Is your dog a fussy eater, or are they anxious?
Is there anything more frustrating than a dog who won’t eat? You put a bowl of delicious kibble in front of them and, well, nothing. Rather than going to town on it like they usually do, they look up at you in disgust as if you’ve just asked them to pick up their own poo.
This situation is far more common than you think. In fact, if we had a pound for every time a pawrent comes to us concerned about their ‘fussy’ dog, we’d be shipping our orders out in solid gold packaging by now.
A lot of pups out there are driven almost exclusively by food. So when yours turns their nose up at their bowl like a child who hates veggies, it’s normal to be concerned. You want your pup to be happy and healthy. And you know how important their diet is for achieving that. It’s especially worrisome if the behaviour is completely out of character, with little to no signs of a cause.
But the truth is that dogs are rarely fussy eaters in the sense that we think. They’re not having a tantrum because they prefer the taste of asparagus to broccoli. Nor are they trying to make your life more difficult or punish you for the lack of treats you gave them that day. Their fussiness will nearly always be down to an underlying cause.
And one of the most common causes out there is anxiety.
How anxiety impacts appetite
Now I don’t know about you, but if I’m feeling anxious, on edge, or scared, the last thing I want to do is sit down and eat a big meal.
Not only can feelings of anxiety make us feel nauseous, but in the face of perceived danger, we also enter our fight-or-flight response. Our body prepares us to either battle or run away from the threat. And to do that, we can’t be lethargic and full. So it shuts down all irrelevant systems to preserve energy and resources – this includes our digestion and appetite.
And with a biology very similar to our own, the exact same process will happen in our pups. Despite their daily stressors being very different, the impacts on their appetite will be the same. If they’re on edge, they’re not going to want a full stomach out of fear it might make them sick or leave them unable to protect themselves. There are many reasons your dog could be feeling more anxious than usual. So let’s explore some of the more likely culprits.
Separation anxiety is one of the better known causes of a curbed appetite. If your dog gets distressed when you leave the house, the very last thing on their mind will be their food. Not only might their appetite shut down, they might also be too distracted to even think about it.
If I go out, my George will protest and refuse to eat until I get home. Then, whenever I walk through the door, he’ll smash his bowl in record time.
And the more stressed and unsafe they feel while you’re away, the longer it might take for their body to return to normal when you get back. Which might explain why they continue to avoid eating even once you’re back in the house.
A change in routine
Doggos are big fans of routine. They like to know what’s going on and be able to predict what might happen next. And this makes any big environmental or lifestyle changes particularly stress-inducing.
Moving house, losing a family member, a child moving away to university, having a partner move in, or getting a new pet could all elevate your pup’s stress levels. It’ll take some time for them to adjust and reorient themselves into the new normal. And in the meantime, their stress response could be leading to their fussier eating.
You could put the sexiest looking burger in front of me. But if I’m in excruciating pain, I won’t go near it. And this is something our dogs can probably relate to. Like separation anxiety, physical pain and worrying about it could distract a pup from wanting to eat. For all we know, dogs can be massive hypochondriacs too.
If their fussy eating is coupled with other symptoms of pain – such as acting withdrawn, more aggressive, or avoiding letting you touch certain areas – an undiagnosed medical condition or injury could be leaving them feeling out of sorts.
Reactions to their food
Along a similar vein, their food could be the cause of their pain or physical discomfort. And if this is the case, it’s perfectly understandable why they might be hesitant to indulge.
Imagine if you were lactose-intolerant and every mealtime all you could have was a gigantic cheese board. You’d refuse to eat it and ask for something else, right? Except our pooches can’t do that. They can’t tell you they’re in pain, hating life, and pretty sure it’s the salmon in their kibble that’s to blame. So avoiding their bowl is their way to communicate.
If they’re triggered by something in their kibble, they’ll learn to associate mealtimes with symptoms such as extreme discomfort, runny poos, or insatiable itching. None of these are going to make them excited for their next meal. Luckily, a quick, pain-free fur test can shed some light on whether reactions are the reason behind their stubbornness.
You’re feeling anxious
Our dogs pick up on our cues. If we’re sad, they’ll be sad. If we’re excited, they start charging around the house like they’ve just chugged a Red Bull. And, you guessed it, if we’re anxious, they can feel anxious too.
The ‘fussy’ eating can become a vicious cycle. After your pup turns their nose up at a few mealtimes, you’re suddenly on edge about why they’re not eating. You jump to the worst-case scenarios and hold your breath whenever you put the bowl down. But your dog will pick up on this. And it can have an adverse effect on their eating, leading to more stress and even less desire to eat.
Even though you’re concerned, try to give them space with their food. Don’t hover around to see what they do. If you’re used to giving them their food while you’re cooking dinner in the same room, try cooking a bit later to help take the pressure off.
You definitely wouldn’t be the first pawrent to label their dog as a ‘fussy eater’. When they’re standing in front of their bowl, staring off into the middle distance instead of eating, it’s a natural first thought. But fussiness is nearly always a manifestation of some other issue. And a lot of these roads will lead back to stress and anxiety. Uncovering why your pup’s feeling anxious could hold the key to getting their eating back on track.
Rule out reactions in your dog quickly with one of our fur tests. They’ll give you results in just 72 hours and could cure your pooch’s fussy eating once and for all. Then, if it’s their food that’s causing them grief, our delicious kibbles might just be the ticket. Have a browse to find their new favourite flavour today.