All dog parents love when their dogs have healthy appetites and enjoy their meals. Therefore, when a dog refuses a meal or starts being picky, it is normal to feel worried.
Usually, we tend to associate good appetite with health and whenever a dog is not eating. we assume there is something wrong with the dog.
Things are not always simple, a perfectly healthy dog can refuse to eat because of many reasons and not all of them warrant a trip to the vet’s office.
In this article we will discuss whether a healthy dog is capable of deliberately starving itself and the reasons why dogs may suddenly become picky eaters.
Plus, we will tell you some tips on how to make a finicky eater enjoy its meals.
Would a Dog Starve if He Doesn't Like His Food?
The good news is no. Dogs cannot purposely starve themselves to death. They can purposely refuse certain foods and even several meals, but they will never starve themselves to death simply because they are true to their ancestral survival instincts.
However, it should be noted that dogs do not get hungry the same way people do. Namely, some dogs can go over 48 hours before starting to feel hunger and resort to eating.
Nevertheless, every dog is different. Some dogs are food-driven and will do anything for an extra cup during mealtime, while others see food as an obligation.
In general, large and giant breed dogs have more ravenous appetites, while toy and small dog breeds can be overly fussy in their dietary choices.
How long can a picky dog go without eating? In general, dogs can go between three and five days without eating. However, if they have water access and regular water intake, they can go without food for more than seven days.
Firstly, Is Your Dog Really Refusing to Eat?
If your dog is refusing its regular meals, but seems perfectly fine and is not losing weight, there are two possibilities.
Possibility number 1: Your dog has found itself another food source.
Possibility number 2: Some household member is sneaking your dog food.
Both possibilities can be dangerous for your dog and require further investigation. If your dog found its own source, chances are, it is eating table scraps from the trash. For some unexplainable reason most dogs seem to prefer trash food and table scraps over regular food.
If someone is sneaking food, it can create unhealthy eating habits such as the dog eating unsuitable foods and being fed without a schedule. These issues can have long-term effects on your dog’s overall appetite.
All in all, before being alarmed over your dog’s refusal to eat, make sure whether your dog is really skipping meals or is simply being sneaky and finding tastier ones.
Why Do Dogs Become Finicky Eaters?
As mentioned, some dogs are simply not really that into food. Not all dogs share the Labradors’ love of food. (This was scientifically proven by the way, a study reveals why Labradors are always hungry).
While some dogs are born as fussy eaters, others learn to become fussy. In general, there are many reasons why a normally eating dog can become a picky eater. Here are some of the most common reasons.
Every dog’s palate is different and every dog prefers a different food. Some dogs like regular chicken or beef formulas, while others opt for more exotic choices like rabbit or venison.
Some dogs love purely meat-based foods and some would appreciate a fair share of fruits and veggies.
Tastier Options on the Menu
Your dog can become a fussy eater if he's stealing table scraps or if someone in your household is offering other foods. Your dog can also become fussy if you are overly generous with the treats.
It is no secret that treats are tastier than regular food. However, they are not nutritionally balanced and complete and should not be used as food substitutes.
Stress and Anxiety
Just like people, when dealing with stress some dogs overeat and others refuse to eat. There are many causes of stress and anxiety in dogs, including boredom, loneliness, separation anxiety, fireworks, thunderstorms, or even something as simple as re-arranging the furniture in your house.
Dogs with digestion issues and food sensitivities often develop tummy issues after eating certain meals.
If your dog starts associating its food with tummy pain, chances are, it will start to avoid that particular food. In more severe cases, it may start refusing food in general.
If your dog is a senior its reluctance to eat might be due to old age. Namely, older dogs often have teeth and gum problems that make eating a painful process.
Plus, in older dogs, the smell and taste senses decline thus making the food less appealing. The decline and possible loss of smell is known as anosmia and anosmia in dogs can surely put a dent in their appetites
Dogs are creatures of habits and like their meals served in specific times.
