Why is my pet being picky?
There are many reasons that a pet will get picky about the food they are eating and here are some things to consider. If you suspect any of these issues let us know and we’ll assist you with transition, supplementation and/or behavioral issues.
1) “What the heck is in my bowl?” … Recognition: Sometimes pets don’t recognize new foods with a different appearance as “food”. Many pets are picky about a certain consistency or texture of a food and when a new food varies from what they’re used to they won’t even try it… even if it smells delicious. In many cases making a new food look similar to their old food makes it more appealing to them during transition. Forming new foods into balls or pellets so it looks like kibble, or adding water, or mashing a food to match a consistency can help get your pet started.
2) “Caviar or Grits?” … Consistency: Many pets care more about consistency then flavor. If you have noticed that your pet prefers a certain type of food try a different food in the same consistency but a different flavor.
Some options to adjust consistency are (See “Trying new foods” for more details):
Making a Pate’: make any food into a pate’ consistency by adding a small amount of water and letting it soak then mashing it up. (Ok, actually we don’t mean just ANY food. Refer to our “Why we don’t carry it” blog page to see a list of foods that we think are and aren’t safe. If you have a food that we don’t carry its either because it has ingredients that are unsafe (in some cases those ingredients are quite literally used to make petri dishes… we don’t want your pets food to be a petri dish) or because the company has a lot of dangerous recalls. Soaking those products can lead to some serious scary things… so its best not to soak those)
Making a Chunky mix: Try temporarily adding chunky food blends into the food that you desire to switch your pet to. Try different soaking times or try lightly cooking the new food the first few times you feed it.
Making a Crunchy: Try balling up small amounts of food or slightly cooking a blend to get your pet to transition. You won’t have to do this forever but sometimes its the difference between then trying it for the first time or not.
Pay attention to the temperature: Many pets don’t like their food too warm or cold. Make sure that if you have a picky eater you take note of your pet’s preferences to temperature.
Pay attention to freshness: Many pets can tell once a food has been open for a period of time and no longer want to eat it. There are many reasons for this. With dry food the oils can go rancid after a period of time. With canned food oxygen may begin to break down chemicals used to denature the food and metal/plastics leach into the food over even short periods of time. With dehydrated and raw food they tend to get slightly crunchy around the edges, leaving a partially crunchy and partially squishy texture that some pets don’t like. If your pet doesn’t like their food if it’s been open for more then one meal consider making each meal fresh or switching to a different product.
3) “Steak and Eggs, Please?” …Established Behavior: You may have created a monster. It’s very common for pet owners to worry when their pets don’t eat. Sometimes your pets prefer the attention of your worry over their food. Many owners offer their pets enticements to get them to eat. Enticements given after you pet has snubbed their food just teaches them that snubbing their food means tastier treats. You might even give them additional attention and worry and try hand feeding them. The important thing to remember is that the more you baby your pet through eating the pickier they will be in the future. We’re happy to help you figure out how to get around behavior based pickiness problems. See enticements under number 13 for tips about giving your pet extras without causing behavioral problems.
4) Bringing out the Dinnerware… What’s in a bowl? : Some pets have poor vision and a deep or round bowl makes them nervous because it’s dark and hard for them to see into. Many cats and dogs, don’t like their whiskers touching the sides of the bowl and an oval shaped bowl or plate is the only thing that will make them comfortable eating.
5) “I’m in charge”… a bit of Trickery: Some pets don’t like to feel bossed around. Your pet might feel anxiety and pressure about eating a new food. Often times if you put the food in an area that they don’t normally eat they will feel it was their idea and try it.
6) “My dish stinks?”… Problems with the food: There could be something wrong with their food. Pets have the ability to smell far better than you do. They can smell when a food has an unacceptable odor so perhaps there is a problem with the food that you don’t know about. It never hurts to take a food back to the store, even if you’re not returning it, and ask the people there (that have regular interaction with the product) if it looks and smells how they would expect it to and if they have heard of any problems with the brand. Asking questions is the quickest way to diagnose problems with your pet.
