Health & Medical

Ask a Vet: How Do I Make My Fussy Dog Eat?

Fussy Dog Picky Eater | Vanillapup

Q: My dog became a fussy eater after a home stay while I was overseas. Now I have to beg him to eat or he will vomit yellow substance. What can I do to improve his eating habits?

When dogs are picky with their food, we naturally get concerned that it may deteriorate their health.

But when we change the type of food or coax our dogs to eat, we are actually rewarding and further encouraging that fussy behaviour.

It is important for us to always be in control of our dogs’ diet and not vice versa. This is especially crucial when they have sensitivities or allergies to certain ingredients.

To solve your problem, I recommend you to use my preferred feeding technique – strict feeding.

Strict feeding

To practise strict feeding, you have to feed a chosen diet consistently for every meal, adhering to the following steps:

  • Leave food in the bowl for your dog to consume
  • Remove any remaining food after 15 to 20 minutes, even if it was not touched at all
  • Offer a fresh portion of the same food again at the next mealtime. Do not vary the type of food offered
  • Repeat this routine daily with each meal till your dog eats
When your dog is not eating at all:
  • Feed more meals in a day (e.g. 3 to 4 meals a day) to provide ample opportunity for her to eat. But do not leave food out the whole day for her to choose when to eat
  • Do not offer treats or any other food between meals, because then she wouldn’t be hungry at mealtimes. This is like feeding children junk food, ruining their appetite for proper meals
When your dog starts to eat more than she did at the last meal:
  • Give one tiny piece of treat or her favourite food as a reward and give her lots of praise. With each subsequent meal, only treat and praise if she eats more than she did the previous meal

Important points to note

  • Do not scold or punish your dog if she does not eat or finish the meal. This only creates anxiety and fear. And as a result, diminish whatever appetite she had, and cause her to associate the food with negative experiences
  • Avoid distractions during mealtime. Take away toys and do not leave her sight
  • Avoid coaxing or hand feeding her as it makes her dependent on you for feeding. That would be a problem when you are not around.
  • Do not lock your dog in a small area that she is not used to. You don’t want her to associate mealtimes with anxiety, further discouraging her to eat

Be persistent

When dogs skip a meal or two, their empty stomachs may result in a gastric reflux, causing them to vomit some white or yellow substance.

If this vomiting is only associated with your dog skipping meals, does not occur more than once to twice a day, and your dog is otherwise completely well and behaving normally, then my preference is to continue strict feeding till your dog eats.

Some dogs are persistent and it may take 4 to 5 days (sometimes longer!) before they start eating. Do not give up before your dog does.

When to see a vet

It is very important to seek immediate veterinary attention if the vomiting is associated with any other signs of being unwell:

  • Lethargy,
  • Diarrhoea or soft stools,
  • Complete disinterest in all food (even favourite ones),
  • Abdominal pain,
  • Abnormal urination/urine,
  • Vomiting that persists for more than two days or occurs more than twice a day,
  • A significant amount of food or any amount of blood in the vomitus,
  • Vomiting that is associated with other possible causes such as consumption of new food that he is not used to, foreign objects, toxins and poisons,
  • If the dog is senior (6-7 years and above),
  • If your dog has a history of any other medical conditions associated with vomiting, or
  • Any other signs or behaviour that is unusual for your dog

If you think that the vomiting may not be normal, you need to contact your vet immediately for further advice and assessment.

Photo credit: Georgie Pauwels via / CC BY

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Dr. Brian Loon
Principal Veterinary Surgeon at Amber Vet
BSc. BVMS (Hons) (Murdoch), Certificate Veterinary Acupuncture (IVAS)

Dr. Brian Loon graduated from Murdoch University, Western Australia in 2007 and has since been practising as a small animal veterinarian in Singapore. His areas of special interest include diagnostic ultrasonography, endoscopy, and minimally invasive (keyhole) surgery (laparoscopy).

He is also certified in Veterinary Acupuncture with the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society (IVAS) and a certified and registered member of PennHIP, an internationally known modality for diagnosing hip dysplasia in cats and dogs.
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