To Eat, Or Not to Eat? The Eternal struggle of a picky eater



By Jasmine Ward, August 17th, 2020


In being a pet care professional, I have come across many types of questions and concerns from loving pet parents, who are seeking advice for their fur babies. While I hear many different types of complaints, the number one complaint is: MY DOG/CAT WON’T EAT ANYTHING! Generally, these turn out to be cases of picky eaters, however, sudden changes in appetite could mean that there is an underlying health condition that needs to be addressed. This is particularly true for young pets, senior pets, or pets with known underlying conditions.


So let's dive in and help you decide if it’s picky eating, normal behavior, or if something fishy is going on.


Is this the real-life pickiest pet or are these genetics?

Some eating habits are in fact tied to your pet’s genetics. Certain breeds are known to be insatiable, while others are more reserved in their eating. Breeds like Labs, pugs, beagles are known to have ravenous appetites, while others like sighthounds, greyhounds, etc. are lean by nature. There are many breeds that may consume food but gain little to no weight because of their fast metabolism.

Watch your pet the next time you feed them. Do they take a long time to eat? Do they swallow it whole? The answer to those questions is a good indicator of whether your pet is in fact a picky eater. Typically, pets who don’t finish their food in about 20 minutes (dogs) or 1 hour (cats) are more likely to be classified as a picky eater.

Does your pet refuse to eat their own food but are more than obliged to eat human food? Guess what that means? They’re a picky eater!

Environments influences appetite

Feeding your pet may seem like a straightforward task, however, many pet parents don’t realize how and when you feed your pet can affect how much they eat. This makes it so IMPORTANT to follow a consistent feeding routine (and walking routine for all the dog parents). Here are a few tips to get you started:

1)      Set & stick to a mealtime schedule.

a.      Personally, I like to feed my dogs at the same time I eat. So when I sit down for breakfast, I place my dogs bowls down too. The same for dinner time.

2)      Do not leave food out for more than 20 minutes (dogs) or 1 hour (cats)

a.      This will teach your pet more about time. They can tell the time of day as well as understand the concept of “limited”, whether that be limited resources or limited time.

3)      If your pet does not eat anything from the bowl, PICK IT UP!

a.      Leaving food out is a big mistake. This teaches your pet that food is available whenever they want it, thus teaching them that they do not in fact need to eat it if they don’t want to! In addition, leaving food out long term encourages bad eating habits and is unsanitary. It can attract unwanted creatures such as rats and roaches.

4)      Stop the treats! Do not think that giving your pet treats or table scraps is encouragement for them to eat. It does the exact opposite. It encourages them to not eat their food because they feel they’re getting rewarded for it.

Diet and its effects on appetite?

Sudden changes in food can cause appetite loss and other problems like gastroenteritis. To avoid this any change in diet should be done gradually, transitioning between to old food and the new food over a course of 4-5 days.

Start by mixing ¼ of the new food with ¾ of the old food (sizing according to the correct amount for your pets’ breed, size, and age), gradually increasing the new and decreasing the old food portions until you have completely eliminated the old food.

Diet also plays a role in not eating due to boredom. Most parents pick one food and flavor and feed it to their pet day in and day out. This is a big mistake. As much as I love steak, I would be annoyed having to eat it EVERY SINGLE DAY! The same can be said for your pet! They don’t wanna eat only beef or only chicken for the rest of their lives! They want variety, new flavor! Even something as simple as adding a new flavored topper, such as Rawbble (comes in Beef, Turkey, Pork, Chicken), there are many options for freeze-dried and food toppings that may help your pet eat their food. 


When is not eating a problem?

As we’ve discussed, your pet not eating isn’t immediately a cause for concern as there are many factors that affect their eating habits. Like humans, pets can survive for a short time before experiencing adverse effects from not consuming food or water.

They can go 3-5 days without food and 3 days without water before becoming severely dehydrated and beginning to starve. However, You should consult a vet if your pet hasn’t eaten for 2 days. There are some exceptions to this guideline. Families with pets that meet the following criteria should consult their vet right away, without waiting for 2 days to pass (12-24 hours MAX):

1)      Young puppies or kittens (Less than six months of age)

2)      Pets experiencing appetite loss accompanied by other symptoms such as lethargy, vomiting and/or diarrhea (especially if diarrhea contains large amounts of blood)

3)      Pets with diabetes

4)      Senior pets

5)      Pets that seem to want to eat but do not or will only eat soft food

In these cases, a missed meal or change in appetite should be alarming for you and prompt you to notify your veterinarian for advice and a possible checkup.

If you have any questions or concerns regarding your pet not eating, feel free to contact one of our knowledgeable staff for advice!