There’s nothing more troubling than when you try and feed your furry friend a good meal and they just look at you with puppy dog eyes as if to say “that’s all you got?” If you are a Shih Tzu owner it’s likely you have faced this battle.
I wanted to find out just how picky Shih Tzus are and what owners do to battle the mealtime blues so I’ve dug my heels in and done to do a lot of research and find the answers to a lot of questions.
Shih Tzus can be very picky eaters. Many Shih Tzu owners say that their Shih Tzu is very particular about their food. Out of 135 owners surveyed around 55% worry that their Shih Tzu is so picky that it could be detrimental to their health. Around 28% of owners say their dogs have good appetites, and 17% say their Shih Tzu is slightly picky.
So if you are one of the unfortunate 55% dealing with a picky pooch, don’t fear, you are certainly not alone and we’ve uncovered all the tips and tricks that have helped other Shih Tzu owners make sure that they got the nutrition they needed.
How Picky Are Shih Tzus?
When most people think of dog breeds that are picky eaters we tend to think of the smaller breeds such as Maltese and Poodles and Shih Tzus. It’s true that there has been some interesting scientific research showing that small breeds do tend to be the pickiest eaters in the dog kingdom, but that doesn’t mean they are the only ones.
While every Breed has its share of picky eaters Shih Tzus tend to have more than most. Shih Tzus are incredibly smart! This means they have a knack for figuring out how to get what they want and will easily understand that their behavior (like fussy eating) can trigger you to give them more of the type of food (like table scraps) that they want, not necessarily what’s good for them.
In this way, they could be tricking you into thinking they are picky and will only eat delicious table scraps because they know that if they don’t eat the other stuff you’ll give them what they want.
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So what is considered a picky eater? If your dog takes more than about 20 minutes to finish his meals or routinely leaves some or most food untouched (even when feeding them the recommended amount by your vet) then your dog would be considered a picky eater.
The good news is in most cases having a picky eater is not going to affect their health, and there are ways to encourage them to eat better.
So what did the numbers say?
Around 55% of owners that I surveyed said their Shih Tzu was so picky that they worried about their health and had to work pretty hard to figure out a feeding routine that could help their Shih Tzu stay well.
That’s a pretty high number, and so far the highest of all the small breeds that I have surveyed.
Around 28% of owners said that their Shih Tzu was in the middle not too picky, but not willing to eat everything in sight. Some may benefit from a few strategies of healthy eating when it comes to feeding time. I’ll talk about those strategies below.
And then of course the remaining 17% say their Shih Tzu eat everything!
So much that some have to watch their weight pretty closely.
If you are in that camp then this is the article that you should be reading!
What Makes a Shih Tzu a Picky Eater
Shih Tzus are smart, loyal, energetic, and sometimes very stubborn dogs. Knowing how much Shih Tzu owners love their dogs they want to fuss over them and pamper them making sure that they get all the love care and attention they deserve.
Taking care of your Shih Tzu in this way is great, but in some ways owners may be enabling and reinforcing their Shih Tzus pick eating without even realizing it.
Reasons and Solutions for a Fussy Shih Tzu
- Don’t fuss over a fussy eater – It’s understandable if you are concerned about your Shih Tzus eating habits and you want to be close by during mealtime in order to monitor if they are actually eating anything, but it’s important to realize that your dog can sense your anxiety about the situation and that may prompt them to also have anxiety when it’s mealtime.
Solution: Give them some space. Don’t make a big deal or fuss about it. Leave the room if you need to and monitor the amount left in the bowl rather than watching your dog while they eat.
- Leaving the food out all the time – By leaving your dogs food out all the time and letting them have it whenever they want it makes it seem less important that they eat an appropriate meal. They may also feel like since the food has been sitting out for a while it’s no longer appetizing or appealing.
Just think about how you would feel about having your dinner sitting out on the counter all day long, day after day. Yuck!
Solution: Start feeding your dog on a schedule. When you give them their food allow them 15-20 minutes to eat it, some Shih Tzu owners report success leaving it out for 2 hours at a time, then pick up any unused food.
Depending on the type of food you may have to throw it out. Start with smaller portions so if they are not eating it you don’t have to waste very much.