7) Gurgle, Gurgle… Stomachache central: Their food might make them not feel well. Sometimes pets get an upset stomach or abdominal pain without vomiting or diarrhea. Pancreatic issues, stress and anxiety, H.pylori, and MANY other common issues can cause your pet to snub their food simply because they associate eating with a feeling of sickness. Sometimes you have to work them through a transition onto a better food for them to realize that a new food won’t make them feel that way anymore. Adding Goat Milk, Microflora or Optagest is a great option to help with this problem.
8) Dinner and a Show… Playing with your food: Sometimes when pets eat too fast they get sick to their stomach. Slowing down their consumption can be the difference between a picky eater and a great eater. When it comes to cats and dogs playing with food can mean a long, healthy life. For cats it can be helpful to toss freeze dried nuggets that they can feel like they are chasing and catching. Feeding a full meal inside of a toy can slow your dogs’ meal time to a safe, choke and bloat free speed. Ask us for assistance in finding ways to get your pet to play with their food and decrease their pickiness.
9) “No thanks, I already ate”… Lack of appetite: Many pets don’t ever get a chance to develop an appetite when they are free fed. While it’s hard for humans to understand, cats and dogs would not nibble on small amounts of food throughout the day like humans do. Physiologically it is healthiest for dogs to eat twice a day and for cats to eat once a day. Continued feeding can cause pH imbalances, kidney problems, metabolic problems, poor digestion, etc. Additionally, if your pet is free fed it could take you longer to notice if your pet is sick or if there is a problem with their food that needs to be addressed.
10) “I’ll take some Trickery for $400, Alex”… sneaking it in: Cats like to have clean feet so sometimes getting a little food on their toes forces them to try new things. You can also try to pry open their mouth and put new food in – some pets just don’t know that new things are food. Don’t force it into their throat. You are simple trying to get it to touch their tongue so they taste it (smelling it and walking away does NOT mean they don’t like it. You don’t really know that they don’t like it until they actually try it and then don’t want to eat it again). Get them to understand that although it doesn’t look the same as food they are used to it is actually edible.
11) “But I had that last night… and for the last four years!!!”….Rotation : Offering a healthy rotation of foods (meat proteins, bases and even brands) helps compensate for deficiencies and toxicities of vitamins, minerals, amino acids and enzymes. It also helps prevent the development of allergies. Most pet foods are supplemented with synthetic vitamins, minerals, and amino acids where the main ingredients are deficient. Synthetic supplements can be contaminated, overdosed, rancid, etc. They do not work synergistically with each other and contribute to many long term health problems if the diet is not varied and rotated. http://www.natureslogic.com/pdf/vitaminmineral.pdf
12) “I’ll take some MSG, sugar, salt and a propylene glycol sauce, please”… Dealing with addiction: Many pet foods add addictive ingredients such as MSG (listed as hydrolyzed protein), table sugar, table salt, sweet tasting propylene glycol (a derivative of antifreeze), other “spices” and synthetic chemicals for “enhancement”. These ingredients are used to cover the taste of poor quality ingredients and get pets addicted to foods. If your pet is eating a food they are addicted to and you want to switch them it might help you to think about it like McDonald’s. Junk food is not ok for every meal and in the case of a pet (who doesn’t have to deal with temptation) it’s not necessary to feed it at all. You can switch!!!!… its up to you to be strong and firm for your pet. Don’t forget that your pet is not going to stumble upon a food they “just can’t resist” if it’s not in your home.
13) “More, Please?”… Enticements: Answers Goat Milk – unpasteurized, cultured goat milk assists with digestion and often times makes a picky eater feel better when they eat. It has cinnamon (for regulating insulin levels) and honey and has an ice cream type flavor. The taste and the anti-inflammatory benefits often significantly help with picky eaters and help can even make over-eaters feel more satisfied. Ask us for assistance in finding additional enticements that will benefit YOUR pet if you need to. If your pet has no appetite the Answers Fish Stock is not only an amazing, healing supplement, it’s also an appetite stimulant AND its stinky, which pets love, so feeding it alone might just be the trick prior to a meal!
