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This is a question I get asked on a regular basis from owners who usually have small “white fluffy” dogs (and sometimes cats).

In some cases (not very often) there are medical reasons why your dog or cat is not eating a lot, or only eats certain food, but in most cases, the reason lies not with the animal but with the owner’s perception of what a “normal” dog or cat will eat.

A lot of pet owners have the perception that all animals are “gulpers” – meaning all you have to do is put food in front of your animal and they will dive into it “boots and all”, devour it and look for more. Now, there is no doubt that there are pets that will do just that, but there are also some that are not food orientated and only eat when they are hungry and only eat to sustain life and not for the enjoyment of eating.

There are also dog and cats who will not eat commercial food (dry, canned or sausages) because they know that if they don’t eat it then the owner will offer them something that is more enjoyable. It is a bit like saying to your child “If you do not eat your vegetables then we will give you a plate of ice-cream”. These animals have trained their owners very well.

You may think that your animal tastes its food the same as we do, but the reality is that dogs and cats do NOT have the same number of taste buds as us and most dogs and cats use more ‘smell’ and ‘feel’ of the food offered to stimulate their appetite. So it is important to warm up the food (hard to do with dry food) to help stimulate the appetite.

But – before you race off warming up food, changing food etc. it is important to actually observe the animal first;

– is it healthy?

– does it have a shiny coat?

– is it happy and very active?

If your dog or cat is looking ‘a million dollars’, has lots of energy and is in good body condition then you do NOT have a problem

Most owners are not aware of the huge amount of excess protein and fat is in ordinary commercial food and a lot of animals do not need a lot of food to sustain health and happiness.

If your animal is not looking healthy or seems to be losing weight or becoming lethargic then you should take them to a vet and get it examined (and a blood test) to make sure you do not have a medical problem. Sometimes poor dental health cab play a role, sometimes there are problems in the bowel, sometimes the animal has a liver or kidney problem etc… and they are all important things that need to be identified and corrected.

It is also normal for a dog or cat to occasionally not eat for a day or so – this is nature’s way to allow the stomach and intestines to heal from any damage. So if your dog or cat is looking great and acting normally but occasionally (once a month or so) it does not eat well (or even skips a day) but the next day the animal is normal, then you do NOT have a problem.

A lot of owners are not aware that treats that they give to the animal every day will also supply a huge amount of calories and will affect the meal time to the stage where they will not eat much. Remember that there may be a well-meaning neighbour who is feeding your pet to show how much they admire the animal and that can affect the eating habits of your pet as well.

The same can apply to some of the gourmet cat and premium dog foods – they are often a lot higher in digestible fat and protein and supply a lot higher calorie count than the cheaper foods and a lot of dogs and cats actually eat less because they do not need the larger quantity.

So overall – be aware that your perception of how much your pet needs may be wrong and the way we deal with the “fussy” eater may encourage the animal not to eat “properly”.

What are some of the things you can do to encourage your animal to eat properly?

  1. Only feed your pet once or twice a day and only allow them access to that meal for 15 minutes. If it has not eaten in that time – take it away and feed the same food 12 to 24 hours later. Do not give treats in the meantime and do not offer other foods.
  2. Moisten the dry food with warm water – do not drown it but just make it soft and this will increase the aroma
  3. Choose a good food based on animal protein – we recommend Royal Canin or Hills. Animals would rather eat animal protein as compared to vegetable protein that is found in most “cheaper” food.
  4. Add taste enhancers such as chicken broth or small pieces of slivered up animal sausages mixed with food
  5. Mix some cooked chicken (in very small pieces) to the food and when the animal is eating well, then slowly decrease the amount of chicken added to the food.
  6. If the problem is a dog – add small amounts of cat food to the dog diet (does not work with cats) – cat food usually is more appetising.
  7. Limit treats and other foods offered during the day
  8. Trial other foods – some dogs and cats will only eat fresh foods and will not touch commercial foods. If that is the case – contact us and we will send you a diet that you can buy the ingredients locally and mix up.

Overall – if the dog or cat who is a “fussy” eater is looking great, is happy and has a fantastic coat then just accepting that the animal does not eat a lot is a great way to deal with the problem. Remember the problem you perceive may not be real and if your pet is not eating much then you are saving money on the food.

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