the picky pet problem: encouraging your pet to eat more

the picky pet problem: encouraging your pet to eat more

Some of us are fortunate to have pets that happily gobble up their food at each meal, but what do you do if your pet doesn’t want to eat? Here are some tips and tricks to help bring your pet back to the bowl.

Why isn’t my pet eating?

The first step to take when you notice your pet is not eating well is to figure out the reason why. A decreased appetite can often be an early sign your pet has a health problem they can’t communicate to you. So we recommend having your pet checked over thoroughly by your veterinarian. While it’s possible your pet’s change in eating habits is a minor concern, it’s also possible they might be experiencing medical issues, pain, or dental problems. Be sure to tell your vet you’ve noticed a decrease in appetite, along with any other symptoms you see, so they have the full story and can investigate any potential causes. Their evaluation might involve asking more questions, doing a physical exam, bloodwork, x-rays, or additional tests.

Could it be something in my pet’s environment?

Your pet’s environment is an important factor to consider if you notice a change in their eating behaviors. For example, a sudden or large change in temperature can decrease your pet’s desire for food. Nobody likes to have a big meal when it’s sweltering outside!

Other changes to your household, however small they might seem to us, can be upsetting or unfamiliar to your pet. These changes might be as small as a change in your pet’s normal schedule to something major, like moving homes or welcoming a new baby into the family. Cats specifically can be very sensitive to changes and stressors (especially loud noises), and they may be discouraged from eating if something around their bowl is causing them concern.

Finally, if you have multiple pets in your home, interactions among your pets can cause a change in appetite. In homes with multiple pets, one pet may be intimidating another away from the food. If you notice a change in your pet’s eating habits, it’s always a good idea to look around and ask yourself if there’s anything that could be discouraging them from eating.

Are there changes I can make to encourage eating?

Some pets might be encouraged to eat if you simply change things up! Get them a new bowl or change the location of the bowl in your house to see if it helps. And be sure to clean both their food and water bowls with soap and rinse thoroughly daily. If you feed your dog inside, you might even consider feeding outside or vice versa. When the weather is nice, why not try having a family meal outside to enjoy some fresh air!

Another consideration is the height of your pet’s bowl. Pets with arthritis have trouble bending down, so raising their bowl can help them eat more comfortably. Depending on your pet’s individual needs, it might also help to lower the food bowl to find a more comfortable position.

Some pets enjoy solitude from people, noises, and other pets when eating while others are more social and prefer to eat with company. Try placing the bowl in different social settings as well.

How can I make sure I’m feeding and storing my pet’s food properly to maintain taste and aroma?

Dry kibble should only sit in the bowl for one day because it starts to lose its aroma. After that, you should remove it and fill the bowl with fresh kibble. Likewise, canned food should only sit out at room temperature for two hours. Check that bags of kibble are sealed tightly at room temperature out of sunlight and are still within the expiration date printed on the bag. Canned food can be fed for 3-4 days once opened if refrigerated and covered well. You might even want to take a quick smell of the kibble or canned food before feeding to make sure it smells appetizing and hasn’t lost its aroma.

Can extra play time help my pet’s appetite?

If no medical reason is found for the change in eating habits, you might consider adding in additional environmental enrichment to encourage your pet to eat. Dogs and cats need to be challenged mentally and physically, some more than others. Their appetite may benefit from exercise, play, or training.

One fun idea is to have them perform tricks for their food. You can handfeed their entire meal this way, and they’ll definitely be entertained. A couple extra walks a day for dogs or increased lap time for cats may be just what they need to help them feel the love.

How can I make my pet’s food more appealing?

Some pets need enticement to get them to start eating. One thing that commonly works is heating the food, especially if you’re feeding canned. Just place their food in a microwave-safe bowl and pop it in the microwave for about 10 seconds. Before serving, be sure to stir it to disperse any hot spots that could burn your pet’s mouth. This helps to increase the aroma, which attracts your pet to it. On the other hand, if your pet is nauseous, a strong aroma is likely to be unappealing to them. In these cases, you might want to cool the food in the refrigerator before feeding to decrease its aroma.

Many pets enjoy having a topper like canned food or Freely Beneficial Broth for dogs and cats added to their food for extra excitement. You can also add a few special treats, but as always make sure any added toppers provide no more than 10% of the meal’s calories to keep your pet’s diet complete and balanced. And if your pet prefers softer food or has dental problems, you can add water or bone broth to kibble and let it stand for 10 minutes to soften.  Be sure to discard any uneaten food with added topper after 2 hours because it tends to dry out and become less appetizing.

Finally, if you want to try to switch up foods, reach out to Freely’s Nutrition Center experts for a consultation. We are happy to discuss your pet’s unique situation and help you select a food that’s just right.

None of these ideas are working. What can I try next?

If your pet still won’t eat due to medical issues, consider hand feeding. Sometimes your pet will be more likely to take the food directly from their loving pet parent’s hand rather than from a bowl. You might also consider consulting your veterinarian to see if an appetite stimulant might be right for your pet. This might be the boost he or she needs to get started eating.

Please keep in mind that cats specifically are very sensitive to not eating. They can start to experience damage to their liver if they go more than 24 hours without eating. So be sure to consult your veterinarian if you can’t get your pet to successfully eat at home.


Still have questions?

Our pet nutrition team is here for you. Send us an email, give us a call, or connect with us through LiveChat. We’d love to talk through your pet’s unique nutritional needs!