Dog Training

23 Tricks To Get A Picky Dog To Eat His Food (Every Last Bit!)

Last Updated: November 15, 2023 | 19 min read | 5 Comments

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Shih Tzu won't eat his bowl full of dry dog food

Some owners have to put up with the fact that their dog is a life-long picky eater…

While others find that their dog becomes picky all of a sudden.

It doesn’t matter what the cause, getting a fussy dog to eat his meal is can feel like an impossible task.

So what do you do when your dog will not eat his food?

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We surveyed 500 dog owners and consulted with an animal behaviorist to find the best solutions for dogs that refuse to eat.

With their help, we put together this list of 22 solutions. By the time you have finished reading, you will know what you need to do to get your dog to eat.

Let’s begin…

1. See your vet

Vet curing fussy West Highland White Terrier of his picky eating in clinic

Has your dog suddenly started rejecting his food or become picky eater? The issue could be medical.

There are many medical issues that can lead to a loss of appetite or stop your dog eating altogether.

Some of the most common medical conditions that lead to picky eating include:

  • Swallowed something they shouldn’t
  • Dental disease
  • Allergies
  • Infection
  • Parasites
  • Gastrointestinal issues
  • Arthritis or spine issues
  • Vaccination side effects

If your dog isn’t eating while losing weight or his coat is looking unkempt, you should visit your vet ASAP.

Unfortunately, many owners mistakenly correlate their dog losing weight with their dog is refusing to eat.

A healthy dog won’t starve himself, no matter how picky he may be. Unless your dog is on a diet, losing weight is likely to be a medical issue that needs addressing.

Oh, and as always, any change or addition to your dog’s diet should be discussed with your vet before proceeding!

Need to book an affordable vet in a hurry? Check out Vetster, an online platform that allows you to speak to a veterinarian via video, chat, or voice any time – day or night.

2. Remove your dog’s meal until tomorrow

Owner removing bowl of dry dog food from fussy Labrador who rejected it

Okay, so while this method may seem mean, many owners of fussy eaters swear by its success.

It starts by offering your dog food for dinner as you normally would.

During this time, leave the room and do not interact with your pup. If your dog follows you, ignore him.

If your dog has not eaten his meal within the 15 minutes, take his food away.

Now you are going to wait until the next morning. It’s time to offer your dog his meal as breakfast.

Make sure it’s a fresh meal – don’t offer kibble that was left sitting out overnight.

If your dog once again has not eaten his meal within 15 minutes, take it away.

Once dinner time rolls around, your dog will have gone a whole day without eating. By this time, your dog will be getting quite hungry and realize that he isn’t getting anything else.

You dog will be left with one choice:

To eat his food!

This method works because no healthy dog will starve itself. Your pup will gladly eat a meal that he doesn’t enjoy if there is no alternative – it beats a grumbling tummy!

Oh, and don’t worry about your dog going hungry. Generally, most dogs can go a few days without eating.[1]

3. Swap over to a tastier food

Picky Jack Russel Terrier being presented with a different brand of dry dog food to eat

The solution to getting your fussy dog to eat could be as simple as swapping over to a new food.

Unfortunately, your dog can’t talk. Just bark. By refusing to eat his food, your dog could be trying to tell you that he doesn’t like the taste.

When making the switch, try to avoid similar flavors. For example, swapping from Purina One Chicken & Rice to Diamond Naturals Chicken & Rice probably won’t make your dog eat his meal – these two dry dog foods taste very similar.

Instead, you should test a completely different flavor. Let’s say that your dog is turning his nose up at a chicken flavor. You could try fish, beef or venison instead.

The good news is that tastier food doesn’t have to be more expensive. Many finicky dog owners report success with swapping over to a cheaper variety – cheap doesn’t necessarily mean tasteless!

That was the case for Chop, a fussy bulldog. On a tight budget, Chop’s owner swapped over from Blue Buffalo Life Protection Formula to Iams Chicken Flavor…

Chop took to the new food immediately and his owner saved money by switching to a cheaper brand.

Interestingly, quite a few fussy dog owners reported success when switching over to a fish-based dog food.

