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What to do if your Dog won’t Eat their Food

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Chihuahua owners know better than most how picky dogs can be; these little dogs are notorious for turning up their noses at their food dishes.

white chihuahua dog with food dog

You lovingly prepare your dog’s dinner and set it down, expecting her to eagerly dig in. She sniffs it, licks her lips, and walks away. No amount of coaxing will bring her back to her bowl. What is a dog owner to do?

There are many ways you may encourage your dog to eat. Let’s discuss options so you can formulate a game plan to get your canine companion to become a culinary connoisseur:

Discover The Why

The first thing you must do is discover why your dog refuses to eat:

  • Start by checking your dog over physically; does everything look normal?
  • How is your dog’s personality and energy level? Medical issues may impact a dog’s appetite and make them act differently than they normally do.
  • Pay extra attention to the teeth, as a dog with a dental problem may refuse to eat as a result of pain.
  • If you notice any abnormalities schedule an appointment with your dog’s veterinarian promptly. Depending on the health issue, your veterinarian may be able to prescribe an appetite stimulant to help your dog eat.

If your dog appears healthy and is acting normally, she may simply be a picky eater or a selective eater. There are several strategies that may help you encourage your picky eater which I will discuss below.

Did you recently change your dog’s food? If so, she may not like the new food. While this may be disappointing if the new food is healthier than her old food, there are some tricks you can use to make it more appealing which I will discuss below.

Remember, the food will not be more beneficial for your dog if she refuses to eat it. Consider switching back if all else fails and talk to your veterinarian about other healthy food options for your dog to try.

Be sure to check out our article on whether making your own dog food is a good idea for your dog.

What To Avoid

When you have a dog who is a selective eater, there are a few things that you should avoid doing, as these things may make the situation worse:

Rapidly Switching Foods
Do not immediately switch foods. Dogs were not designed the way humans are; they should not eat a different dish every meal because it will cause digestive upset.

Dogs need their food transitioned; this means the new food is mixed in with the old food over multiple meals to gradually acclimate your dog’s digestive system to the new food.

Without transitioning your dog from an old food to a new food over a period of approximately a week, your dog will most likely suffer digestive upset. A sour stomach will not improve their appetite.

Topping Food with Treats
If you top your dog’s food with dog treats, or pieces of chicken or cheese, they are most likely to eat the treats off the top and leave the food.

While they may try to convince you otherwise, dogs cannot live off treats alone, especially Chihuahuas, as they are prone to obesity.

Offering Something Better
When dogs refuse to eat after a few meals, some owners will become concerned that they are not eating and will offer them something off the menu to get something in their tummy.

Chihuahuas love when their owners do this, however, most learn that if they refuse kibble something better will be served. This reinforces the selective eating and causes digestive upset.

Long term, this practice contributes to unhealthy weight and malnutrition if the home made meals are not veterinarian approved to be balanced and healthy meals. If your dog is refusing to eat for more than a day, you should schedule an appointment with a veterinarian.

Grazing
Some owners leave food in their dog’s dish all day for them to eat as they please, which is referred to as grazing. A dog who is picky will be less likely to eat if they always have access to their food.

Rather than allowing your dog to graze, have set meal times. Prepare and serve their meal at a certain time of day, and if they do not eat their food within an hour, take the dish away and offer the food again at their next meal time.

Keep in mind that wet food mixed with dry food does not keep long term, so if you mix in wet food and the meal is not eaten, it should be disposed of and a new dish should be prepared when the time comes to serve the next meal.

Exhibiting Frustration
While it can be frustrating when your dog refuses to eat, becoming angry will cause your dog to become frightened and stressed, which will further exacerbate the problem.

A dog who is refusing to eat will not eat when someone yells at them to eat or tries putting food in their mouth. If a dog associates you serving their meals with scary experiences they are more likely to remain picky or begin refusing to eat at all.

Try to be patient and calm, and if you cannot be, walk away and take a break, then try dealing with it once you have calmed down.

fawn colored chihuahua puppy in front of yellow food bowl

Tempting The Picky Eater

Here are some tried and true tricks to encourage picky princesses and princes to eat what is served:

Mix in Wet Food
The key here is mixing in the wet food, not completely replacing dry kibble with wet food. Solely eating wet food significantly increases the calories your dog consumes, which could result in obesity.

While it is not a replacement for brushing your dog’s teeth and regularly scheduling professional teeth cleanings, crunchy dry food is a way to contribute to your dog having good dental health.

The next key to this strategy is to buy the right kind of wet food. A pate or loaf style wet food is difficult to mix with kibble and will enable your dog to selectively eat. Look for a wet food with gravy and shredded meat to coat the kibble.

Dogs heavily rely upon their sense of smell, so look for interesting flavors to pique their nose’s interest such as fish, which has a strong odor. Here are some recommended wet foods:

Add Some Broth
When my big old mutt Buddy got out of the pet hospital after being there for almost a month, he refused to eat even though he was well enough by then to be able to eat with no issues.

Our vet suggested adding a little warm beef or chicken broth to his food. It worked like a charm. So try this if your dog refuses to eat. If it works, just add a little less broth at each meal until you no longer need to add any broth at all.

Add Some Seasoning
This is ideal for Chihuahuas who need to maintain a healthy weight, as wet food is high calorie. There are seasonings made specifically for dog food, like the PawTree Paw Pairings Seasonings.

Never use human seasonings that are not specifically designed for dogs, as they may be toxic or make your dog sick.

Make Them Work For It
If eating an entire meal is problematic, put the minimum serving size of food in a container that is easy for you to transport around the house with you. Throughout the day, ask your Chihuahua to do tricks and offer pieces of kibble as a reward.

Without a set meal, they may be more likely to snack. Most dogs are also more likely to eat if they have to perform some sort of work to earn their food. These mini training sessions are also great for bonding and are an opportunity to teach your Chihuahua lots of tricks to show off to friends.

Make Them Hunt
Divide your dog’s daily minimum serving of food in small dishes and hide them around your home for your dog to find.

 

Alternatively, you could put their food in a puzzle toy or a snuffle mat. This makes them “hunt” for food, which offers mental stimulation and may motivate them to eat when they find it.

For dogs who are overweight, this is a great way to help them get their beach body back because it forces them to exercise a little.

If your dog is motivated by affection, you could help her hunt for her food and make it a bonding experience too.

Summary
If a dog refuses to eat, their health must be considered because many medical conditions impact their appetites.

While it is important for dogs to eat daily, what they eat is equally important. Dogs must eat healthy, balanced diets to have the longest possible life span.

To maintain healthy digestion, it is important that dogs are consistently fed the same food. This means that owners of picky dogs should avoid “offering something better” to get their picky dog to eat for the sake of their health.

Dealing with a picky eater may be difficult and frustrating, but it is definitely doable by implementing some of the aforementioned recommendations and consulting with a trusted veterinarian.

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2 chihuahua dogs eating out of dog food bowls

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Joan Sardina

Sunday 3rd of May 2020

Thanks for this article. It describes our dog to the T. I will try these suggestions.

Cathy

Sunday 3rd of May 2020

You're welcome Joan and let us know if they work.