Feeding a fussy family can be challenging enough, but when your pet refuses to even taste their favourite gourmet treats, it can be frustrating and a little concerning.
Whether Fido is reluctant to finish his biscuits or Puss simply won't eat, there are many reasons why a pet might go off its food.
As a first step, check for signs of ill health.
"If your pet turns their nose up at more than one meal, it's a good idea to get them checked by your vet to rule out any physical health issues that might be going on," says animal behaviourist Kate Mornement.
But if there's no health issue and your finicky pet is just waiting for something tastier to come along, there are a number of clever methods you can employ to convince them to lick the bowl clean.
Ensuring your four-legged friend is in top condition will not only keep them happy, it can help prevent illness.
"It's important that your pet maintains good oral hygiene," says Kate.
If left untreated, poor dental hygiene can result in a build-up of bacteria – characterised by bad breath and bleeding gums – which can make eating painful for your pet, and may lead to serious health conditions involving the heart, liver and kidneys.
"To maintain good oral hygiene, feed your pet specialised dental foods such as kibble, which is said to help keep teeth clean by scraping off plaque and tartar," she says.
"Alternatively, raw bones are really good for cats and dogs to chew on to keep their teeth healthy."
Pets also lose appetite due to stress. "Stress and anxiety are probably the most common things I help families with," says Kate.
There's no right way to feed your pet as long as nutritional requirements are met. But, just like us, pets enjoy variation in their diet. If yours has been on the same diet for a while it could be time for a change.
"Some pets will eat whatever they're offered, while others will be a bit fussier," says Kate.
"For those fussier eaters, it can help to make food taste or smell better by mixing in something like sardines or tuna, which have strong smells and tastes."
Likewise, adding table scraps to high-quality dry food is a good idea, but be warned: not all foods are suitable for pets.
"Some human foods – such as chocolate, grapes, onions and mushrooms – can be toxic to pets," says Kate.
If you indulge your pet with treats throughout the day, you may encourage fastidious eating habits.
"Lots of people unintentionally teach their pets that if they turn their nose up at food something better will come along," says Kate.
Only feed your pet from the bowl and avoid leaving food out all day – leaving food out just reinforces that they have all day to eat it.
Instead, Kate says, "Give them food and walk away. After 10 minutes, remove what hasn't been eaten so the next time you offer it they'll be more likely to eat it because they know it won't be there the whole day."
"Lots of people feed their pets once or twice a day, but this isn't what would happen in the wild," says Kate.
In the wild, animals eat almost anything but, in our homes, they learn they can be more selective. Also, wild canines and felines don't eat every day – they tend to only eat when they come across food.
Studies show animals prefer working for food. This is where a food dispensing toy – such as the Kong Wobbler ($39.99, petbarn.com.au) – comes in handy.
The food is put inside the toy. To get to it, cats and dogs need to bat it around.
"By providing your pet's food in a dispensing toy, you're giving them a task to face, in the same way wild animals do," says Kate.
Fussy eating could be a sign something is wrong in the home. If your pet has recently travelled, moved to a new home or been introduced to a new pet or baby, it's likely the loss of appetite is due to stress.
A comfortable and safe location that suits your pet will help ensure they remain happy, healthy and content.
"Bored pets can also become destructive and may decide to eat things in the backyard, or even raid your rubbish bins," says Kate.
"For example, working dogs are bred to do a job – to run and herd animals – but when they have nothing to do they'll find themselves a job, be it digging, barking or escaping.
Providing pets with lots of mental and physical stimulation will prevent those behaviours from happening."
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