When Your Pet Won’t Eat Their Own Food: How to Handle a Picky Eater

It may seem innocent enough, but sharing scraps can contribute to a poor diet and finicky behaviour.


It can be so tempting to indulge our pets and give them the occasional table scrap. Who can resist those puppy dog eyes and soft meows next to the table? It may seem innocent enough, but sharing scraps can contribute to a poor diet and finicky behaviour. Look at it from your pet’s point of view: why eat dry kibble when you can just wait for a tastier meal later on?

That said, there are some pets who are just born with smaller appetites. These animals will pick at small amounts of food throughout the day to maintain a healthy body weight. These pets are often described as “eating to live” rather than “living to eat.” The issue arises when your dog or cat becomes picky to an extreme and doesn’t eat any of their own food. What is a pet parent to do when this happens?

Don’t worry. No matter how old your pet is, it is never too late to adjust their eating habits. While your finicky pet may never develop a ravenous appetite, there are a number of ways that you can encourage them to eat their own food.

Please note: These tips are for pets who have always been picky eaters. If there has been a sudden change in your pet’s eating habits (for example: a dog who is usually food-motivated is now refusing to eat), speak with your veterinarian to rule out any serious health conditions.

Stick to a set food schedule

Place your dog's food out in its usual spot. Remove the food after some time has passed, and don’t place it back down until the next scheduled meal time. It is important to be consistent. You are teaching them that if they are hungry, they must eat their food within a set time. It may feel tough at first, but consistency is key. Stick with the schedule and don't be tempted to give them extra treats.


Gradually introduce new food

It could be that your dog or cat simply doesn’t like a specific pet food. If you suspect that the food formula is responsible for your pet's pickiness, start introducing a new food gradually. To begin, add a very small amount of the new food to the old food. Every few days, you can increase the amount of new food added to the bowl. Eventually, the old food will be completely replaced by the new food. This gradual introduction is effective because it gives your furry friend a chance to get used to the new food. This makes it more likely that your pet will eat it, and less likely to upset their stomach.



Pet food should be served in pet bowls

Feeding your pet from the table is an absolute no-no. As soon as your dog realizes that they can get a snack from your plate, they’ll come to expect food from you every time you sit down to eat. As mentioned above, feeding your pup table scraps makes them less likely to eat and enjoy their own food. It is also important to create clear boundaries for your pooch by ensuring that they learn that they will only be given their own food in their own bowl.



Use treats sparingly

Of course, you can still give your finicky eater a treat now and then. The key is to give these treats at special times, such as rewarding good behaviour or while training your pet. Remember that non-edible options to praise and reward your pet can often work just as well! They will love an affectionate belly rub or a quick walk around the neighbourhood.



It’s often hard to admit that our well-intentioned and loving actions may be causing our pet’s bad habits. But by acknowledging your own missteps, you can start to take corrective action to address the finicky behaviour. The key word to remember is: consistency. Start a feeding strategy, get the whole household on board, and stick with it!


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