Entice on your terms, not theirs-No matter what you add to your pets food make sure that you NEVER add enticements to their food as a result of them snubbing it. This will only exacerbate your problem as your pet will learn that snubbing their food will bring better, yummier food. They can have yummy food and enticements but ONLY if you add it before you give them their meal.
14) “Maybe next time”… try and try again: Sometimes you try something and it doesn’t work and then you try exactly the same thing a year later and it works miracles. I couldn’t get my cat to try Ziwi Peak for ANYTHING a couple years ago. They didn’t change anything about the food but when I tried it again a couple months ago he went crazy for it all by himself. I didn’t have to do anything but put it in his bowl and he likes it so much he’d eat the whole bag if I left it out. Sometimes preferences change so its always reasonable to ask for a sample of something you haven’t tried in a long time that didn’t work for you when you tried it in the past. It might be different this time. And if it’s not at least you ruled it out!
15) “Meh … my favorite TV show is on… maybe later”: Particularly with cats, but sometimes with dogs, too, sometimes distractions take priority over eating. If there is something else interesting to do (like a long nap, the potential of a treat, snuggling with you because you are stressed out….) many pets will choose to spend their time doing what they think is important. Remember that YOU are the one that knows you’re trying the game of sampling new foods, not them. To them, their strange human just put strange things in their dish… that’s strange… humans are strange. If you think your pet just thinks you’re a weirdo and that their priorities seem far more enticing than the meal you just handed them, try confining them to a small area such as a kennel or bathroom for 30-90 minutes to allow them the opportunity to bore themselves into actually trying to figure out why did that weird thing with that new weird food. You may even have to try this a few times but in our experience it always works (especially with cats… even if it take a few days worth of trying)
16) “It’s dark in there… I’m not sticking my face in that”: Dogs and cats “see” the world with their noses, not their eyes. They are born with a sense of smell that is equivalent to our sense of sight, which means their sight is actually never that good even at birth. Whether they are losing their vision or not, sometimes they can’t see inside the bowl very well and deep or dark bowls can be really scary. It goes against natural logic to stick your face into a dark hole… what if there’s a monster in there!!! Even if your pet has just seemed to lose their appetite overall and you’re not even trying new foods, try putting their food on a plate or cookie sheet so its not dark. Alternatively, you can try a bright colored bowl that doesn’t seem to dark near the bottom.
17) “My metabolism is as lazy as I am”: Don’t forget that there are a zillion reasons that your pet might not need as many calories as you’re offering. From decreasing metabolism from old age, to medical conditions like hypo/parathhyroid, to maybe you were overfeeding to begin with and they just can’t eat as much as you’re offering. If you’re not sure how much you should be feeding your pet, or how much to give of a new food (remember every food requires a different amount because they all have different densities) just give us a shout at Hero@HerosPets.com or 303.972.1926. (By the way, over feeding is more likely to cause weight loss (and large and/or loose stool) in dogs than it is to cause obesity. Obesity is generally caused by starches and “filler” ingredients.)
18) “My face hurts”: Dental problems can cause a variety of issues. If there is a foreign body, abscess, dental fracture or infection in their mouth it could physically hurt to eat. If there is significant plaque buildup the bacteria can not only cause stomach aches, but can also cause damage to the kidney’s and heart. Kidney’s filter toxins and toxic buildup can cause a lack of appetite. Heart problems can cause the body to falsely feel anxious, which can also lead to a lack of appetite (Have you ever had a heart palpitation that made you feel nervous? And have you ever noticed that when you feel scared or nervous you don’t feel hungry?) Sometimes its important to check their teeth to make sure they don’t have a dental problem that needs medical attention that is causing their pickiness.
