You know the drill: you set a big bowl of kibble or wet food in front of your pet, and instead of digging in with joyful abandon, your pet gives you a haughty look like you have betrayed them. The food is only picked over or maybe even left untouched. Another serving, wasted.
So why the heck are Fido and Fluffy so picky, and what can you do to entice them to eat?
First things first: if your pet is suddenly refusing to eat (and it’s been 24 hours or more since the last time they ate) or if your pet has lost weight, call your veterinarian right away! Lack of appetite can be a sign of illness.
If your pet is active, at their optimal weight and apparently healthy but just won’t eat, read on. We’re going to get inside your pet’s head and get some answers.
Reason #1: You already fed me!
Do you feed your pet table scraps? If so, your pet could already be full for the day. However, table scraps aren’t a balanced diet, so resist those begging eyes and point your pet back toward their food bowl.
Reason #2: I’m already full (sorry ‘bout that, Fluffy).
Could your dog be getting into the cat food? Most cat food is higher in protein and fat because cats have different nutritional needs than dogs, making their food a tempting treat. You may need to move Fluffy’s feeding area to higher ground or make sure Fido isn’t around when they’re eating.
Reason #3: I really prefer treats… How about giving me some treats?
Overfeeding treats during the day is a common culprit for picky eaters. Pets are a lot like kids: it’s hard to feed them celery when they think candy is available. But just like with kids, treats are not a balanced diet. If your pet is routinely picky, shut down the treat brigade until you get their diet under control.
Reason #4: I hate change. I can eat it, I just won’t.
Have you recently changed brands or formulas of pet food? Change is a Big Deal to many pets, who may be so unnerved by the change that they refuse to eat. If your pet is displaying this behavior, mix their old food in with their new food to transition them to the new flavors.
Reason #5: I’m just really stressed out right now, okay?
If your pet is under stress — maybe from a move, new people coming around, someone familiar leaving (perhaps a teen moving to college, a couple divorcing or a death in the family) or a change in family schedule (such as back-to-school time) — they may feel too anxious to eat.
Reason #6: I’m waiting for my personal chef.
Some pets have learned to wait to eat and see if their pet parent will break down and offer a tasty morsel as an incentive. Have you made a habit of adding a fried egg, homemade chicken, warm broth, or other condiments to your pet’s food? You may need to take a hiatus and only offer these items as a very occasional treat if you don’t want to be at the mercy of your pet’s culinary whims.
Reason #7: This food doesn’t make me feel my best.
Occasionally, pets will be reluctant eaters because the food upsets their tummies. You may need to try switching to a different type of protein to entice your pet to eat vigorously.
If your pet is a picky eater and it’s due to bad household habits, try this:
- Stop all table scraps and treats. Cold turkey. No matter how much they beg. (Everyone in the family needs to be on board with this.)
- Put your pets on a feeding schedule. Allow them to eat for short periods twice a day (more often for puppies and kittens under 18 months old), and they will learn to eat on your schedule.
- Help make your pets more comfortable in their environment. Place their feeding station out of the way of heavy household foot traffic.
And if your pet refuses to eat their food for more than two days, see a veterinarian.
The information in this blog has been developed with our veterinarian and is designed to help educate pet parents. If you have questions or concerns about your pet's health or nutrition, please talk with your veterinarian.