Is your dog or cat picky, finicky, or some other colorful term you use to describe their eating habits? Maybe you’re moving to a new food and they need a nudge to switch-over.
There is no perfect single solution, but stringing-together several of the tips below increases your odds at moving to a new food or getting your picky cat or dog to eat.
1. First if your dog or cat has always been a good eater then suddenly develops a diminished appetite, this is something to be concerned about. Consider seeking out your vet ASAP.
2. Ensure the feeding area and bowls are clean. Make sure to thoroughly rinse the bowls and mat, if there is one, to be free of all soap/cleaners. What may smell pleasant to a human could be downright offensive, and overwhelming, to a dog or cat.
3. Establish a firm, sacrosanct feeding time(s). At our house it’s 7a and 7p. Feed three times or more for kittens and/or pups, twice a day is common for adult pets. Some pet parents can only feed once/day, and that’s okay too.
4. Until they’re eating regularly don’t give any treats between meals unless it’s part of a training program where food rewards are used. In that case train after meal time, not just before.
5. You eat first. This “warms” them up. Seeing, smelling, and being around the activity of eating helps put them in the mood.*
6. Before you feed, take your time preparing the food. Clank the bowls, talk to them in a fun, encouraging voice to get them excited and interested. Fill the water bowls. Stretch out the prep. I take at least 7-8 minutes. The longer the better. Make it a positive ritual. If they remain focused on you preparing their food, that means they’re hungry.*
7. Add some warm-to-hot tap water to their food. Cold food can sometimes be a turn-off. Depending on the amount you’re feeding, a few tablespoons per 8oz is a good starting point. Warm or hot water releases appetizing aromas too.
8. Once the bowl is put down, leave them alone. Walk away, resume what you were doing before feeding time. Make it feel ‘normal’. This is especially important when you’re introducing a new food. Don’t hover or let them be disturbed. It’s distracting and will draw attention from the act of eating.
9. Pick up the food after 30min regardless of how much they’ve eaten. Try again in 1hr. If that doesn’t work, be done until the next feeding time. Do not follow your urge to give treats, scraps, or other food stuffs to make up for lack of eating the meal… treats are given only ‘after’ the meal is consumed. If you don’t insist on the meal be fully consumed before treats, you’re teaching your pet to hold out.
10. If you’re making a big change, like from kibble to a raw diet, you may need to transition to get your pet accustomed to the taste and texture, along with giving their digestive system time to adapt (important if your pet has a sensitive stomach). Also see step 8.
Start by reducing the overall portion by 15%-20% two to three feedings before introducing the new food. On days one and two feed 25% new food, 75% regular food. Day 3-4: 50%-50% new food, regular food. Day 5-6: 75% new food, 25% regular food. Day 7: 100% new food. Depending on the response to the new food you can shorten or lengthen the transition.
11. Feed to needs, not appetite. That means determine how much your dog or cat should eat in ounces (see FAQ or contact us if you need help) and feed that amount. Appetites fluctuate, daily nutritional needs are fairly fixed. When you over-feed you’ll see your animal get finicky and/or gain weight. When you feed only what’s needed you get more consistent empty bowls without pickiness.
12. Make sure you’re not over-feeding. If your pet is full because you’re feeding too much at meal time, or giving lots of treats, they’ll be less interested in meals. You can cut-back the meal size by 15%-20% for a week to see if that changes their appetite.
13. Taking your dog for a good walk before mealtime or engage your cat in some playtime. A little regular exercise can also increase your pet’s appetite. Making it a regular pre-meal activity, your pet will associate the exercise with an upcoming mealtime.
14. As long as fresh water is available, your dog or cat can go 48hrs without eating. However, if they don’t eat anything at all after 48hrs, give them some food you know they’ll eat. Time to regroup. What are they resisting? Is it the food? A test of wills? Are they distracted while eating? Is the bowl clean? Consider starting this process over making sure you’re exercising discipline implementing the tips.
15. Keep feeding time positive. Praise your cat or dog when the food is consumed, giving attention and praise only after the meal is gone.
If you follow these steps, after a week or two, probably sooner, your pet will be underfoot begging to eat.
Additional detail can be found at www.fetchingfoods.com/faq or contact us for help specific to your pet.
* With cats, dogs, and humans, you actually start the digestion process before taking a bite. The anticipation of eating causes the stomach to release digestive juices, the mouth salivates, etc. A little ‘teasing’ of the appetite can go a long way.