Picky eating behavior: Don’t cater to your pet’s unnatural eating habit
Food is the driver for our dogs and cats. It is biologically the most important as it is a primary re-enforcer, and all animals are programmed to need and desire food. Eating comes effortlessly to most and does not require any learning. And yet some of us have pets who are picky eaters, making feeding time stressful for both the pet and you, the pet parent.
At the outset let’s understand that picky eating behavior is not natural because of the inherent need for food to sustain life. So, what causes such behavior? Let’s take a look.
Causes of picky eating behavior
Why is it that some pets have been gobbling down their food in seconds and bam, suddenly, they begin to display picky eating behavior. By understanding the many reasons behind this change will help you find a way to overcome this issue.
The first step to take if your pet suddenly starts to display picky eating behavior is to look for medical conditions, such as:
Illness: Anything from a tummy upset (nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea) to a more serious disease like cancer, liver or kidney disease, etc.
Dental disease: Could there be a mouth injury? Fractured teeth to gum disease can make a pet give up eating.
Recent vaccinations: Sometimes recent vaccinations can also cause a pet to lose its appetite. Check with the veterinarian if your pet has been recently vaccinated.
Resolve the medical condition, if any, and you will most certainly resolve the problematic picky eating behaviour.
If your pet has recently become sick after eating a particular food, then it subconsciously identifies the food as dangerous and will avoid it in the future. This is a food aversion. It is nothing but a safety mechanism that is triggered to avoid consuming food that consistently causes illness.
Sometimes the smell of certain foods can trigger negative emotions if your pet had a bad experience when the same food was presented earlier. This can cause food aversion as well.
Feline Imprinting Behavior
Cats differ from dogs in the sense they have a survival mechanism that they develop at a very young age. The cat views only one type of food as safe and all-new options are considered dangerous. If your cat has been consuming one type of food
for a long time, it most likely has imprinted that food as the safest option. This feline food imprinting behavior is often mistaken as picky eating behavior.
The puppy teething stage begins at 14 weeks of age and goes on until the puppy is around 25 weeks old. During this time the puppy is common for puppies to avoid eating chewing hard or large pieces of food because of mouth discomfort or pain. In such a case, offer mashed or ground meals until your puppy’s mouth is no longer sensitive.
Puppies have a second time when then get fussy about food. This is when they enter into their adolescent developmental period. Just like us people, their bodies are undergoing psychological and hormonal changes, which makes them moody and brings on picky eating behavior. Even post-adolescence, some females avoid food when they are on their heat cycle. Males have been known to disregard food if they are within the radius of a female on heat.
Anxiety and Fear
You should keep an eye on your pet while they are eating, so in case the pet starts to choke you can step in quickly. However, standing close by or hovering makes the pet wary as they feel pressured while eating, Watch, but from a distance.
Any form of other stress, anxiety, or fear will also decrease appetite in pets. Any changes in their normal life, such as moving or a new member, or environmental causes like a storm, can put them under stress and make them lose their appetite.
Finally, you could be the reason your pet becomes a picky eater. If you offer a different meal every time your pet refuses a meal, the pet will learn that it can refuse food until something nicer is presented.
How can you overcome picky eating behavior?
Once you have identified the possible cause for the Picky eating behaviour, you need to move on to overcome the problem. Here’s what you can do.
If your dog doesn’t eat or hasn’t begun eating within 15 minutes of being given food, take the bowl away. Do not give any other foods as an alternative until the next meal, at which time you should offer the same meal that was refused earlier. Repeat this until your pet eats the food. Do not follow this for puppies, cats, or pets with medical conditions.
Stop handing out treats: Treats will spoil your pet’s appetite and will not allow them the sensation of being hungry. Only give your pet its scheduled meal(s) for the day. This strict feeding schedule will allow the stomach to be empty by the time it’s time for the next meal and your pet will be more likely to eat foods that are offered.
Consistent feeding routine: If you do not have a feeding schedule, your pet will start to anticipate food at random times. Create a feeding routine and stick with it without fail. By following a strict and consistent feeding schedule, your pet will begin to understand that it needs to eat when food is presented as there will not be any more until the next feeding time. Sounds tough, but it works, trust us.
Physical exercise: Get your dog up and about. The best way to stimulate appetite is through physical exercise. Exercising burns calories and makes the pet hungry as it needs to refuel. Take your dog for longer walks, make it run, take it swimming, or play games like fetch at home.
Mental enrichment: If your pet is bored during meal times, offer it food via a puzzle. Most animals love to participate in activities that trigger their natural instincts of hunting, shredding, and chewing. Use puzzle toys to stuff food in or scatter food outdoors as a hunting exercise. All these methods are exciting and the mental stimulation provides a positive experience with eating.
Picky eating behaviour, while frustrating, can be overcome. Take into account issues like medical conditions, food aversion, feline imprinting behavior, puppy teething, hormones, as well as learned behavior. Before you attempt any options to change the behavior, make sure there is no underlying medical condition.
Do not cave in, and do not encourage your pet’s picky eating behavior if there are no medical issues. Use the tricks outlined above and see what works best in overcoming Picky eating behaviour.