They noted that the stinky fish flavors such as salmon, tuna or whitehead were much more likely to be gobbled up than traditional flavors such as beef or chicken.

The following were the 6 most recommend fish flavors from fussy dog owners…

Got a sensitive nose? These dry foods have a noticeably fishy smell. You may need to hold your breath as you scoop out your dog’s meal. But it’s worth it’ll be worth it when you see your picky dog eat his food!

For more ideas, check out our picks for best dog foods for picky eaters.

Just don’t swap out your dog’s meal too often. Constantly changing foods can have an unintended consequence: It can make your dog even more likely refuse his food.

4. Make the transition slowly

Picky Yorkshire Terrier refusing to eat a new brand of dry dog food to eat

Note: Skip to the next section if you have not switched to a new food

Have you swapped over to a new brand of dog food? Dogs often don’t react positively to a change in their routine. When presented with a new type of food, many dogs will refuse to eat it.

My Golden Retriever is the perfect example of this. He will gladly eat a wide range of disgusting things. Cat poop? Delicious! Vomit? Yeah sure, he’ll lick that right up…

But a new kibble? That’s where he draws the line – he instantly becomes selective with what he eats.

If you are transitioning your dog to a new food, it’s best to do it slooooooowly.

Fortunately, if done right, switching to a new food is a simple process…

All you need is your dog’s current food, and the new food want your dog to eat.

Now, what you are going to do is combine the two foods. Over ten days, your goal is to decrease the amount of old food and increase the amount of new food.

  • Days 1 – 3 – 75% current food. 25% New food
  • Days 4 – 6 – 50% current food. 50% New food
  • Days 7 – 9 – 25% current food. 75% New food
  • Day 10 – 100% New food

It may be slow, but your dog will be more likely to eat his new food if you follow this process.

Now, you may be unable to obtain your dog’s previous food to mix in with his new food.

Let’s say your dog’s favorite food is discontinued. Or you ran out of food and after a mad dash to Walmart, grabbed whatever was on the shelf?

What then?

Well, you can make the kibble more appealing by using a meal topper. Which brings me to my next point…

5. Mix in a food topper!

Finicky Golden Retriever happily eating dry kibble that have been covered with a gravy meal topper

A meal topper refers to any product that you add to your dog’s meal to improve its flavor. Thinking of it as a seasoning for dog food.

Many owners claim that using a topper is the only way their picky pup will eat dry dog food.

There are a wide range of food toppers to choose from such as:

Alternatively, you can experiment with mixing other foods through your dog’s meal…

A small amount of wet dog food, boiled vegetables, or ground beef can all entice a picky eater to finish his meal.

Salmon oil is another tasty meal topper that contains Omega 3, which provides many health benefits. For more information, check out our salmon oil review.

The key to successfully using a meal topper is to stir it through your dog’s food so that it coats every piece of kibble…

This way, your fussy dog won’t pick out the meal topper and leave the rest of his food behind.

6. Exercise your pup

German Shepherd being taken on walk before dinner to improve appetite

It’s no secret that exercising is a great way to build up an appetite. I don’t know about you, but I’m starving by the time I complete my morning jog.

But what may surprise you is that you can use exercise to get a picky dog to eat his food. This is especially true of high energy dogs like Fox Terriers, Dalmatians and German Shepherds.

You see, exercise makes dogs hungry. And as you might have guessed, a hungry dog isn’t a fussy dog.

One of the easiest ways to exercise your dog is to go for a nice long walk – Walking is good for you too!

If you already walk your dog, try upping the distance. Picky dog owners we spoke to saw the most success when they walked their pooch for 45 minutes or longer before dinner.

Don’t have time for a walk? There are other ways you can exercise your dog…

In some cases, you may even be able to get your dog to exercise himself. Herding dogs, like border collies and Australian shepherds will entertain themselves for hours with a herding ball.

Whichever way you exercise your dog, the focus is on tiring him out.

After your dog has burned off his excess energy, it’s time to refuel. And because his meal is the only thing on offer, he will be more likely to eat it.

For the best results, don’t offer your dog his food immediately after exercising. Give him at least 15 minutes for his stomach to settle.

