While most of us pet owners have experienced this scenario at least once in our lives, for some of us this is an everyday struggle: picture yourself lovingly putting food in your pet's dish, only to have them sniff it, make a face and walk away, hungry but stubborn. No matter what food you offer, or how its offered, or even how much we plead and coo, we get the same response: NOT A CHANCE BUD. To put it mildly, it can be both very frustrating and worrisome.
The good news is you're not alone! and that ‘picky’ dogs and cats are more common than you think. In today’s blog we're going to break it down for you and give you some tools to help determine WHY your dog or cat is refusing to eat what's on offer, and how you can get them to eat with gusto. Dogs and cats can and do refuse to eat for a number of reasons ranging from nausea to illness, painful gums and teeth, to not recognizing it as an edible food source because the consistency is different or it doesn’t smell right, and sometimes they just straight up don’t like it because it makes them feel lousy. Recognizing which scenario is true for your pet will help you find the best feeding strategy.
Nausea & Illness
Whether a result of chronic kidney failure, excess stomach acid, digestive motility, hairballs, constipation, diabetes or cancer, nausea should be regarded as a significant symptom of a larger health issue - if left untreated, chronic nausea can lead to rapid weight loss, muscle wasting and anorexia.
Cats in particular are unique – they cannot fast. Their metabolism requires regular food intake, and if they go more than a couple of days without, they will fall victim to a life-threatening condition called fatty liver disease. Therefore, when it comes to cats it’s especially important to determine the cause and treat as soon as possible.
The treatment protocol for nausea is dependent on the cause, but if your dog or cat is otherwise healthy, and this isn’t a chronic issue, you are likely dealing with a fairly harmless, albeit uncomfortable, case of gastro or constipation that will pass.
If however, you’re dealing with chronic nausea due to illness, canned or raw tripe is often your best friend when it comes to dogs, and for cats, a smelly, meat or fish based wet food can often be enticing enough to overcome the nausea. The stronger the smell, even if it’s the worst quality canned junk food, drastically increases your chances of helping your cat or dog battle through the nausea. Freeze-dried meat toppers are another great option – both dogs and cats have been known to devour whole meals once a bit of meat or liver has been sprinkled on top.
Painful Gums & Teeth, Ouch
According to statistics, 68 percent of cats and 78 percent of dogs over the age of three suffer from some form of periodontal disease – and because most dogs and cats eat a diet of kibble, that means a lot of mouths are in chronic pain, complete with swollen gums and abscessed teeth. Contrary to popular belief, larger kibble does not in in fact keep teeth clean, although we have to admit it is a brilliant marketing ploy. What’s needed is a species appropriate diet of raw, freeze-dried or canned foods, combined with regular teeth cleaning (either a tooth scaling under anesthesia by your local veterinarian, or a do-it-at-home treatment of enzymatic toothpaste or gel). Once the teeth are back in tip-top shape, regular brushing or raw bone chewing is paramount, and yes, that means bones for cats too.
What If My Cat/Dog Just Doesn’t Like His Food?
When it comes to picky eaters, and you’ve already successfully ruled out illness and pain, it might just be because your dog or cat doesn’t like the food all that much. Could be the smell, could be the texture – while the options are truthfully endless, here are a few of the most common ones:
Is there even any meat in here?
Dogs and cats are carnivores, and are designed to eat a diet high in animal protein, high in fat and low in carbohydrates. Unfortunately most commercial & veterinarian dry foods are big bags of cheap filler in the form of grains, sweet potatoes or peas, with very little actual meat. And while the pet food manufacturers try and hide this lack of meat with ‘yummy’ smelling rendered animal fats that are sprayed on kibble, some dogs and cats smell through the ruse. Pet foods loaded with inexpensive grain and carbohydrates slow a carnivore down; they cause weight gain, a significant amount of digestive upset and very often systemic yeast infections. Imagine eating McDonald’s every single day of your life and how you would feel – slow, lack of energy. Or what about if you were consumed by the worst, itchy and painful rash you’ve ever had, all over your body, for days, months, years? Dogs and cats are clever creatures and often make a successful association with the food they are being fed and feeling ill, so can we blame them for wanting nothing to do with those foods?
Is this new food? I don’t recognize the smell – I don’t trust this!
Cats in particular are habitual creatures, and are not as comfortable with a sudden change in routine, especially when it comes to food. If you’ve tried to switch your cat (or dog) to a better quality dry food, wet food, or a raw diet, sometimes they need a little coaxing (or trickery) to get them to eat their new food. Because better quality foods, and raw meat especially, have very little smell compared to that of most commercial foods, cats often straight up do not recognize that what you’re giving them is in fact food.
Slowly, oh so slowly, mixing in a new food with the old, sometimes over the course of weeks or months, has proven to be the most effective and successful way to transition a hesitant cat or a dog to a new, better, less intentionally addictive food – using something they already love and trust, is a very useful strategy. It requires patience, but it’s totally doable. This is especially useful when switching from a dry kibble to wet, or from wet to raw – you need to re-condition them to accept and enjoy foods that aren’t as artificially aromatic.
I’m a chicken kind of guy, really can’t be bothered with duck. I poo-poo your duck!
And then you have the dogs and cats that are just VERY particular about what meats they will and will not eat. There’s often not much rhyme or reason to their preference, however dogs and cats will often avoid foods that they have a negative connection with (could be because of a bad case of gastro, or past illness), or they might not like the texture or smell on offer. Our dog Blu refuses to eat duck unless it’s frozen, and my cat exclusively eats raw venison, so. Whatever the case may be, trust us when we say everyone believes their dog or cat to be the pickiest, but the truth is, most carnivorous companion animals are pretty particular, in their own ways, and we just need to learn how to work with them.
Bailey Blu in NDG is located at 6152 Sherbrooke St. W. Call 514-507-4526. Bailey Blu DDO is located at 3681 Boul. Saint-Jean. Call 514-675-9500