Picky Eaters: Creative ways to entice your finicky dog at mealtime.
Cook's Corner column by Mary Straus, published in Dog World Magazine, November 2010.
Most dogs enjoy eating homemade meals, but some dogs are picky eaters, which can make feeding them frustrating. If you have a finicky dog, don’t despair. There are many ways to help your dog become more excited about meals.
Is your dog sick?
First, determine if a health issue is causing a lack of appetite. If your dog skips two meals in a row or displays other symptoms, such as diarrhea, vomiting, lethargy, weight loss, a hunched posture, panting, or other unusual behaviors, a trip to the veterinarian is in order. A complete physical exam and possibly blood work and X-rays can diagnose medical reasons for your dog's lack of appetite.
Have you trained your dog to be picky?
If you regularly experience difficulty persuading your dog to eat despite a clean bill of health from the vet, you might have trained a picky eater. This type of learned pickness often results if you immediately offer something tastier whenever your dog turns down a meal.
To correct the problem, simply put the food bowl down for 10 to 15 minutes and walk away, then pick it up and offer your dog nothing else until the next mealtime. It’s fine to feed something different at the next meal, but don't immediately offr something tastier. Healthy adult dogs will not have a problem missing a meal or two. Be sure to leave your dog alone while the food is down, rather than hovering or coaxing, which can make mealtimes stressful.
Overweight dogs might be picky because they eat too much food during meals or eat too many snacks and simply aren't hungry. Cut back on meals and treats to increase their interest and return them to a healthy weight.
Some dogs feel intimidated by other dogs in the household. Try feeding them in separate rooms or in crates. Conversely, if you normally feed your dogs separately, feed the picky dog in the presence of another dog – a little competition might stimulate the appetite.
If you feed once a day, try feeding twice a day, or change the time that you feed to see if that makes a difference. Dogs that seem nauseated or vomit bile in the morning might benefit from a snack before bedtime, so their stomachs aren’t empty too long.
Warming food increases the aroma and makes it more enticing, although some dogs prefer cold food. Try both ways to see if your dog has a preference. Warm food in the microwave or immerse it in hot water.
Raw diet difficulties
When first introduced to a raw diet, some dogs might not recognize it as food. If you prefer to feed raw, cook your dog's meals to start with, then gradually decrease the amount of cooking until your dog is used to eating raw food. If you're feeding raw meaty bones, try searing the outside in a small amount of garlic butter. Make sure you don’t cook the bone; cooked bones are dangerous for dogs.
Some dogs might never learn to enjoy certain raw foods, such as liver. In that case, you can continue to cook it. As a last resort, use freeze-dried liver treats to replace raw or cooked liver in the diet. Don’t leave out this important ingredient; liver provides valuable nutrients.
Even though many dogs turn up their noses at vegetables, try to entice your dog into eating these healthy foods.
Vegetables can be fed either cooked or pureed in a food processor, blender or juicer, so try them both ways. Cooking in a flavorful broth made from leftover meat drippings or gravy makes them tastier. I save roasted chicken skin and bones, then boil them up to create a gelatinous broth. Remove the skin and bones and skim the fat off the top, and cook vegetables in the liquid. Mixing vegetables with yogurt, mashed potatoes, or other favored soft food may make them more attractive. Adding small amounts of fresh, crushed garlic or sprinkling with garlic powder might make them more attractive.
Most dogs like fruit, such as bananas, apples, berries and melon. Mix vegetables and fruits together to see if your dog likes them better that way. Never feed grapes or raisins, though, because these can cause kidney damage in dogs. Try different vegetables and fruits to see if your dog has any preferences.
Dogs may grow tired of meals if you always feed the same foods. Try feeding a variety of different foods, including eggs, various types of meat, fish and dairy, to see if your dog responds.
When I had a picky dog, I found that never feeding the same meal twice in one day or two days in a row helped to keep her eating. It’s easy once you create a handful of meal plans to rotate between.
Some dogs react badly to certain ingredients because of food allergies or intolerances. Others might have trouble with too much fat in the diet. Dogs prone to digestive upset might do better with more fiber in the diet. Vegetables or fiber supplements, such as psyllium, can provide fiber. Others dogs do better with less fiber.
If your dog is prone to loose stools, gas or borborygmus (stomach and intestinal noises), experiment by simplifying the diet, decreasing the fat content, and varying the amount of fiber to see if you can discover what works best for your dog.
Many dogs do not like the taste of supplements in their food. Try leaving them out to see if your dog is more willing to eat meals. You can still give supplements in pill form – try dipping them in a bit of cream cheese, peanut butter or liverwurst, or wrapping them in a pinch of “Pill Pockets.”
On the other hand, certain supplements, such as fish oil, nutritional yeast and fresh, crushed garlic, might make meals more appealing to some dogs. Limit garlic to no more than one small clove per 20 pounds of body weight daily; too much can cause anemia in dogs.
There isn't just one right way
Don’t become fixated on feeding your dog only one way if it’s not working. Don’t insist that raw is the only way to go if your dog prefers a cooked diet. If your dog refuses to eat whole raw meaty bones, offer ground bones instead.
If vegetables are refused no matter how tasty you make them, leave out the veggies and use a green blend supplement instead. If your dog likes grains and they don’t cause any problems, don’t refuse to feed them because you think grain-free is better.
A few dogs even prefer commercial foods over homemade, particularly because manufacturers add flavor enhancers to these foods. If that’s the case with your dog, you can still improve the quality of the diet by adding fresh foods that the dog likes, and by feeding the best quality commercial foods you can find.
You can contact me if you have any comments, but I regret to say that I can no longer respond to questions about individual dogs. See my Contact page for more information. My name is Mary Straus and you can email me at either or