For some, mealtimes are the highlight of their pets’ day. For others, getting a picky dog or cat to do more than sniff or lick their food can feel like pulling teeth.
With the variety of pet foods available to choose from, you would think it’s easy to find something that appeals to your picky eater. However, those seemingly unlimited options may actually be contributing to your pet’s pickiness. While some dogs and cats simply prefer certain textures and flavors over others, other pets may become more picky once they realize there’s more food out there that they would rather be eating. For others, their hesitation to eat comes from a different reason altogether.
So, why is your pet a picky eater? How can you help make mealtimes more appealing?
Why is Your Pet a Picky Eater?
Before you start experimenting with ways to get your picky eater to enjoy mealtime, it’s important to figure out the reason behind his hesitation to eat. Some possible factors include:
He’s just not that into food
No, we’re not talking about a pet-centered rom-com spinoff. For some dogs (especially smaller breeds), the simple fact is that food isn't a priority. For dogs like this, attention and fun are much more valuable than treats and meals. In these cases, the goal is to make mealtimes more fun and appetizing.
If you got sick immediately after a meal, chances are you wouldn’t want to eat that certain food for a while because of the bad memories associated with it. This can also happen to dogs and cats—if your furry friend got sick or had a bad reaction after eating a specific food, they may develop an aversion and avoid eating it. Depending on the severity of your pet’s food aversion, you may need to switch to a different formula altogether.
Some of us may stress eat, but our pets tend to lose their appetites when stressed. Sources of stress and anxiety can include separation anxiety, loud noises, unfamiliar people or places, trips to the vet, and more
Some pets may lose their appetite or have trouble eating because of underlying health issues. For example, a dog struggling with dental health issues may have trouble chewing; a dog or cat with digestive issues may be reluctant to eat altogether.
How to Make Mealtimes More Enjoyable
When implementing new methods or routines to make mealtimes run more smoothly, be sure that you are responding to the right cause. For example, a dog who has lost his appetite due to anxiety needs significantly different treatment than a stubborn dog who refuses to eat his kibble because he wants the food on your plate instead.
Designate a calm, quiet space to eat without interruption or competition.
If flavor or texture is the issue, try mixing some treats into your pet’s food to enhance the flavor. You can also try adding warm water to dry food, or mixing wet and dry food if your furry pal isn’t a fan of the dry texture on its own.
Stick to a consistent feeding schedule. This is especially important with dogs, who love a predictable routine. Offer meals within specific time frames, and leave the food out for 15-20 minutes only. This will teach your dog that if he skips a meal, he’ll have to wait a few hours until he can eat again. If you’re having trouble getting your dog to eat wet food, only offer small amounts at a time—wet food goes bad quickly, which can result in a lot of uneaten food going to waste.
Because cats tend to pace themselves more than their canine counterparts, it’s more reasonable to leave their dry food out all day for free feeding. Plus, cats are much more independent and probably won’t be too happy with a prearranged eating schedule! If you find that your cat is overeating throughout the day, talk to your vet about how to resolve the issue.
If you’re worried that your pet isn’t getting the necessary nutrients, consider adding some supplements to his or her diet. PetHonesty’s 10-for-1 Multivitamin provides a well-rounded blend of vitamins and supplements to support your dog’s overall health. You can also help keep your cat's digestive system healthy and happy with our cat supplements.
Avoid offering too many table scraps or treats as a reward for good behavior. Human food isn’t specifically formulated for your pets’ nutritional needs like their own food is, and too many treats can lead to obesity and/or spoil your pet’s appetite. This can also inadvertently teach your four-legged friend that they don’t need to eat their standard meal because they can hold out for something better.
If your pet is refusing to eat his food and you’ve ruled out health issues, don’t give in too early and swap his food out for yours. Chances are, he’s not starving—he’s stubborn. If he’s hungry, he will give into his survival instincts and eat.
Changing Your Pet’s Food
Sometimes, you’ll need to switch out your dog’s food due to changes in age or nutritional requirements. Unless you’re changing the food because of an allergy, this should be done gradually to help the transition run smoothly.
Start by mixing some new food in with the old food so your pet can get used to the new taste. Over time, slowly increase the amount of new food and decrease the amount of old food until it’s fully swapped.
If your dog or cat suddenly becomes picky or reluctant to eat with no previous issues, keep an eye out for any signs of sickness (such as vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, and unexplained weight loss), and talk to your vet if necessary.