Extra tips about how to switch once you’ve picked a new product:
Ok, you know how to get them to try new things… now how do you transition them?
There are two options here.
- Cold Turkey (which we recommend) – Switching “cold turkey” provides a couple benefits that we, personally, prefer (we won’t judge you if you’re not comfortable with this method, though… you have to do what’s right for you). 1) If your pet isn’t tolerating something with the old food it eliminates the culprit faster so they detox sooner. 2) You are BOTH going through the change. In our opinion, you can either do it fast and both of you have a sort of rough 3 days, or you can drag it out and make it last up to a month. We like getting it over with and getting on with awesome health!!! As noted below in the ‘Please note’ section, your pet is likely to get diarrhea and that’s ok. If you just don’t want to deal with it, though, then see the ‘Supplementing Options’ section below to see how you can prevent it even if you are switching cold turkey
- Slow Mixing – Mix 25% “new” food with 75% “old” food for 2-7 days. Increase “new” food 25% and decrease “old” food 25% every 2-7 days (or when your pet’s stool is solid). Add suggested supplements if necessary. (For extra sensitive pets increase new food in 10% increments instead of 25% increments.) You’ll know it is time to increase your pet’s ratio of new food when they have solid stool. Some pets may take 3 days to transition and some take 3 weeks. You must transition at a rate that is comfortable by observing your pet. Only you, the parent, can do that so increase according to what you think is best based on your pet’s tolerance.
Supplementing options …..
Answers Raw Goat’s Milk– Goat Milk increases nutrient absorption and decreases inflammation in the gut. It’s a great flavor enhancer and helps your pet feel fuller after eating. Ideally you should soak your pets food in Answers Goat Milk for 8-12 hours before feeding. It comes in a liquid form and must be refrigerated.
Answers Fermented Fish Stock – Fish Stock is amazing for so many things we could go on forever… but it’s also a great appetite stimulant, it has a strong odor that most pets love, it’s great for digestion, and it can assist in predigesting the food which is especially good for pets that have a hard time keeping weight on.
Herbsmith Mircoflora – Microflora also benefits nutrient absorption and helps soothe an upset stomach. The product contains mostly Probiotics and Enzymes, with the addition of Prebiotics and tummy soothing herbs. It comes in a pill form that can be used as a powder.
In Clover Optagest– Optagest is great for hairballs and gas. This product contains mostly Prebiotics with the addition of Probiotics (so it’s really only good for an already pretty healthy gut that hasn’t had antibiotics in the past). Optagest comes in a flavorless powder.
Honest Kitchen Perfect Form – Perfect Form is an herbal product can help to soothe the mucous membranes of the digestive tract, and reduce issues associated with diet changes.
Animal Essentials Daily Digestion – This is a liquid tincture that’s great for audibly gurgly tummies. It slightly anesthetizes the stomach lining and warms the digestive fire.
We can assist you in choosing the right product for your pet, your convenience level, and your budget.
Upon switching from a highly processed food such as kibble or canned, to a dehydrated raw or raw food there may be some detoxifying and clean up of accumulated food debris. Your pets stool volume may temporarily increase or they may develop diarrhea. This is actually a healthy response by the digestive system as long as you transition slowly enough and supplement properly to prevent severe diarrhea. Processed food leaves “residue” in the system… material that is neither absorbed nor passed due to inefficient digestion. Dehydrated raw or raw food is optimally absorbed and what minor material that is not utilized by the body passes through, eliminating a major burden on the digestive system and consequently the immune systems. This leaves the body able to perform other necessary tasks, which may include a “spring cleaning” of the colon. This in turn creates a healthy environment in the gut and makes it less susceptible to parasites and bacteria, which live in the mucus sludge of the colon. As stated above we have products which can minimize the discomfort (for humans cleaning up) and negative side effects of this otherwise healthy process.
Written by Chelsea Kent