Being a food company it’s easy to imagine the various stories we hear about some pets. In fact, some dogs and cats are portrayed as legendary in their finickiness. There are even a few owners who seem to wear that as a badge of honor when it’s not brag-worthy at all.
Finickiness said another way, is simply lack of appetite. There are two main reasons the appetite has disappeared. The first is medical. Your cat or dog is sick or injured. When you have the flu, you need to be coaxed or forced into eating. I don’t know of anyone wanting a meal after breaking their leg. Or wanting to eat while enduring a stomach ache. The point is when you’re in pain, uncomfortable, or sick, you’re not usually thinking of eating. Your pet is no different. You need to get them checked out if you suspect your pet’s loss of appetite is caused by a medical condition.
The second reason is they’re full, or at least not hungry. This one is easy to fix. I like to give this example: imagine your favorite food is tacos (or <insert your favorite food here>). You just ate a big meal an hour before. I call you asking if you want to go for tacos, your favorite. You’ll probably pass on the invitation, or go but nibble. The point is you’re not hungry. No appetite.
I could be dating myself, but going to bed without dinner was a reasonable and common punishment when I was a kid (at least for a while in our house). I HATED cheese. I was sent to bed for some minor offense but my mother had second thoughts about the punishment at 9pm. I was fairly hungry by then. She gave me a bowl of Kraft Mac&Cheese which I promptly gobbled down. When you’re hungry, and the hungrier you are, there are fewer things you won’t eat.
Feral cats and stray dogs aren’t usually picky. They’ll eat anything food-like if given the chance. It’s because they don’t have a steady supply food. They’re not walking around three-quarters full all the time.
When you free feed, and over feed, that’s the situation you’re creating: a picky pet. Imagine if you snacked all day the chances of eating a large meal are small. Your cats and dogs appetites work the same way.
So what do you do? There are several things we recommend, Here are some tips and tricks you can use. The top two are set feeding times and dialing back the portion size. Unless your cat or dog has a health issue, you can feed twice a day. In our house 7a and 6:30p are the sacrosanct feeding times. 15mins before those times I’m swarmed by hungry animals (if you saw their pestering you’d swear they were starving!). I also pick up the bowls 30mins after I set them down (they’re usually licked clean by then).
Knowing what your animals like to eat helps a great deal also. Find their favorite proteins and serve it to them. Ideally you have at least three you can rotate between, to keep meal-time exciting and new. A tasty food determines how much effort you need to put into getting them to eat. But overfeeding will dampen their appetite for all but a few pets that are willing to stuff themselves regularly (our cat Royal is one of those). The Just Cat Sampler Pack and Only Dog Sampler Pack are great ways to figure out what their favorites are.
Our dogs, Rex and Rosie are really easy to feed. Rex, a 100lb male Rhodesian Ridgeback and Rosie a 65lb ridgeback love to eat. There are only a few things they won’t eat, and they’re unusual things. For example chicken feet gross Rosie out. Rex won’t eat the smelt treats raw, only after they’ve been dehydrated. But, if I were to cut their regular portions back after 2-3 days they’d be hungry enough to eat those items. Just like me and the Mac&cheese.
There was a brief time I wasn’t watching carefully enough how much I was feeding the ridgebacks. I was overfeeding them. After a couple of weeks they got picky. Leaving food in the bowl, turning away food, getting selective. I’ve seen this same behavior with Jules and a little with Royal, our kitties. It’s good to feed just enough, not too much or they’ll get selective. (See the feeding table in our FAQ.) The easiest way to tell if you’re feeding too much or little is to watch their weight. Most of the picky animals we see are over-fed.
Royal and Jules don’t like Just Cat Venison (they love venison bites though??!!). I can get them to eat it, but reluctantly. However, if I blend it with Just Cat Chicken or Turkey and they’ll devour it. Experiment with different foods and blends. Sometimes a blend comes off as a completely different and unique protein, and one they like. Blends are also a good way to get your dog or cat to eat a food they don’t like, so you don’t have to waste it. Mix the offending food with something they really like and you may see them eat it up.
Keeping appetite in mind and how it changes behavior toward food is important to figuring out how to reduce finickiness. Set the feeding times, pick up the food after 30mins, and control the portions, will work in 90% of the cases after a few days, so be patient.
Add to that, avoiding the things they don’t like, figure out their favorites through Sampler Packs or experimenting different foods or combinations helps a great deal also. You’ll see feeding issues vanish like food in the bowl if you change a few ways you feed.