7. Throw it on the floor

Fussy Golden Retriever Puppy Eating Dry Dog Food off Patio Floor

Do you have a fussy puppy? You can take advantage of his playful nature to get him to eat his food.

Sit by your puppy and sprinkle dried dog food on the ground, a little at a time. As your puppy eats a piece, add another one further away.

Because your playful pup thinks this is a game, he will be more likely to take to his food.

It may take quite a few sessions, but once he has a taste for his food, you can transition to a bowl.

This method can be a little messy, so it’s best to do it outside. If you want to feed inside, grab a good broom and sweep up after mealtime is over – there is nothing worse than feeling pieces of kibble crunch underfoot.

8. Turn feeding time into a game

Fussy White dog eating his dinner out of a kong feeder

Picky eaters often play with their food instead of eating it. With the help of a good feeding toy, you can get your dog to do both.

Feeding toys combine play with eating. And for toy-obsessed pups, they are a great way to convince a dog to eat his food

Jessica, the owner of a dainty poodle, says her dog refuses to eat dry food. However, the moment she places it inside a treat dispensing dog toy, her poodle can’t get enough.

Another owner, Jack, uses a snuffle mat to get his fussy English Springer Spaniel to eat. When this super-sniffing dog finds kibble using his nose, he will promptly eat it without a second thought – even though he refuses to eat the same kibble when offered it in a bowl

Unfortunately, feeding toys only hold a limited amount of food. While this may not be a problem for a small dog like a Boston terrier, it presents an issue for bigger dogs…

You see, large breeds like Rottweilers or Mastiffs may need as much as 10 cups of kibble per day. Constantly refilling a feeding toy with this amount of food would be a full-time job – it just isn’t practical.

But for small/medium breeds, a feeding toy could be the very thing you need to get your dog to eat his meal.

9. Make sure you are feeding the right amount

Picky Chihuahua that has been overfed refusing to eat a big bowl of dry dog food

This one might seem a little obvious, but you would be amazed at just how many owners overfeed their dogs.

I can understand. I mean, when your dog stares at you with those bulgy puppy eyes, it can be hard to resist giving them an extra treat or two. It won’t hurt, right?

It might be that your dog isn’t fussy but just full.

Overfeeding is a particular problem if you have a small pup like a Chihuahua, Papillon or Brussels Griffon…

These tiny dogs need much less food than you think. The smallest sizes might only need half a cup of kibble across a whole day.

As you can imagine, these tiny stomachs get full quick. When your belly is full to bursting, the last thing you want is more food, right?

Well, your dog feels the same. And if you present him with more food, your dog isn’t going to eat it.

While you may think your dog is fussy, your dog may need more time to digest his last meal.

Speak to your vet about the amount of food your dog needs. If you are overfeeding, cut back – it could cure your dog’s picky eating.

10. Make your dog work for it

Picky Jack Russel Terrier performing tricks before dinner

I don’t know about you, but I find that the rewards I work the hardest for are the most satisfying…

Your dog feels the same. He will be considerably more likely to eat his food if he has to work for it.

A short session of Shake, Roll Over, or any other trick will have your dog expecting a reward for his hard work.

It’s at this point you offer your fussy dog his meal. Many picky eaters get so caught up in being rewarded that they forget they would normally reject this meal.

The key here is to make your dog think his reward is a big deal. Shower your pup with praise and pats while offering him the meal.

If you can get your dog excited enough, he will believe this meal is the best thing that has ever happened to him – He will eat his food without a second thought.

11. No Table Scraps

Fussy dog begging for human food underneath dining table

Are you sharing your dinner with your dog? You shouldn’t…

It’s going to difficult to convince him to eat his dry dog food if you are.

Can you imagine eating dry kibble after tasting a delicious hamburger? It’s a tough act to follow – it would be enough to turn me into a picky eater too!

Fortunately, this one is an easy fix…

Don’t share your meal with your dog.

I know it can be hard to resist. Especially when your dog peers up from underneath the table with those bulging puppy dog eyes.

But don’t worry, your dog won’t go hungry. Instead, he will be less likely to reject his bowl of food. Worth it? I think so.

