to Pet Health Network or

Answers from vets about your dog:

Why is My Dog a Picky Eater?

Reviewed by Dr. Celeste Clements, DVM, DACVIM on Tuesday, October 20, 2015
Posted October 19, 2015 in Dog Diet & Nutrition

At first blush, you might expect that no dog would be a picky eater. Your stereotypical canine readily wolfs down food (even that phrase implies that canines have a ferocious appetite). Some dogs will go after anything even vaguely resembling food and, much to our frequent chagrin, plenty of things that do not– shoes, socks, branches and rocks. So seriously how picky could they be? Well you might be surprised to learn that not all dogs are so quick to eat whatever is put in front of them.

Dog refusing to eatHow have ancestral eating habits changed?
First, regarding the ‘wolfing down’ aspect of how some dogs approach eating, proposed by the Journal of Nutrition’s website,  their preference, as a species, for larger, infrequent meals likely goes back to the competitive feeding behavior of early of wolves that were their ancestors. It certainly doesn’t take a PhD in animal behavior to appreciate how eating as much as you could get, as quickly as possible, would be essential in that situation. You only have to have had a few brothers and sisters at your own dinner table to understand.

In spite of that, however, modern dogs apparently do have some innate taste preferences. As far back as the 1981, research indicated that dogs showed a strong taste preference for meats and sugar1. They preferred a diet containing sugar to one that does not, and they actually preferred water with sugar added to water without1.  The same research, authored by Katherine Houpt and Sharon Smith, also showed that dogs  preferred canned meat to fresh meat, cooked meet to raw meat and have a preference for canned or semi-moist diets over dry kibble. Furthermore, the sense of smell is very important to dogs in determining their food preferences – though apparently not so much when choosing between meat and non-meat options, but more so when discriminating between different meat choices1.

Does your dog only want people food?
Knowing that dogs do have specific taste preferences, it probably comes as little surprise that your dog often begs for people food. How can you curb this behavior? Well, some of that is training. If you’ve shared with him in the past, then he knows human food is an option. But there could be even more to it, too. More recent research (2006) has determined that “dogs acquire food preferences from interacting with recently fed conspecifics2.” What does this mean? Basically dogs prefer food they have smelled on other dog’s breath prior to being fed themselves. Knowing this, I think your dog may develop food preferences based on what you eat— making him even more inclined to want what you are eating.

Share This Article

Mike has more than 35 years of experience in companion animal veterinary practice and is a valued member of IDEXX’s Pet Health Network team since 2013.