to eat from ordinary bowls. You can buy ones that are specifically designed for squishy faced breeds so they can get the kibble from round the edges. Oh, and apparently they help reduce farts too! Winners all around.

Many dogs aren’t actually fussy at all, there’s just something getting in the way of enjoying their food. It’s important to check they don’t have a health issue before running out to the shop and buying expensive new foods to try. But if your doggo truly is fussy, start with these tips and tricks to see what gets them munching down on their food again. 

No pup wants to eat kibble full of nasty, low-quality ingredients. That’s why we created Swagwags – a mouthwatering, hypoallergenic kibble packed with nutrients and free from animal derivatives and artificial ingredients. Buy your pup’s new favourite kibble today.

If you’re ever concerned about potential allergies, take one of our sensitivity tests. It’s non-invasive and takes 5 minutes to do – a small price for perfect pup health!