12. Pretend to eat it

Fussy French Bulldog eating his food because he is imitating his owner eating out of a bowl

A special thank you to Meagan, who told us how she used this unique trick to get a fussy dog to eat.

After reading our guide on how to get a dog to take a pill, she found the easiest solution was to pretend to eat it. Her Shih Tzu would happily swallow a pill, thinking it was human food.

Meagan took this concept a step further when she fostered a fussy Havanese named Elon. As you might have guessed, Elon was refusing to eat his food.

The solution? She grabbed a bag of kibble and pretended to eat it like it was a bag of crisps.

Hiding the kibble in her hand, she would reach back in the bag and pretend to grab another piece.

Every minute or so, she would offer the Havanese a single piece of kibble. Thinking he had hit the jackpot, Elon would frantically gobble it down.

Meagan then poured the kibble into Elon’s bowl. Instead of rejecting it, he finished the whole meal!

It’s funny to think that pretending to eat kibble could be the solution to your picky pup!

13. Cut back the treats

Beagle eating too many dog treats which causes him to not eat dinner

If your dog is refusing to eat, then you should skip the treats.

Generally speaking, treats should only account for 10% of your dog’s daily calories. Any more than this and you are giving your pup more treats than he needs.[1]

For smaller dogs, it doesn’t take much to reach the daily limit. For example, an adult chihuahua would only need four small Milkbones. Any more and you are overdoing it.

Too many treats can ruin your dog’s appetite. If you are too generous with your dog’s treats, try cutting back or eliminating them from his diet altogether.

But treats can contribute to picky eating in another way…

In some instances, your dog may be rejecting his food because he wants a treat instead.

If you offer your dog treats even though he is not eating his food, you are reinforcing the idea that he will get something better if he waits it out – you have accidentally trained your dog to be a picky eater.

Claire, one of the respondents of our survey, said this was the issue with her fussy German Shorthaired Pointer. Worried that her dog would go hungry, she would give him treats if he didn’t eat his food.

As you might have guessed, this clever dog figured out that if he didn’t eat his meal, he would get tastier food.

Claire stopped giving him treats and, he soon went back to eating his food as usual.

14. Warm the meal to enhance flavor

Fussy dog waiting while his meal is being heated in the microwave

Many finicky dogs can be encouraged to eat their meal just by warming it up. This method is commonly used on senior dogs who are rejecting their food.

You see, heating food does two things:

  1. Improves the flavor
  2. Releases a strong aroma

Essentially, it makes your dog’s food seem tastier, stimulating his appetite.

How do you heat your dog’s meal?

Wet food can be heated up in the microwave or steamer pot.

For dry kibble, it’s as simple as stirring through a small amount of hot water.

If you are going to use the microwave, make sure you don’t use a stainless steel bowl as it will spark. Use a plastic or ceramic bowl instead.

Oh, it goes without saying that you don’t want to give your dog food that is too hot. If you have overheated your pup’s food, let it cool before serving it.

15. Show your dog how bad it could be…

Fussy Corgi asking for his old dog food back

If you are like me, you treat your dog like royalty. You only serve the best dog food possible. That’s why it’s so frustrating when your dog refuses to eat it.

Fortunately, the solution is simple. Show your dog how good he actually has it.

I learned this trick from my neighbor and her spoiled Boxer, Anastasia. She only feeds Orijen dog food – expensive stuff.

However, now and then, Anastasia will suddenly become picky and refuse to eat it.

So, she offers food that she knows Anastasia won’t eat…

Ever since Anastasia was a Boxer pup, she has hated Pedigree kibble – she refuses to eat it.

If Anastasia ever rejected her Orijen kibble, it would be swapped out with Pedigree kibble. Sure enough, Anastasia would sniff her food, turn her nose up and walk away in disgust.

My neighbor would then take the Pedigree kibble away and present her original dish. Anastasia would now happily chow down on the same Orijen kibble she previously rejected.

Now, I must stress that just because this fussy Boxer refused to eat Pedigree kibble doesn’t mean that yours will. In fact, for many dogs, Pedigree is their go-to kibble…

In order for this method to be effective, you’ll need to find a food that your dog doesn’t like.

