Many of us are guilty of spoiling our pets with the occasional table scrap. Those puppy dog eyes and soft meows are hard to resist! It seems innocent, but this can contribute to a poor diet and finicky behaviour. Think about it: Why would your pet want to eat their dry kibble when they know they can hold out for a tastier meal later on?
Of course, some pets are just born with small appetites. These are the animals that “eat to live” rather than “live to eat” and maintain a healthy weight by enjoying small amounts of food throughout the day. But what if your dog or cat has taken pickiness to an extreme and doesn't eat any of their own food?
No need to fret. It's never too late to work on your pet's eating habits no matter what age they are. While these finicky eaters may never develop a truly ravenous hunger, there are ways that you can encourage them to eat their own food.
Please note: The following tips are for lifelong picky eaters. If your pet has had a sudden change in their eating habits (for example: a highly food-motivated dog that now refuses to eat), consult your veterinarian to rule out any serious health conditions.
Set a Strict Meal Time
Set your dog's food out as you normally would. After some time has passed, remove the bowl and don't bring it out again until the next meal time. It may seem tough at first, but you need to be consistent. Don't be tempted to give them extra treats either! Your pet will eventually learn that if they're hungry, they must eat their food within a set time. After all, dog food is better than no food at all.
Introduce New Food Gradually
If you believe the food's formula is to blame for your pet's picky eating, gradually introduce a new food. Start by mixing a very small amount of the new food with the old food. As the day’s pass, increase the amount of new food that you add to the bowl. Eventually, you can serve your pet a full portion of the new food. This method is effective because it allows your furry friend to slowly become accustomed to the new formula making them more likely to eat it and less likely to cause stomach upset.
Pet Food Belongs in Pet Bowls
As soon as your pooch realizes that they're getting a nibble from your own plate, it's “game over.” They'll become greedy and expect to be fed human food whenever you sit down to eat. Besides not feeding your pet table scraps, you can create clear boundaries by ensuring that your pet is only given their own food in their own bowl.
Reward with Treats Sparingly
Who doesn't enjoy a treat now and then? You don't need to withhold all cookies and treats when dealing with a finicky eater. Instead, make sure that special snacks are given at appropriate times, like rewarding good behaviour and during training. You can also get creative and think of non-edible ways to praise your pet like an affectionate belly rub or even a quick walk around the neighbourhood.
It's hard to admit that our actions may have caused our pets to pick up some bad habits, but being honest with ourselves and acknowledging our missteps is the first step in correcting finicky behaviour. And remember, consistency is key! Come up with a feeding strategy, get the whole family on board, and stick to it. Good luck!