Jack Russell not eating his dog food.

Help! My Dog Won't Eat Their Food But Will Eat Treats

Written By Vedrana Nikolic | Canine Coach, B.A Ethnology & Anthropology, M.A Semiotics.
Edited & Fact Checked By Renae Soppe | B.A Journalism & Science. 
Last Updated: 7th January 2024

Even the unfussiest of eaters go through stages where they won’t look at their freshly filled food bowl. At the same time, they’ll gladly eat another treat, be it 20th in a row.

Not only is this a very frustrating situation for every dog owner, but it’s also not a healthy one for your dog as treats don’t provide the necessary nutrients meals do.

Related: The Best Dog Food Australia.

In this article, our team of experts have discussed different reasons for food refusal and shared tips for solving them. 


Reasons Why Your Dog Refuses Food

Your dog skipping one meal shouldn’t be alarming, but if the issue persists, you need to address it as soon as possible. This is not always an easy task, as reasons can range from behavioural to physical, with some even requiring vet attention. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Here are some of the most common reasons why your dog is refusing food but is still eating treats.

Overly Repetitive Diet

One of the main reasons why your pooch is not eating food while still enjoying treats may simply be boredom. While it’s true that dogs like routine and consistency, which includes their diet, they can grow tired of constantly eating the same thing every day.

If your canine companion is eyeing your own dinner while not giving the kibble a second look, then boredom with regular food is most surely the culprit. The appetite for food is obviously there, just not for that food you just served in the bowl.

Being Overfed On Treats

Do you like snacks? Most dogs do too. And while you might pay attention to the caloric content of the treats, your pooch is surely not bothered by those numbers. For that reason, don’t expect your dog to decline the seventh treat in a row, just because it’s “too much” and might interfere with the dinner.

Related: Are Dog Treats Healthy?

It’s fairly easy to overfeed your pooch on treats, as they can be as caloric as a bag of chips. But as far as other nutritional values go, they’re not a suitable replacement for a meal.

Stress And Anxiety

Feeling under the weather can cause you to lose your appetite, and your pooch is no different. And while you might think your canine companion doesn’t have a single worry in the world, that’s not really the case.

From loud noises and strange people to fear of abandonment or change in routine, all of those circumstances can make a dog feel stressed or anxious. In such cases, even those pooches that inhale every kibble in sight may reject a meal. The same doesn’t hold true for treats, as they could be considered “comfort food.”

Social Hierarchy And Household Dynamics

In nature, there are several positions in the social hierarchy: front, middle and rear of the pack. Leaders are in the front, omegas in the rear, while those in the middle conveniently have the roles of mediators between them.

If your household has more than one dog, they will figure out the pack order between themselves. As for you, you can decipher their dynamics just by watching their body language. The hierarchy is typically very obvious through their feeding habits. Dominant dogs eat first and won’t fret about fighting other members of the pack to show them their place. Submissive dogs, on the other hand, will try to avoid confrontation and wait for their turn to eat.

If your dominant pooch is greedy with food and eats like there’s no tomorrow, don’t be surprised by the lack of concern for the hungry packmates. Even if the alpha doesn’t plan on finishing the bowl right away, resource guarding may keep those lower in the hierarchy from touching food.

Dental Issues

From cracked or broken teeth to decay and gingivitis, there are many dental problems that can make eating painful for your dog. That’s especially the case if your pooch primarily eats dry food, since kibble needs to be chewed on, which can cause discomfort.

Treats, on the other hand, can be soft and small enough to be swallowed without chewing, so they’re much easier on your dog’s teeth than dog food.

Digestive Problems

Tummy issues may be another reason why your pooch may refuse food. An upset stomach can be caused by many things, with scavenging being one of the most common reasons. Of course, the problem could be a more serious underlying health issue, such as gastritis, ulcers and inflammatory bowel disease.

Related: The Best Sensitive Stomach Dog Food.
Related: How Long Does It Take For A Dog To Digest Food?


How To Encourage Your Dog To Eat

As you can see, there are several reasons why your canine companion won’t eat what you served in a food bowl. In some cases, the issue can be prevented with a healthy routine. But if it’s too late for prevention, there’s still room for correction of the behaviour. Here are some things you can do to encourage your pooch to eat food.

