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What is Picky With Food?

It is not uncommon for a dog to be a picky eater even though most dogs seem like they will eat anything. However, it is usually not a concern unless your dog refuses to eat completely for more than 24 hours or if she is showing other symptoms. Some dogs may become picky eaters if they have been getting fed table scraps or other treats or if you have recently started feeding her a new kind of food. Many dogs will refuse to eat if their food is making them feel ill for some reason like if it causes gas or stomach upset. Some of the most common causes of picky eating are:

  • Feeding table scraps
  • New food
  • Digestive upset
  • Side effect of medication
  • Anxiety or depression
  • Pain
  • Poisoning
  • Cancer
  • Hormonal disorder

Almost any illness can cause lack of appetite so if you cannot find a reason after 24 hours you should call your veterinary care provider.

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Why Picky With Food Occurs in Dogs

Feeding Table Scraps

If you or someone in the household is feeding your dog table scraps or other treats, this can cause your dog not to eat her own food. In fact, this is one of the main causes of lack of appetite in dogs.

New Food

Another common cause of picky eating in dogs is new food. Even though you may think the new food you bought for her may smell delicious, she may not like it. Sometimes it is better not to change food unless your veterinarian suggests it because of an allergy.

Digestive Upset

Just like a human, if her stomach hurts, she is not going to want to eat anything. If this does not pass within 24 hours, you should call your veterinary care provider.

Side Effect of Medication

Some medications can make your dog feel nauseous or have an upset stomach. If you have started your dog on any kind of new medication or supplement recently you should call your veterinarian for advice. Also, never give your dog medication or supplements without talking to the veterinarian first.

Anxiety or Depression

Another commonality with humans, some dogs do not have much of an appetite when they are anxious or feeling depressed. If there has been a change in the household such as a recent move or loss (or gain) of a household member, this can cause a temporary lack of appetite. Call the veterinarian if it lasts longer than one day.


If your dog has any kind of pain, this can cause your dog to lose her appetite, especially if she has some sort of dental pain like a bad tooth or gum disease. Call your veterinarian if she refuses to eat for longer than one day.


If your dog has ingested some type of toxic material such as a poisonous plant or cleaning substance, they will not want to eat anything. There should be other symptoms with this kind of issue such as vomiting or diarrhea.


Many types of cancer can cause anorexia (loss of appetite) in dogs. Other symptoms to watch for are weight loss and extreme lethargy.

Hormonal Disorder

Some hormonal disorders can cause an imbalance or overabundance of certain chemicals, called metabolic disease. This imbalance in the blood may cause lack of appetite or picky eating. Other symptoms you may notice include increased or decreased sleeping, frequent urination, and weight loss or gain.

What to do if your Dog is Picky With Food

If you or someone in the household has been feeding your dog table scraps, stop doing that immediately. If she is filling up on human food, she will not get the nutrients she needs from eating her own food. Also, do not feed your dog new food unless she has developed an allergy to the food she was eating. If that happens, your veterinary care provider can help you find an alternative food. If your dog is on any kind of medication, you should talk to your veterinarian about discontinuing or switching to a different drug. However, do not stop any medication or start a new medication without talking to your veterinarian first. For all other conditions, you need to bring your dog to the veterinarian to get a physical examination and tests to determine and treat the cause.

Prevention of Picky With Food

To prevent your dog from becoming a picky eater, you should never feed her any table scraps and try not to give her treats except for special occasions. Do not offer new food unless your veterinarian suggests it. Also, be sure to bring your dog to see her veterinary care provider at least once a year. This can prevent most illnesses before they get too bad. You should always speak to or visit your veterinarian if you have any concerns about abnormal behavior or eating habits.

Cost of Picky With Food

For many of the causes of picky eating in dogs, there is no cost to you at all. You just have to change some of your dog’s (and yours) eating habits. However, to treat a digestive problem, the cost can range from $350 for tests and medication to $12,000 for gastrointestinal surgery in the case of cancer (adenocarcinoma) or ingestion of a foreign object.