Why Does My Dog Push His Food With His Nose? (Answered By Vet Tech)

Why Does My Dog Push His Food With His Nose

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Our furry friends have many quirks. Many of the funny behaviors that are associated with food can be explained or at least linked to something. Since food is so important, there’s usually a good reason why a dog is acting funny with it. So, what if your dog noses their food around in their bowl?  You’ve probably wondered;

Why does my dog push his food with his nose?

There are several explanations for this funny behavior and many of them are instinctual. Your dog might just be smelling their food or trying to stash it for later. They could be feeling picky or playful. In some cases, nosing food might indicate dental or vision problems.  

In this article, we’ll go over all of the reasons why your pup might push food with its nose. We’ll also talk about whether you should be worried and what to do about this behavior!

Why Do Dogs Use Their Noses To Do Things?

As you probably already know, dog noses are super sensory. Compared with humans, dogs have about 294 million more olfactory receptors in their noses.  Plus, they have 40 times more space dedicated in their brain to interpreting and remembering scents.

Dogs use their senses of smell to understand situations, communicated with other dogs, and of course, find food.

In addition to using their noses to smell the world around them, dogs also use their noses as extra appendages. They might dig holes or bury items with their noses.  And if you’re already a dog owner, you’ve probably felt your pup push its nose into you once or twice.

Dog noses are incredible tools that are used in all sorts of situations!

Why Do Dogs Push Their Food With Their Nose?

So, it’s not hard to imagine why your dog touches his nose to his food. Their noses help them to explore and understand the world around them.

For the most part, this behavior is normal and isn’t a cause for concern. We’ll talk about the exceptions below and discuss what you can do to fix any potential issues.

Reason 1: It’s Instinctual

Dogs have plenty of instinctual behaviors that we can still observe today.

While many of our domesticated friends are far from their wolf ancestors, they still have traits that can only be explained through genetics. In the wild dogs and wolves used their noses to dig into prey.  Their noses helped their hunting and also helped them to find the best pieces of prey items.

Dogs weren’t just hunters but were also scavengers.  They would roam around with their noses very close to the ground.  If they smelled something edible, they would push debris out of the way to get to the food.  They used their noses to smell but also to move pesky things out of the way.

It’s totally possible that your dog nudges its food due to some long-forgotten instincts. And while this behavior may not serve a purpose now, it used to keep your pup’s ancestors alive.

Reason 2: They’re Trying To Smell Their Meal

Another obvious reason that your dog may push their meal with their nose is that they’re trying to smell their food!

Did you recently switch dog food brands?  Maybe you started adding supplements or changed the recipes on your dog’s homemade food?  If so, expect your dog to investigate for the first few days.

As we mentioned, dogs explore the world with their noses first.  If they smell something off about their food, they’ll push their snout right into it.  Even if something hasn’t changed, your dog just might really love the smell of their food and likes to put their nose right into it,

Reason 3: They Might Be Stashing Their Food For Later

“Caching” is a behavior commonly observed in the animal kingdom. Wild animals will hide and hoard their food and save it for a later time.  In the wild, this makes perfect sense.

Animals might never know when their next meal is coming and need to be prepared in case something goes wrong. When animals cache food, they usually move it from one location to a more secure one.

Dogs that move their food around the floor with their noses may simply have a caching instinct.  They might think their food is safer in one place compared to another.

Your dog might even try to push the food into the carpet or pretend to bury it somewhere.  If your dog is moving their food around and trying to hide it, it’s not a bad thing.  However, food scattered around the house can be annoying and unhygienic so you might want to try to discourage this behavior if possible.

Reason 4: They Could Have Dental Issues

One of the more alarming reasons your dog pushes their food or bowl with their nose is that they have underlying dental issues.  They might smell their food and move it around but won’t be able to pick the food up and chew it.

If they’re very hungry they might even use their nose to try and smash their food into smaller pieces and make it easier to chew.

Unfortunately, dental disease in dogs is more common than you might think.  Dogs can have all sorts of dental issues including abscesses, fractures teeth, and gum disease. These issues might cause a dog to avoid eating. It can be hard to tell if your dog has any dental problems, especially if they don’t want you near their mouth.

If you suspect that your dog may have some dental problems, the best thing that you can do is take them to the veterinarian.  At the vet’s office, they can fully examine your dog’s mouth and take full x-rays.  They’ll be able to know instantly if your dog needs any medical attention.

Reason 5: They Might Have Difficulty Seeing

Another medical issue that might cause a dog to push food around with its nose is vision problems.

If a dog has difficulty seeing, it’ll start to rely on its other senses much more.  Obviously blind dogs really on their sense of hearing to help them navigate the world.  But they use their noses as much as or more than their ears.

Your dog may not be able to see their food, but it can sure smell it!  By pushing their nose into their food bowl they can tell what kind of food they have and if it’s safe to eat it without even looking.

According to the American Kennel Society, dogs lose their vision from many different things like cataracts, glaucoma, or diabetes.  Vision loss can be gradual or sudden and is harder to notice if it happens slowly.

Try to observe your dog throughout the day.  If you place something in a different spot, do they bump into it at first?  If you’re quiet and wave your arms in their direction, do they react?

Vision loss is sad but manageable.  If you think your dog is losing their vision, take them to a veterinary for recommendations on managing it.

Reason 6: They’re Just Playing With Their Food

Now, for a less serious explanation!  If you have a puppy or juvenile dog, they might push their food bowl around because they’re being playful.

Puppies need to play.  If you’ve ever had one in your house, you know that they’re not picky about what they play with.  They might choose to play with something like a shoe or the carpet!  If they’re in a mood, they might push their kibble around just to get a reaction.

If your puppy is smudging their food around, don’t worry.  Odds are, they’ll grow out of this juvenile behavior soon.

Reason 7: They’re Being Picky

Even though dogs are animals, they can be very picky.

Does your dog have strong preferences for food?  I know mine does!  If I don’t give him the right amount of wet food on top of his kibble, he might not eat all day!  He’ll eat eventually but he definitely lets me know what his preference is.  Usually, when this happens, he’ll go to his bowl and sniff around but won’t actually eat anything.

If you have a picky eater you can try to figure out what’s in their food that they don’t like.  You might notice them using their nose to move certain pieces out of the way.  Dealing with picky eaters can be tricky but it’s definitely not impossible!

Why Does My Dog Nudge Her Food Bowl?

We’ve given you 7 explanations for why your dog might move their food with their nose.

Usually, if your dog is also nudging their bowl, it means the same thing!

However, if your dog is nudging an empty food bowl, they’re probably trying to tell you that they’re hungry and ready for some food.  This is healthy communication and if it’s close to dinner time, you can go ahead and feed your “nosy” dog.

Should You Be Worried?

For the most part, there’s no need to worry about your dog pushing food with their nose. Unless you think they could be experiencing vision or dental problems, this behavior is natural.

Smelling is one of the ways that dogs even know that their food is actually food! In fact, when dogs use their noses to get to their food it can be stimulating and good for their brains.

This video shows how a puzzle feeder can be used to encourage nose engagement and make mealtimes more entertaining for your dog.

Final Thoughts

Dogs use their noses for so many things throughout the day!

While using their food around might seem a little strange, it’s pretty normal. Your dog may just be following their instincts and trying to cache away food.  They could be playing or feeling picky.

In some instances, your furry friend might be suffering from dental pain or vision loss.  In that case, you’ll want to make a trip to the vet.  Otherwise, you can just enjoy watching your pet do their weird thing!

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