- Low-quality dog food – Be sure to know what ingredients are in the dog food you are buying. Many pet food companies will use fillers like byproducts and additives to make their dog food cheaper to produce. It may be cheaper for you to buy, but in the long run, it could cost you additional vet bills from a sick dog.
Dog foods with fillers or byproducts are not a healthy option for your dog. If your dog is refusing to eat, it could be that the food is making him feel poorly.
Also, be wary of added coloring in your dog food. It may look pretty, but it’s completely unnecessary and could also cause irritation for your dog.
Solution: Use high-quality dog food. Many owners recommend Instinct Natural Raw Boost.
- Underlying medical conditions – If being a picky eater is something that has happened suddenly and you notice other worrisome signs like diarrhea, vomiting, constipation, or lethargy there could be a medical reason your Shih Tzu is not eating.
If you notice that your dog is trying to eat but only takes a few bites then backs away, that may be another indication that something more concerning may be happening.
Solution: Take them to your vet. Your vet will ask questions about when your dog started to lose his appetite, other symptoms that you have noticed, and recent medical history.
They will also perform an exam and may take blood, fecal, and/or urine samples, as well as do x-rays, or an ultrasound.
- Bored of the same food – This one is tricky. You don’t want to be changing your Shih Tzus food all the time just because they might be bored, that could actually cause more problems rather than fix them.
If you have ruled out medical issues for your dog and they still have gradually stopped eating the food they once liked it could be boredom.
Solution: Start with a high-quality dry kibble. Choose two flavors of the same brand and rotate them every few months. This provides them with a little bit of variety but without catering to their whim of wanting new and different food all the time.
A second option is to add some wet food toppings (Amazon Link) as a flavoring and change those every so often. Some owners add their own mix-ins like scrambled eggs or broccoli. Just be careful if you go that route, some picky eaters will only eat the mix-ins and leave the kibble in the bowl.
I will sometimes add a little water to Luna’s kibble it will help release the smell and make it more tasty.Barbara P.
- Too many table scraps or treats – Feeding your dog your leftover scraps can seem like a good idea, but if your dog is a picky eater think again. Shih Tzus are really smart and they easily figure out that if they hold out long enough the good stuff will come sooner or later especially from a very concerned owner.
Solution: No more table scraps, no matter what! It may take your dog a while to understand that you are serious, but don’t give in.
- Distractions– If there are other things that seem more exciting and pleasing to your Shih Tzu they are not going to want to take time out to eat. Shih Tzus are smart and love to engage. Playing and giving you attention can be a lot more fun to some Shih Tzus than anything else, especially Shih Tzus that are not food motivated!
Solution: During feeding time make sure your dog is in a calm quiet place free from distractions. Don’t play with or talk to your dog while they are eating. Try making sure your dog gets plenty of exercise before you feed them.
You could also try some puzzle toys to make the food a reward for their working effort.
- Change in schedule or routine- If you’ve moved recently, changed jobs and are away from home more, had a new baby, or any other big change, it could be something that is making your dog feel unsettled.
Shih Tzus can be a very sensitive breed. Even small changes like a new food bowl or a different feeding time can cause some stress and make your Shih Tzu lose its appetite.
Solution: When you have a schedule change or big event try to ease your dog into it with smaller changes. Be as consistent as possible with everything else. Be patient and try not to stress, sometimes it just takes some time for your dog to adapt.
- Food allergies or sensitivities – Since Shih Tzus are full of energy and such hard workers, they need a diet that is able to keep up with them. Shih Tzus diets should be high-quality protein, high in healthy fats with some complex carbs. Some foods like grains, soy, or even different proteins like chicken can cause sensitivities or allergies.
Look for other signs like itching, diarrhea, upset stomach, increased aggression. Whenever you change your Shih Tzus food, always be observant of how it is affecting them.
- Changing foods too suddenly – Switching your dog’s food too quickly can cause stomach problems, poop problems, and well…. just problems. Their digestive tract is sensitive and when eating a new food their not use to it takes some time for them to adjust.
Solution: Whenever you want to change your dog’s food to a different kind you should always make it a slow smooth transition, adding just a little more of the new food to the old food each day. Transitioning over 5-7 days is ideal.
Some additional questions to ask yourself
Has my dog always been a picky eater?
If it’s something you have noticed since your dog was a puppy then it’s most likely just part of your pup’s personality. If it is a consistent pattern for your dog to be generally picky, but they are still maintaining a healthy weight then you shouldn’t have anything to worry about.