Can’t figure out what kibble your pup doesn’t like? Buy a cheaper food. This way, if your dog does eat it, you can save money by making the switch. Win-win.

16. Create a safe space

Chocolate Labrador puppy being harassed by toddler while trying to eat his dry dog food

Is your dog easily distracted or stressed? Maybe your dog isn’t being picky. Turns out, he just can’t focus on his dinner.

Some dogs will refuse to eat if thunderstorms or fireworks trigger their anxiety. Many owners report that they solved this with a thunder vest.

Other dog’s get anxious while their owner is away. In these instances, a dog may not eat his food until his owner returns. Here, you’ll need to treat your dog’s separation anxiety.

Similarly, distractions can also stop a dog from eating his meal. If you are showering your dog with attention, or you have a young child demanding to play with the dog, it can be hard to focus on eating.

Likewise, it’s hard to focus on eating when an aggressive dog is nearby.

Finally, eating in a new location can stress a dog to the point where he will reject his meal…

Let’s say you are on vacation. Not only does he need to get used to his new collapsible silicone dog bowl but an entirely new environment with different sights and smells too – how can your pup focus on eating with all that change?

In all these instances, creating a comfortable, quiet eating area can go a long way to fixing picky eating.

My dog’s safe eating space is the bathroom. It’s quiet and distraction-free. Best of all, the tiles are easy to clean if he makes a mess.

17. Raise your senior dog’s bowl

Brown Australian Shepherd puppy eating his food out of a raised dog bowl

Do you have an elderly dog who has stopped eating?

It might be that your old pup finds it painful to hunch over his bowl and eat his meal.

Many owners report this as a common problem in larger breeds. In their senior years, bending down to eat is a lot more difficult than when they were younger.

This can cause your elderly dog avoid eating his food – the pain isn’t worth it.

The solution? Raise your dog’s bowl to his height.

That’s where an elevated dog bowl comes in. These raised dog bowls sit up to 12 inches off the ground and can help reduce the joint stress that comes with eating hunched over.

You’ll want to buy a raised bowl that matches your dog’s height. For instance, a bowl that is the perfect height for a Pit Bull is too high for a Fox Terrier.

Don’t want to want to drop the cash on a new dog bowl? You can achieve a similar effect by placing your dog’s bowl on the first step of your staircase…

Don’t forget to remove the bowl after mealtime, you don’t want to trip and fall down your stairs.

With the bowl raised to a much more comfortable eating height, your senior pooch can now eat his meal pain-free.

18. Go wet

Fussy Shih Tzu looking up at owner excited about being served wet canned food

Can you imagine eating dry dog food every day? I can’t. And neither can many dogs.

These dogs will refuse to eat dry food at all. No matter how high-quality it may be.

For these finicky pups, swapping over to wet food is the solution you need. Cans, dog food rolls and, pouches are the most readily available wet dog foods around – you can grab them at your local Walmart.

Many popular brands of dry dog food offer the same flavors in a canned version. For example, Purina One SmartBlend Kibble can be bought as SmartBlend Cans.

Unfortunately, canned food is typically more expensive than kibble. However, if it gets your dog to eat his food, then you may find the added cost is justified.

But don’t drop the extra cash just yet. There is another way you can add moisture to your pup’s dry dog food…

Pouring warm water over kibble can make your dog more likely to eat it. You don’t need much. Leave it to sit for a few minutes before offering the meal to your dog.

If that doesn’t work, then try canned food instead.

19. Routine, Routine, Routine

Picky Dachshund demanding to know why his dinner has not arrived and his dog bowl is empty

Consistency is key. If your dog has an inconsistent eating schedule, then he will likely inconsistently eat his food too.

Dog’s are just like babies. They love routine.

One owner we surveyed said her dachshund wouldn’t eat for two days – just because she swapped from him over to a slow feed dog bowl.

Swapping back to his original metal bowl was all it took to get this pup to eat her food.