If for some reason, you change that schedule and start serving meals in different times or following irregular patterns, your dog might refuse to eat in an attempt to fight the change.
The concept of palate boredom among dogs is an extensively discussed topic. While some experts believe dogs cannot develop palate boredom, many dog owners report their dogs prefer diverse menus.
Tips to Make a Finicky Dog Eat
There are several things you can do to promote a healthy appetite and make your fussy dog eat what you are serving.
Seeing the Vet
Before trying some new techniques, it is advisable to rule out any medical issues. The most common medical issues for fussy eating include dental disease, food allergies, gastrointestinal issues, and arthritis.
Start Practicing Limited Meal Times
You can leave the food bowl out for 20 or 30 minutes and after that take the food away. Then give your dog its food bowl back when it is time for the next meal.
This way your dog will learn that if it does not eat now it will have to wait for the next scheduled meal time. This may seem a bit cruel, but it is quite efficient in many dogs.
However, it should be noted that this is not a suitable approach for small dogs and puppies whose blood sugar levels can drop really quickly.
What is the best food for a fussy eater? There is no universal answer to this question. You will need to experiment and try different formulas before determining which one suits your dog’s palate most.
If your dog is refusing its regular food, therefore, you can buy another formula, preferably using a different main protein source. For example, if your dog was eating fish, get beef or chicken.
It is important not to makes sudden food changes. When you get the new formula mix it with the old food for several days. Sudden diet changes may result in tummy upset. Basically, it is advisable to follow this schedule:
- Day 1 to day 3 – 75% old and 25% new food
- Day 4 to day 6 – 50% old and 50% new food
- Day 7 to day 9 – 25% old and 75% new food
- Day 10 – 100% new food
Use Taste Enticers
There are many ways of making your dog’s kibble more enticing. For example, you can add a commercially available dog food topper or pour few chunks of canned dog food over the kibble. In some cases adding warmed chicken broth or just water will make the trick.
Exercise your Dog
Physical activity is the ultimate appetite promoter. Physical activity stimulates the bowels and ensures regular movements. Plus, it depletes the dog’s energy reserves. Together, these two effects result in increased appetite.
Even a simple regular walk counts as a good exercise. Exercising your dog does not mean exhausting it – keep it simple but regular.
Ditch the Food Bowl
As weird as it may sound, some dogs prefer eating from the floor than from the food bowl. For some unknown reason, dogs like the same food better when eating it directly from the floor.
Keep the Treats to a Minimum
It is important not to offer your dog foods that might taste better than its regular food. This includes all human foods and table scraps as well as dog treats.
Dogs can be real manipulators when it comes to extorting treats and scraps. You need to be consistent and resist your dog’s manipulations and begging.
Create an Ideal Eating Space
As mentioned, dogs appreciate eating in peace without disturbances and in low-traffic places. Designate one area of your house as your dog’s dining room.
If you have kids or guests over do not let them interact with your dog during meal time.
Use Elevated Food Bowls
This advice is for senior dogs. Older dogs with arthritis or other joint issues may refuse to eat if standing over a regular good bowl makes their sore joints even more painful. To avoid this issue, you can buy a nice set of elevated food and water bowl.
So will a picky eater starve? No, this is an implausible scenario. A picky eater may refuse several meals, but once it feels too hungry, it will try to find another food source and, if there is no alternative, eventually eat what is being served.
As opportunistic eaters, wild dogs would eat whatever they find and whenever they find. However, the domestication process and our tendency to spoil dogs messed with their survival mojo.
Namely, modern dogs can be pretty manipulative. They know that their food refusal will make us offer something tastier. Therefore, skipping a meal or two seems like a small price to pay for the delicacy we are ready to serve whenever our dogs turn their noses on regular kibble.
Luckily, you can manage picky eaters. All it takes are consistency and patience, and of course, understanding that your dog will not purposely starve themselves.
However, if your dog is neither eating nor drinking, or he is acting sick, it is imperative to schedule an appointment with your trusted veterinarian.