If something has changed and your dog has gone from a good eater to a picky eater quite suddenly or over the space of a few days or months then you should take them to the vet for further evaluation.
Are there other signs or symptoms?
Pay close attention to see if there is more going on than just picky eating. If you also notice a change in their poop, vomiting, drinking more or less than normal, pain, discomfort, or other abnormal behaviors for your dog you should take your dog to your vet right away.
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Is his picky eating really a problem?
If your Shih Tzu is a healthy weight and has no underlying medical issues, a change in appetite or being a picky eater won’t be detrimental to him. As long as they aren’t experiencing any other problems and you are doing what you can to be consistent, your dog will eat what he needs.
Your Shih Tzu could go 2-3 days without eating and be ok (however it’s very unlikely he’ll hold out that long). If he goes more than 48 hrs without eating or has other issues like lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea, contact your vet.
Another problem with your dog not eating is because of their small size their blood sugar levels could drop lower than is healthy and could lead them to become hypoglycemic.
If your dog is shaking or shivering this could be a sign that your dog’s blood sugar levels are too low.
This is not true for puppies. Puppies should never go more than 12-24 hours without food and you should contact your vet immediately.
Should I use treats to train?
Using treats to train your Shih Tzu is most likely a great idea and will work really well. Shih Tzus are naturally easier to train than some breeds since they are so smart and want nothing more than to please you.
On the other hand, if you have a high-strung Shih Tzu and he scarfs his food down any chance he can get, then using treats to train may still prove to not work very well. Your dog may be able to focus much more when rewarded with toys and praise. Bring out the food and his concentration is blown, all he can focus on is getting the food no matter what!
What if my Shih Tzu puppy is a picky eater?
You will still need to use your investigative skills to try and figure out what may be causing his picky eating. One of the biggest differences with treating a picky eater as a puppy instead of an adult is the amount of time you can safely let them carry on with their pickiness.
If your puppy is not eating after 12-24 hrs, you should definitely contact your vet.
When you bring home a new puppy you may want to change his food from what the breeder or his previous owner had been feeding him. Make sure you give him some time to adjust to his new home first. Puppies go through a lot of changes and transitions when they go to a new home and may experience a slight loss of appetite at first. Changing their food right away may make it a more stressful transition than it needs to be.
After about a month in their new home, you should be just fine to start slowly transitioning their food. Puppies need different food than adult dogs. This high-quality puppy food is recommended by owners: Taste of the Wild High Protein Puppy Food.
What Should I Do if My Shih Tzu is a Picky Eater
If you feel like you have tried everything including taking your dog to the vet and you’re still worried that your Shih Tzu is not eating enough here are some more tips from Shih Tzu owners.
Raw food- Although controversial some owners have had great success feeding their picky eaters with this diet. A raw food diet is based on what dogs ate before they became domesticated. On this diet dogs eat raw muscle meat and bones, raw organ meats, safe fruits and vegetables, and some dairy products. Here’s an article you can read to learn more.
Warm it up – Sometimes a warm meal will do the trick. You can heat it up for a minute in the microwave, just make sure not to get it too hot!
Get rid of the bowl – It sounds strange, but some dogs actually prefer to eat their meal straight from the floor.
Pretend to eat it – Yes, dogs can sometimes act like a stubborn toddler, and yes pet owners have actually said when they pretend to eat the food first their dog is more willing to dig in!
Check for teeth problems – No one likes to eat when you have a toothache! Check for extra tarter buildup, sore or swollen gums, bad breath, and discoloration or brown teeth.
Check the expiration date – Sometimes it’s the most simple things we miss. Has the food gone bad? Check the expiration date. You may also want to check to see if there is a recall by looking at this website?
Making sure our four-legged best friends are well fed and healthy is important to all of us, but there’s really no need to worry about our picky eaters unless it seems to be causing a lot of weight loss or health problems. As always it’s when in doubt it’s best to check with your veterinarian for a personalized and professional opinion.
While we strive to give the most accurate and helpful information about your pet’s health that we can, this article is meant to be informational only and not medical advice. Never disregard, avoid or delay in obtaining medical advice from your veterinarian or other qualified veterinary health care provider regardless of what you have read on this site or elsewhere.