If you are struggling to get your dog to eat the new food you’ve bought them, you’re not alone. It’s an incredibly common complaint that I see all the time when I’m working in practice.
There are many reasons why dogs can be picky eaters. Sometimes, we accidentally train them to be fussy with food, but some dogs are also naturally more selective about what they eat than others. It’s called neophobia.
Why won’t my dog eat their new food?
Neophobia—the fear or suspicion of new things—is a natural instinct for most wild animals and is essential for self-preservation. Wolves and wild dogs show a wariness towards new things, such as people and food, and will slowly become more curious and investigate the new thing when it proves it isn’t dangerous to them or their pack.
When it comes to food, our dogs need to sniff, mouth and paw at any new food to make sure it isn’t poisonous before eating it. This is why nutritional enrichment is a successful way to occupy your dog for a few hours.
But it’s also why many dogs won’t immediately tuck into a bowl of unfamiliar kibble, no matter how much you wave it in front of their nose.
How do I get my dog to eat new food?
A slow and gradual transition to a new food is the best way to minimise neophobic behaviour in dogs.
Start by using the new kibble as treats. Even fussy dogs will take treats from us without hesitation because our actions suggest they are safe and super high value.
After a couple of days of their new “treats” being tolerated and building up in value, it’s time to start introducing them as dinner. When serving them their meals, feed a mix of 75% of their old food and 25% of their new food for three days.
The familiarity of the old food and the appeal of the treats should overcome your dog’s natural suspicions and convince them to gobble down their food. After three days, increase the portion of the new kibble to 50% of their main meals.
Most dogs can go onto 100% new food after a few days of 50/50, but if your dog is anxious, picky or has a very sensitive tummy, move on to a mix of 75% of the new food and 25% old food for a few days before you go to 100% of the new food.
Why aren’t all dogs weird about new food?
All dogs have different personalities; some just love all food and aren’t suspicious of anything new in their bowl as long as it’s full. Bing is like this. We never have issues transitioning Bing onto new food or treats; he just gobbles everything down.
On the other hand, Gunther investigates everything very intensely before eating it. We have a ten-minute-long video of his first time eating a chicken nugget. Even the yummiest food will not overcome his natural instincts to make sure it isn’t dangerous.
Highly intelligent dogs, including a lot of small breeds, tend to be more cautious when it comes to accepting new food. It’s why owners of these intelligent dogs often struggle with switching food and frequently complain to us veterinary professionals about the fussy eating habits of their pups.
If we take a step back and understand why these picky eating habits exist, we can work around them with our dogs and minimize the issues when switching food brands or introducing new food as a form of enrichment.
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