A good eating routine for a fussy dog should include…

  • Feeding the same type of food.
  • Feeding the same amount.
  • Use the same dog bowl.
  • Feed your dog at the same time.
  • Feed your dog in the same location.

With a good routine in place, you may find your picky eater just needed a little consistency in his life.

20. Add some variety

A puppy that isn't fussy as long as he has a variety of foods to choose from

Remember earlier when I said swapping out a dogs food too often can lead to picky eating?

Well, this trick goes against that advice. Three different survey respondents had success by offering their picky eaters a variety of different foods.

For instance, Jack from Arkansas has his dog on a diet of:

  1. Diamond Naturals Adult
  2. Canidae All Life Stages
  3. Purina One SmartBlend

Each day, his dog gets a different meal, rotating back to the beginning after 3 days. Since making the switch to this style of feeding, Jack hasn’t had any issues getting his dog to eat dry food.

Does your dog take to a new food for a few days before rejecting it all of a sudden? Rotating through different brands of food could get your dog to eat again.

21. Make sure your dog’s food hasn’t spoiled

Pomeranian not eating his dog food because it has spoiled

I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t eat pizza that had been sitting out all day.

Your dog feels the same about his kibble. If you are offering your dog dry food that has been left out overnight, he will likely refuse it.

It doesn’t take long for dry dog food to go stale or even absorb moisture. This affects both the taste and smell…

While it might look the same to you or me, your dog can tell the difference. The result? He’s going to refuse to eat it.

In this case, offering your dog a fresh scoop of kibble could be all that is needed to get him to eat.

While we are on the topic, you should keep an eye on the expiration date of your dog’s food. If this date has passed, the food may become unsafe to eat.

Even if the expiration date has not passed, improper storage can cause the kibble to lose its taste and aroma. Dry dog food quickly goes stale when exposed to air.

Think your dog is not eating because his food is stale? Here’s a trick to be sure:

Open up a brand new bag of the same dog food. If your dog happily eats it, the old bag was probably stale.

Fortunately, this can easily be fixed by grabbing a good pet food storage container. These airtight containers will keep your dry dog food fresh for longer.

22. Special dogs need a special bowl

French Bulldog having difficulty eating food from regular dog bowl

Do you have a flat-faced dog such as a pug or French bulldog? Your bowl could be impacting your dog’s ability to eat.

If your flat-faced pup is leaving half his meal behind, it might be because he is having trouble eating it – he wants to, but he can’t.

You see, flat-faced dogs eat with a scooping motion. This makes it difficult to reach small pieces of kibble that rest against the edges of the bowl.

Fortunately, there are bowls specifically designed to make it easy for smooshy-faced dogs to eat. Our personal favorite is the Enhanced Pet Bowl.

There are plenty of other benefits to using a flat-faced dog bowl such as improved breathing and less gas. Want more info? Check out our review of the best flat faced dog bowls.

23. Is your dog’s food upsetting his stomach?

Yorkshire Terrier with stomach pains refusing to eat any of his food

Does your dog have allergies, loose stools, gas or, an upset tummy? It could be the reason your dog won’t eat his food.

According to Veterinarian, Dr. Sara Ochoa, a dog may refuse to eat his meal if he believes it is the cause of his discomfort.

Unfortunately, many dogs find that regular kibble irritates their stomach. Swapping out to a specially formulated food can eliminate these sensitivities – your dog will be more likely to eat his food if it doesn’t make him feel sick.

Dr Ochoa recommends Purina Pro Plan Sensitive Skin and Stomach Formula. She uses it on her own dog if she suffers from diarrhea, to firm stools.

As a bonus, this food is commonly used as a safe food for sensitive tummies. Many dog owners report that their dog has never been so excited to eat kibble until they made the switch.

How did you get your fussy dog to eat his meal? Got a tip to share? Let me know in the comments below!

The information provided through this website should not be used to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease; it is not intended to offer any legal opinion or advice or a substitute for professional safety advice or professional care. Please consult your health care provider, attorney, or product manual for professional advice. Products and services reviewed are provided by third parties; we are not responsible in any way for them, nor do we guarantee their functionality, utility, safety, or reliability. Our content is for educational purposes only.

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