How to feed a fussy dog

Have you made any of these fussy dog owner mistakes?

Well-meaning owners will often supplement a complete diet with extras in order to make the meal more interesting. Some clever dogs soon learn that they can eat the new food and leave the kibble, resulting in owners drawing the conclusion that the dog is not enjoying the main diet.

Regularly changing to a new brand of food often leads to the dog happily eating the alternative for several days, weeks or months before it too becomes uninteresting to them. This in turn ends with an owner trying numerous brands of dog food with varying degrees of success and with the dog dictating what is fed and when. The more choice that you offer a fussy eater, the worse the problem can become.

Fortunately, this problem can be solved relatively quickly (although if your dog has been leading you a merry dance for a long time, it may take a little longer to retrain him or her back into good habits at mealtimes).

The following tips may help you:
1. Palatability is key

Dogs are clever, sensitive creatures and there are a number of things that determine how attractive a particular food is for them. A good quality pet food will be more naturally appetising because of its high inclusion of good quality protein from named meat and/or fish sources (on the label this will be evident with these being among the FIRST ingredients listed).

Make sure each meal is served in a fresh bowl, with no residue of previous meals and rinsed well of cleaning products and unpleasant tasting detergent. Uneaten wet or fresh food should be picked up and discarded as soon as possible.

We recommend: Arden Grange Premium
Generous levels of fresh chicken make this a highly palatable and digestible diet which may be particularly beneficial for the more discerning dog!
2. Choose a complete food that is energy dense
More concentrated recipes with a high calorie content can be effective since the smaller feeding portions may be more acceptable to a dog with a low appetite.
We recommend: Arden Grange Prestige
Our concentrated recipe designed to fulfil the nutritional needs of dogs with higher requirements for calories or smaller feeding portions. This extremely palatable diet is also suitable for the fussiest eater.
3. Feed smaller meals more often
Fussy dogs are more likely to eat most or all of a smaller meal than they are of a large one so split the daily feed volume into smaller frequent meals. (Be careful not to exercise too near to a feed though).
4. Understanding behaviour
Some behaviours are learned and reinforced by the familiarity of a routine, so sometimes altering the normal pattern of activity that occurs in the run up to a mealtime can help. You could try using a different bowl, feeding at different times and/or in different rooms, or even utilise another member of the household to prepare the meal.
5. Curb additional treats
Try cutting out all the ’extras’ your dog may be holding out for! You could also reduce the main diet for a few days to give your dog back an “edge” of hunger. This may sound strict, but it is usually very effective. Once the routine is back in place and feeding becomes less of an issue, you can afford to be more flexible. Some dogs will take some of their regular diet as a "treat" if it's offered as a reward. If you do continue to offer extras, make sure the main diet is reduced appropriately.
6. Introduce new food gradually
A new diet should be introduced gradually, beginning with mixing the old and new diet together (ensure the two products are mixed well to help prevent your dog from differentiating). Some dogs are creatures of habit and make take a while to become accustomed to a new food. This behaviour is called neophobia, and stems from a natural wariness of new foods inherited from our dogs' wild ancestors, who would have used this as a means to avoid potential toxins.
7. Positive attention
Your own behaviour can impact on your dog’s behaviour, so try to keep calm at mealtimes. Your dog may have learned that refusing food means more fuss and attention. You can combat this attention-seeking by ignoring him when he is not eating and praising him when he does.
8. Be aware of environmental issues
Are there other animals in the household that compete for your dog’s food? Is a tag making a distracting noise hitting against the bowl? Are plastic bowls holding residues from detergents? Have there been any unsettling environmental changes e.g. storms, a new baby or a house move? All of these things may be contributing towards stress.
9. Make mealtimes fun

One of the most effective ways to beat stress is to play. Interactive feeding toys can be very effective in encouraging a fussy dog to eat. This provides a novel vessel for the food and may help break the habit of leaving food if the behaviour is triggered by familiar stimuli such as the usual bowl.

Excerpts from our fact sheet ‘Inappetence in dogs.’ by Ness Bird - Nutrition Adviser and RVN Cert CFVHNut ©.