Dogs have a reputation for eating everything and anything you put in front of them. Some dog owners, however, know firsthand that this isn’t the case for every dog.
Just as we have our nuances and quirks, some dogs are finicky and often turn up their nose at food when it’s provided during mealtimes. This is frustrating to us as pet parents because we want to make sure our precious pup is eating enough to live a happy, healthy life.
So, what do we do? Do we pick up the bowl and try again later, or leave the food down all day so they can come and go as they please?
We do not recommend leaving a bowl of food available all day for a picky pup. If your dog refuses food during the designated meal time, we suggest picking it up and packing it away after 10 to 20 minutes. You may then try again at the next mealtime and, under most circumstances, dogs will return to eating at this time.
We think we have dogs all figured out, but they’re more complicated than we give them credit for. Ready to find out more? Read on!
Understanding a Dog’s Eating Habits
We as humans have plenty in common with our furry, four-legged friends. Both of us need a well-balanced diet to live our healthiest and happiest lives.
Our exact nutritional requisites, calorie quotas, and specific eating habits, however, are nothing alike whatsoever. While we generally sit down for an organized breakfast, lunch, and dinner, dogs don’t need to eat with the same frequency.
It’s common for pet parents to provide breakfast and dinner, breaking up their dog’s total daily calorie intake in two sessions for easier digestibility, but one meal in the middle of the day is popular too.
In fact, the Dog Whisperer himself, Cesar Milan, feeds only one meal a day to his dogs, served at noon. Given this, it’s not unusual for a dog to ignore meals at any other time.
Additionally, your dog might skip a meal for a wide variety of reasons. Many of their reasons are no cause for concern. For example, you may present a bowl of kibble each day, only to be met with sad puppy dog eyes.
You’re just trying to serve them a balanced diet, but they’re treating it like a betrayal. They’re your best friend, and this is how you repay their loyalty.
You can’t take the guilt, so you cave and grab a box of treats, leftover chicken, bacon bits, whatever you can, to spruce up their meal and inspire them to eat.
Of course, they’re more eager to eat now, but do you see what happened there? Their hunger strike got them a better deal, and they’ll always resort to this tactic if it gets them what they want.
Be strong. A nutritionally complete diet is healthier than table scraps.
Should I take my dog’s food away?
So, the question remains. If they have access to their food and they’re not diving in, do you leave it out buffet-style or take the option “off the table?”
On the one hand, taking it away deprives them of food if they get hungry later. On the other hand, letting them dictate how and when they eat reinforces the behavior.
Plus, letting the food sit will let the air get to it and make it even less appealing. Worse yet, bugs might take notice that there’s free food available, and then you’ll have another problem!
Instead of letting your dog graze throughout the day, place down the food when it’s mealtime, then pick it up after 10 or 20 minutes. This provides an appropriate window of time for them to eat, if they’re interested, but also communicates that they’ll have to be decisive if they want to have food.
There will be no games, no holding out for extra treats, or an alternate menu. You, as pack leader, have provided food, and they must eat it if they want to have it.
While this may sound cold, dogs are pack animals that thrive in a hierarchy, so communicating your role as an alpha will only work wonders in other aspects of your lives together.
To learn more about training your dog proper food etiquette, check out our article “How to Teach Your Dog to Wait for Permission Before Eating.”
How to Encourage Your Dog to Eat
Maybe your dog is actually hungry, but they need a little incentive to chow down.
Generally speaking, we want our dogs to gobble up what we give with no complaint, but some dogs are more finicky than others. Small dogs and toy breeds in particular can be tricky. After all, they need a minimal amount of calories to sustain good health, so they often don’t mind holding out for something better.
Here are a few tips and tricks for enticing your picky pup to eat:
- Add a topper: Would you be excited about a plate of dry kibble? Add something more appetizing by incorporating toppers, gravies, sauces, and other specially formulated pet food additives.
- Rotate proteins: Switching brands can sometimes upset your poor pooches’ belly, but rotating proteins may be a quick and easy way to add a little variety, the spice of life, into their diet. Are they sick of chicken? Try pork, lamb, or salmon.
- Switch the type of diet: Maybe time’s up on kibble diets. Today, fresh, refrigerated diets are rising in prevalence, as are frozen and freeze-dried raw food. Switching the boring kibble for something similar to human-grade food might be just the thing to get your pup to plow down their chow.
- Change dinnertime: Maybe it isn’t the food, but the time of day. Does your dog turn up their sniffer in the morning but start begging by their bowl in the evening? Stop pouring them food first thing and start feeding them at night, in that case, to accommodate their preference.
Sometimes a simple adjustment in when or what they’re eating is enough to get them to eat their food. Before doing a total overhaul, we recommend the above strategies.
Potential Health Concerns
Meal skipping is often no cause for alarm, but it’s never a great sign if your dog won’t eat anything at all for 48 hours or more. The situation is even more serious if they refuse water as well, and you should call your vet immediately if they show any signs of dehydration.
Here are some medical reasons why a dog might lose their appetite:
- Anxiety or stress
- Dental disease
- Oral pain
- Intestinal parasites
- Upset stomach
- Liver disease
- Kidney disease
- Inflammatory Bowel Disease
- Lung disease
- Congestive Heart Failure
Going long periods without eating can also create health problems for your dog in the long run. Malnourishment is among the most probable outcomes, as your dog will almost certainly be missing out on all the calories, nutrients, and vitamins they need to sustain a healthy weight and metabolic function.
If your dog goes more than two days without eating or more than one day without drinking water, seek veterinary advice immediately.
In most cases, a finicky dog who refuses their meals is nothing more than an inconvenient personality quirk. If they’re not eating during mealtimes, you might feel inclined to leave the dish all day so your dog can come and go as they please, but we’d advise against this.
Leaving the bowl down sends the wrong message. It gives the dog too much authority in a situation where they should be following your lead as a responsible pet parent. Plus, leaving the bowl out only compromises the quality of the kibble and attracts pests who will make even more problems for you to deal with.
Monitor your dog carefully for signs of a medical condition and, if your dog really won’t eat after two days, you should consider contacting the vet immediately.
Otherwise, be ready to make a few adjustments to your pet’s diet and feeding schedule until you find an arrangement that works well for you and them. That way, you’ll both enjoy a happy, healthy life together!