Every animal has its own personality. Your pets are characters with quirks, but some quirks are more frustrating than others, especially when it interferes with mealtime. Cat and dog picky eaters are troublesome, and the worst part is that you can’t just take them to the store and ask what they’d like instead. Finding something for them to eat becomes an ordeal of trial and error, and the game is even less fun if your pet has dietary restrictions because of their health.
One thing few pet owners consider, however, is that it might not be the food itself that your pets object to. There are certainly cat food picky eaters and dog food picky eaters – gourmands with tastes too refined for the standard fare. But it’s also possible that something environmental or behavioral is affecting your buddy’s ability to enjoy their meal.
If your pet turns up their nose at meals, first try these simple changes before you go searching for a new food brand.
1. Bowl Quality
There could be one of two problems with your pets’ bowls:
- It’s too deep! Whiskers are sensitive, and some cats and dogs don’t like when they have to stick their whisker-covered muzzles down into a deep bowl to grab their food. Pets with poor eyesight may also get anxious about putting their heads down into a deep pocket that they can’t see well.
- It’s too dirty! It’s never intentional, but as a dog walker I’ve seen plenty of food bowls left far too long with food residue and saliva stuck on the sides with no sign of washing. This leftover residue can go stale, rancid, and harbor bacteria, all of which will affect the quality and taste of the food served in it. I recommend washing food bowls at least once a week if feeding dry kibble (more often if your pet slobbers in the bowl), and before each new meal if serving canned, fresh, or with liquids like broth. This will also ensure that the food they get hasn’t been sitting out and going bad, which will make it more appealing.
2. Location, Location, Location
Where do you put your pets’ bowls at mealtime? Near the litter box or potty pads? Near something mechanical and loud like the TV, laundry machines, or dishwasher? In a dark space, or an enclosed corner of the room? Here are some rules of thumb for the ambiance your pets would prefer when eating:
- Never place their food near their potty. You wouldn’t eat your dinner off the toilet lid, and animals know better than to mix food and waste as well. They may well refuse to eat if the two are too close.
- Pick a peaceful and quiet place. Cats and dogs have sensitive ears. What may seem to you like a decent volume on the TV or a minor annoyance when clothes are tumbling around the dryer can be jarring for your pets, especially if their bowls are very close.
- Don’t box them in. When you eat, you necessarily let down your guard against possible dangers around you. This is instinctual, and animals have sharp instincts. Dogs and particularly cats can get anxious about letting their guard down in a space that’s dark and has no escape routes, where they could be easily ambushed. If you can, find a spot that’s open and bright, with a view of the rest of the room and space to move around or position themselves on different sides of their bowls.
- Change up the space. If your pet is rejecting their food, or you’re trying to introduce a new brand or recipe to them, try feeding them in a new space where they don’t usually eat. This can trick their brains out of the stubborn mood they habitually enter in the usual location and make them more receptive to trying their dish.
3. They’re Training You
Do you use treats to try to entice your pet to eat their actual food? If so, you may be teaching them that if they refuse to eat their meals, they’ll get something more delicious instead. If you’ve already gotten in this habit with your pet, it will be difficult to break, unfortunately. Animals can be far more stubborn and patient than humans.
I would recommend altogether avoiding whichever treat you usually use until your pet’s eating habits successfully change, so they won’t get the idea that they can simply hold out for it. If they think they won’t get it anyway, no matter how long they wait, they may give up and move on to their other meal options.
4. Fine Touches
There can be all sorts of small details affecting whether your pet is willing to accept their food or not. Some are as follows:
- Not fresh enough. Cats and dogs have sensitive noses, and they can tell when their food has been sitting out awhile. Kibble can go stale and rancid, especially from a bag that you’ve had for a few weeks already. Canned food that sat open may have hints of broken-down preservatives or metals/plastic leached into the food from its container, even after just a short period. Dehydrated and raw food can get hard around the edges and unpleasantly squishy on the surface. If you have a picky eater, make sure each meal is fresh.
- Too cold/hot. In the wild, anything an animal hunts will still be warm as they eat it. If you usually feed your pet cold or room-temperature food, try warming it up a bit first. It should not be uncomfortable to the touch or hot enough to steam.
- Too crunchy. If you feed your pet dry kibbles, try moistening the food with water or plain bone broth (I recommend beef). Always wash the bowl between meals to avoid residue and bacteria buildup.
- Too soft. If you feed your pet raw food, try lightly cooking or searing it to change the taste and texture.
- Not chewy enough. Animals like having something to bite into. If you feed your pet canned food, look for a brand that offer chunks of meat in the recipe. If you often add liquids to their food, such as with kibble, try a shorter soaking time or adding a little less so that it’ll still have a bit of crunch. If you feed your pet raw, try balling up small amounts and cooking them so they’re firmer.
Pack Away The Propensity For Pickiness
The idea that your picky-eating pets may be finicky about more things than just their food may seem overwhelming at first, but all of these potential behavioral quirks are easy to address at home with a little experimentation. It may still take patience to determine if one of these factors is turning your pet off their food, and you may have to try the same ideas with different food brands to rule out the food factor, but it’s one more avenue you can go down to find out what your furry friend is so averse to.
Here’s hoping for happier and less finicky pets. Bone appetit!