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What You Should Do If Your Pet Is A Picky Eater

Pet Diet & Nutrition 6 min read
Cat sitting in front of a bowl of kibble looking reluctant to eat. What you should do if your cat is a picky eater.

If your pet takes more than 30 minutes to eat their meals, or if they refuse to eat their own food but will accept human table scraps and treats in no time, it could mean that you have a picky eater.

Reasons Why A Pet May Be A Picky Eater

Sudden changes in appetite can also signal a health issue.

While some pets are just picky, it’s extremely important to keep in mind that sudden changes in appetite can also signal a health issue. It is always recommended to check with your veterinarian if the reason for your little one’s change in appetite is not related to possible health conditions. Sometimes behavior that appears fussy can actually be caused by an underlying medical reason like a dental problem, digestive upset, or hairballs, for instance. If your pet experiences a significant appetite change that lasts longer than 24 hours, you should take them to the veterinarian.

After health issues, the second main cause for pets’ picky eating behavior can be a consequence of their humans feeding them too many treats and table scraps between meals. This is a common mistake that can be harmful since it increases the risk of obesity, but it also encourages finicky behavior.

Dog sitting on a chair at an outdoor patio table. A hand picks off a piece of the food to give to the dog.

Another reason why pets may lose interest in their food is if they associate feeding time with an upset stomach, especially if they are having issues digesting this food. Pay attention if your little one is showing a lack of appetite associated with vomiting, diarrhea/constipation because this can be related to spoiled food and even food allergies.

Anxiety and depression can also make some pets lose interest in food. It can be associated with boredom, fireworks, and separation anxiety, for instance, so it’s important to keep an eye on other changes in behavior besides their interest in food.

Cats can be especially finicky eaters. A study actually found that cats are genetically different from most mammals in that they lack the genes necessary for tasting sweet substances, which could explain why it can be so hard to please their taste sometimes.

Ways To Entice A Picky Eater To Eat

In order to minimize the chances to have a finicky eater, you can get your little one used to different forms of foods, textures, and flavors from good quality diets when they are still kittens/puppies. This is especially important for pets who are prone to have conditions such as kidney issues, which may require a wet diet in the future.

Make sure to choose a good and clean feeding site, free from other animals, small children, and noises such as equipment or motors.

Always make slow transitions (which can take from 7-10 days) when trying new foods, and offer good choices until you find what your pet likes. Once you’re confident that you found a good option, try to stick to this food as long as it suits your pet’s nutritional needs.

Aroma is very important for pets, and canned food gives off its smells more readily than dry food.

Temperature is also essential since cold foods do not give off as much aroma. If the canned food is stored in the fridge, it is a good idea to warm it for a couple of seconds with a little bit of water before feeding and mixing it thoroughly to avoid burns. This might make it more appealing since it releases more of the scent.

The texture is also important, especially for kitties. They normally prefer solid and moist foods, so try to offer these options first. Some cats prefer their pet owners to be close to them in order to encourage them to eat their food, so you could also try sitting nearby so your cat knows you are there while they are eating.

Cat eating wet food from a green ceramic plate.

Many cats do not like the feeling of their whiskers touching the side of the bowl, so you can try feeding your kitties from shallow bowls or small plates as well.

The most important thing you can do to encourage good health in your pets is to provide them with quality food that’s designed to meet their nutritional needs. Your pet may have a preference for dry or wet food, and it is a good idea to encourage them to appreciate wet food since it can provide extra hydration as well.

Free Feeding Vs. Routine Feeding

One of the main goals for a picky eater is to create a feeding routine. Some pet owners prefer to leave food available to their pet all day (free feeding), but your pet may be more likely to eat if you serve multiple meals a day. Measuring out the correct amount of food for each meal based on their vet’s recommendation can help spot eating changes too. It’s also important to clean your pet’s feeding dish/bowl daily. A well-established feeding schedule can help get your pet used to a routine and specific times of day they can expect food. It can be tempting to vary from this routine, especially if you want to reward your pet for some reason, but this can be the start of picky eating problems.