Limit Treats

Even to the strictest pet parents, resisting those begging puppy eyes is a tough task. Regardless, it’s your job to ensure your dog is eating well, and that may mean cutting back on treats.

Related: The Best Dog Treats Australia.
Related: The Best High Value Puppy Treats.
Related: How To Make 3 Ingredient Dog Treats.

Treats are an amazing training tool, but no matter how good of a boy or a girl your pooch is, you should refrain from showering your dog with them.

So, how many treats is too much? According to most veterinarians, treats shouldn’t make up more than 10% of your dog’s diet (1). Whether that means your pooch can eat three, five or a dozen of his favourite snacks depends on the caloric content of that specific product.

Introduce Different Flavours

If your dog has been eating the same food every single day, maybe it’s time to introduce some variety to the diet. Nowadays, both dry dog food and wet dog food comes in a range of flavours, ranging from common ones like chicken and beef to novelty proteins, such as kangaroo or rabbit.

Related: The Best Meat Protein For Dogs.

Aside from making your pooch’s diet more interesting, introducing variety may also keep food allergies at bay. More often than not, this type of allergy develops due to repeated exposure to the same proteins (2). By switching between a few different protein sources, you may lower the chance of your dog developing a negative immune response.

Of course, make sure to introduce new food gradually, to avoid upsetting your pooch’s stomach. Ideally, you want to make the transition slowly, over the course of two weeks. Start by mixing 25% of the new food with 75% of the old diet, then gradually increase each day.

Make Food More Enticing

If you’re dealing with a picky eater, making meals more attractive often solves the issue. You want to appeal to both your dog’s sense of smell and taste, and there are many ways you can do that.

Add a Meal Topper:

Topping kibble with canned or wet dog food is one of the easiest ways to make it more enticing to your dog. Of course, you can also add some ingredients you have readily available in your pantry. Plain yogurt, broth, coconut oil and canned fish are all toppers most dogs find appealing. And aside from adding flavour, all of these ingredients also provide a nutritional boost to your pooch’s diet.

Related: The Best Meal Toppers For Dogs.

Use a Puzzle Feeder or a Toy:

Some dogs enjoy working for their food and solving puzzles. In my experience, using a puzzle feeder or a toy that dispenses food when my dog plays with it can make him more interested in eating. This way, your dog can have fun and stimulate his brain while eating.

Related: The Best Slow Feeder Dog Bowls.

I love The Slowdown Bowl because it has different shapes and patterns that make my dog work for his meal and challenge his mind. It also slows down his eating and prevents him from gulping down his food too fast.

Add Moisture:

Some dogs simply get tired of eating dry dog food. Add water or no-sodium chicken broth to the dog food and let it soak for several minutes to soften it. Adding moisutre will give the food a new texture which might be more appealing for your pup.

Keep A Regular Feeding Schedule

As creatures of habit, dogs thrive on routine. If you want to regulate your Fido’s appetite, implementing a feeding schedule is essential. That means providing your pooch with a meal at the same time every day, ideally an hour or two before going for a walk.

How many times a day your dog should eat depends on the breed, age and physical conditions. Most adult dogs should eat twice per day, while puppies need three meals to sustain their growth. If possible, each of those meals should be served at the same time each day, about 12 hours apart – like breakfast and dinner.


Final Thoughts

From behavioural to medical issues, there are many reasons why your canine companion may be picky with food but not treats. But in most cases, a consistent routine and a balanced diet are the key to solving the problem and preventing further recurrences.

References

  1. Fields. L. August 11, 2022. “The Right Way to Treat Your Pet.” Fetch by WebMD. Retrieved August 27, 2023. https://www.webmd.com/pets/pet-treats
  2.  Llera, R; Barnette, C; Ward, E. “Food Allergies in Dogs.” VCA Animal Hospitals. Retrieved August 27, 2023. https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/food-allergies-in-dogs

Vedrana Nikolic


Vedrana Nikolić is Gentle Dog Trainers Canine Coach, Professional Writer, Anthropologist & dog lover.

With a Masters Degree in Semiotics & Bachelors Degree in Anthropology, studying the communication between animals and humans, Vedrana is able to use her expertise to analyse and review dog products and write informative posts on canine behaviour and training.

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