There is a growing epidemic in the pet food world, one that the industry has scrambled to answer for generations, one that has spawned countless new categories of products and demoralized the growing number of pet parents whose animal deals with this condition. It’s a problem that we’ve all faced and had to work around at some point, and seems to be an unavoidable mountain to climb – pickiness.
I see it every day. The well-intentioned pet parent who has tried almost every single brand of food that I carry, and several that I don’t, only to dejectedly crawl back to whatever low-grade pet food they were previously using, all because their beloved fur kid has turned his nose up to every single option except that one. It is very frustrating for us both, but we mutually shrug, shake our heads, and accept that the animal must just be extremely picky and there’s nothing we can do about it.
Well, what if there was a solution? A remedy, an elixir, a magical cocktail? A hot new product that will cure all your woes? Same food, new fairy dust, and viola! Your pet will be doing circles around the food dish.
Reality check: That’s not the case. No product on the market is immune to pickiness, and most of the ones that seem to be will only work for a short time. This all goes back to the biology of dogs and cats, the study of which has led me to the point of this article, the most time-tested and reliable method for getting your animal to eat better food when they are initially uninclined to do so.
Throughout history, both dogs and cats have been scavenging animals. Hunter/gatherers, if you will. They took what was there, with dogs gorging themselves and being sustained for a few days at a time, and with cats catching small meals and eating sparingly throughout the day. The idea of “scheduled mealtime” for both species is a relatively new concept, only emerging within the last hundred years or so.
That’s also true of commercial “complete and balanced” meals. Wild dogs and wild cats achieve balance in the same way we do – over time, rather than on a meal-to-meal basis. Even pet animals, pre commercialization, often lived on table scraps and what they could catch. It wasn’t until World War 1 and the Industrial Revolution that pre-prepped pet meals were introduced, and they were invented as a convenience for parents, not the health of the pet, like TV Dinners and canned soups for humans.
Pet animals started free-feeding (which was impossible pre-kibble) and exercising less. Along with the myriad of real degenerative health problems that this lifestyle created, it also ushered in an age of perceived pickiness, which is perpetuated, like those degenerative problems, because of how and what our pets are eating.
This is why no new product will “cure” pickiness. No special coating on the kibble, no magic mix-in. These products could work for some pets, but large-scale, we are faced with the same problem: my pet won’t eat his food unless something “fancy” is added.
The solution is simple, cheap, and effective. No one can sell it to you, because you have to achieve it yourself. The solution is patience.
Before I unpack that, let me tell you a story about one of my own animals who struggled with pickiness. My cat, Miss Bee, has been on a rotational diet for her entire life, constantly getting new food with no transition period at all. She never complains and has never had any digestive upset. Imagine my shock when I brought home some raw green tripe and she refused to eat it. I tried everything I knew to do – mixed it with raw goat milk, her other food, some treats, even just consistently putting it down for her until she ate it – for almost two weeks, she refused.
At that point, I was just about done with it, but, because of the insane health benefits of green tripe, I decided to try one more approach. With her other raw food, she would get the tiniest little crumb of tripe, mixed in, hidden so Miss Bee couldn’t smell it or see it. The mixed- in amount increased gradually, and within another two week period, she was eating the stuff plain. All it took was patience.
If you really believe the benefits of a new food or supplement, then a very lengthy transition phase, for both dogs and cats, will be worth it. Start small and slow. For cats, I now always recommend the approach I took with Miss Bee’s green tripe. Cats will starve themselves to death because they are what we refer to as “imprint feeders”, meaning that a couple things, usually what they eat as kittens, are considered food, and everything else might kill them. Since their ancestors are solitary hunters, this instinct is simple preservation, and why cats tend to stick with only what they know, right down to the texture. Often, however, the foods our cats have been eating are not the best, and introducing new foods will increase longevity and overall health, preventing common diseases. That’s why slow transition is so important. A bit of patience is a small price to pay in the long run.
For dogs, I’ve found that transitioning and introducing are much easier. Since dogs are pack animals, that “imprint instinct” was never necessary. When a dog is picky, it’s usually about how he is being fed instead of what he is being fed. Stop free feeding, and don’t be afraid to let your dog pout a bit. If you are having an especially hard time getting your dog on a better food, try the Miss Bee Method. Either way, your patience will pay off and your dog will eventually eat the food he is given.
Exercise will also help. Working dogs almost never need to be enticed because their bodies crave the nutrients. Try running your dog longer before mealtime, with a weighted backpack if your schedule doesn’t allow for lengthy runs.
As you move forward with introducing better food to your pets, try these methods. The payoff will be easy rotation, longevity, healthier digestion, and, above all, the least picky pet.