It’s also extremely important to avoid free feeding, if possible. In case your little one doesn’t show an appetite for their regular food, but clearly has an appetite for treats and table scraps, you’ll need to re-educate your pet on food habits. You can start by setting out your pet’s food for 30 minutes, for instance. If your pet doesn’t feel like eating it, you can take it away and offer it again at the next mealtime. Don’t let your little one have treats or table scraps between meals and do your best to avoid them or at least to limit them in the future. For cats specifically, you should repeat this process 4-5 times a day to avoid too little calorie consumption. As your cat starts eating more at each meal, you can try decreasing meal frequency. One particular risk for cats is that if they have any predisposition like obesity, just a few days of not eating can cause a potentially fatal condition called hepatic lipidosis, which can be life-threatening, so if your cat doesn’t eat for more than 24 hours, you should consider taking them to the veterinarian.

White Maltese dog walking away from a full bowl of dog kibble. What you should do if your dog is a picky eater.

Nutrition For Picky Eaters

It is essential to make sure that your picky eater is receiving all the nutrients they need in order to have a healthy life, either through a commercial diet or a homemade diet.

Cats are obligate carnivores, which means that they need animal protein to survive, so keep that in mind when looking for an ideal diet for your kitty. I have also written a blog that goes into more detail about what you should feed your cat.

Premium commercial diets require no time for preparation, and they are offered mainly as dry or wet food. It is important to learn how to read labels on pet food, as they have different water content, caloric density, protein level, digestibility, and palatability. There are also many options according to the pet’s life stage and conditions (nursing, overweight, health issues, etc).

Although commercial foods have their perks, there’s nothing more natural and healthier than cooking a balanced homemade diet for your pet. This option requires more time for preparation and you may need to add some supplementation, such as calcium carbonate and Taurine for instance, but it’s a great option to ensure that your little one is receiving all the nutrients they need through a fresh, tasty, and balanced diet. In case you’re interested in a homemade diet for your sweet one, Dr. Amanda is our in-house veterinarian and she can create a personalized nutritional plan for your little one taking into consideration their conditions with delicious and easy to prepare recipes.

How To Administer Supplements To Picky Eaters

There are many ways to administer supplements to your sweet picky eater. In many cases, if you add the supplements to your little one’s current food, chances are they will notice the difference and won’t eat it. So if you have a picky eater, always try offering the supplements with some food or treat that it’s new to them so they won’t expect a specific taste or scent.

You could try adding our supplements to one (or more!) of the following suggestions:

  • Homemade bone broth
  • Homemade chicken broth (please be aware that commercial broths can contain chives, garlic and onion in their composition, which can be toxic for pets)
  • Meats such as chicken, beef and turkey, as long as your pet is not allergic to these proteins
  • Fishes like salmon, tuna, sardine, cod or halibut
  • Chicken liver or beef liver
  • Tuna water
  • Goat yogurt
  • Regular commercial canned foods to be offered as treats in small portions
  • Recovery food (available through veterinarians)
  • Wet treats

We recommend checking with your veterinarian to find out if your little one can have any of these suggestions before including them in your little one’s regimen.

In case you have any questions about how natural supplements can be helpful for your sweet picky eater, do not hesitate to reach out to our pet experts. It’s a pleasure to be part of your little one’s care team and we are always here for you. Start chatting with us now by clicking the button below.

Dr. Aline Dias DVM

Dr. Aline Dias DVM

Dr. Aline Dias is a veterinary graduate from the Federal University of Pelotas, Brazil. She worked for five years with research in Bacteriology and Virology fields, but she found her true passion in feline medicine. As soon as Dr. Aline immigrated to Canada, she adopted two kittens: Chilli and Keke. Dr. Aline is now a full-time crazy cat lady and when she’s not working at NHV she spends her time spoiling her furbabies or going for walks at the beach.

Published: August 11, 2021

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