Picky Pup? How to Recognize Distracted Eating

24 Jul 2017 | Written by Freshpet
Does your dog seem uninterested in their food? Do they take a few bites of their dinner and wander away, leaving the remainder of their meal untouched? Dogs who seem less than enthused about their meals can worry their parents, especially if the vet has mentioned that they look a bit too thin. This lack of enthusiasm towards mealtime is often described as “distracted eating,” and while the problem can seem worrying at first, it’s not impossible to solve.  

Recognizing Distraction

So how do you know if your dog is a distracted eater? It’s easy to recognize. If your dog seems generally indifferent to her food and will get distracted by normal activity in the house during mealtimes, that’s a pretty good sign you’re dealing with a distracted eater. Other symptoms can include eating a few bites at a time separated by long breaks or sniffing the food and walking away without eating any of it.   Keep in mind that dogs who aren’t distracted eaters often need to be slowed down to prevent eating too fast and are nearly impossible to disturb while they’re chowing down. A distracted eater will behave in pretty much the opposite manner.   This can be frustrating, but the good news is that it’s not always related to an actual medical condition or serious problem. Sometimes dogs just don’t like the food they’re being served and are holding out for something better. In this case, that’s an easy problem to solve.      

A Culinary Solution

Because distracted eating is often just a matter of food quality and taste, picky pooches can do a dinner 180 when introduced to a tastier food. It can take some trial and error, but once they find the right match, many dog moms and dads find that their seemingly food-averse pets come around to adoring dinner time.   You may want to try a top-rated dog food that’s more aromatic and enticing for distracted doggies. Natural foods tend to be the most appealing because they smell great and don’t contain a lot of boring, unappetizing fillers. That’s why Freshpet’s refrigerated dog food recipes can be such a fantastic choice for distracted eaters. You may also want to give grain-free dog food a try if your pup is generally food motivated but seems to be developing distracted eating habits and is having some digestive issues. Gradually transition your dog to the new food to avoid causing any stomach upset, and give it a few days to see whether feeding behavior is changing before changing to a different dog food flavor or format option.   If trying a new food doesn’t work, though, consult with your vet. There could be another issue at play, especially if your dog is displaying distracted eating behaviors out of the blue. Everything from dental issues to illness-induced nausea can cause appetite loss in dogs.      

Behavioral Assistance

 A dog who doesn’t eat might feel too insecure to do so. Food anxiety with dogs typically manifests with aggressive or hyper behavior, but dogs are complex animals, and they don’t always behave in the ways we expect them to. If there are other dogs in the house who are a bit competitive about food or if your dog is a rescue pup with an uncertain past, the problem can be related to real or perceived traumas around food rather than the quality of the food itself.   In this case, it is often best to feed your dog in a quiet, safe place where she feels comfortable. If she’s crate trained and often goes into her crate voluntarily, let her eat there; that’s her territory, and she may get the security she needs to eat in that space. If there’s some other specific spot in the house where she tends to hang out and relax, try putting her food there at mealtimes. No matter where you feed her, keep other pets and human family members away from the distracted dog while she’s eating to minimize distractions and threats. Make sure she’s comfortable and relaxed before you set her food down, then clear out and give her some space to chow down in peace.  

Responses to this Post

Kathryn Lewis
26 Jul, 2017 at 02:45 pm
My Dogs have been eating this for a couple of years. I love it , they are happier their stomachs like it too! No upset tummys .
Mary Cornoyer
27 Jul, 2017 at 10:39 am
I have a miniture poodle that had food aggression issues when we first got him. He was older. We worked with him every day the correct the behavior. Nothing worked. He spent more time guarding his food than eating it. Until we found fresh pet. Now he is happy to just eat. We love Freshpet!!
3 Aug, 2017 at 11:58 am
Our one Boston Terrier is a rescue and we learned that she is allergic to poultry so we only feed her Freshpet Bison and she is fine. However, there are few other choices other than fish (which gets smelly) we can use. Does anyone have any other suggestions for her when she gets bored with Bison?
Shirley Parker
3 Aug, 2017 at 12:11 pm
This came to me at the perfect time! I have one each of the eaters described above. My distracted eater had pretty much always been that way. I put the food down, she sniffed and walked away. But s he always came back and ate when she got hungry. She ate according to her body. Three years I brought home a little rescue dog, who had spent at least 6 months having to scavenge for food and now even after all this time cannot get enough. Now my first dog instead of just walking away and returning when ready, spends a lot of time carrying her did around and defending it against my little "shark turbo". It makes meal times stressful for both of us. However, she has also learned that not eating she can worry me to the point where I will scramble up some lean hamburger or turkey for her. The vet had examined her and there are no health issues. I've spent a small fortune on different brands and formulas with the same result. But I guess the real takeaway for pet parents is that, after making health issues are not an issue, work on yourself. You may have to wait it out and you will feel like reporting yourself for animal cruelty. As my vet told me, it is common for a dog to stop eating for as long as three days just because they don't feel like it, bu a healthy will not starve itself to prove a point. She added that she has known cats to be that stubborn, but never a dog.
3 Aug, 2017 at 12:36 pm
Is that a Kerry Blue Terrier in the first picture?
3 Aug, 2017 at 01:26 pm
This sounds like my dogs. They are extremely picky. It's been a trial & error for the past 4 years with one & the past 2 years with the other. They will eat FreshPet - Fresh From the Kitchen most of the time but only if I mix more chicken or other meat in it with melted butter. They will not just eat it plain. They do not care for the other FreshPet brands.
3 Aug, 2017 at 03:04 pm
All four of my dogs from Standard poodle down to a 5lb 5oz dog, they all have been chowing down their fresh pet and adored it. Suddenly everyone began to stop eating except for their morning treats for breakfast. I was thinking to give the fresh pet stews fo a change but that can get pricey with four dogs one a puppy. I think this distracted eating sounds just like the issue as this all began about two to three weeks of baby miniature puppy interloping their home. Will let you know what happens.
25 Jul, 2019 at 02:02 am
Useing their advice i tore up some fresh bread( that my dog loves ) and put it in his bowl. At first he went just for the bread but then he smelled the bread on his hard food and started eating some of that. And he actully just came back to it with no bread and started to eat it. So thank u freshpet. Although i did not buy your dog food,you helped me get my dog to eat
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29 Oct, 2020 at 07:45 pm
Thank you for this article! My best friend is in pain and I am really hoping this will help her. I will also share your article with my 100K tiktok followers. Thank you!
Madison Finley
20 Nov, 2020 at 10:09 pm
Our dog is indeed prone to digestive issues and I've been planning to switch to grain-free dog food. Thanks for your suggestion.

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