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Tips for Pets Who Won’t Eat

cat eating a treat

Written by Dr. Leslie Brooks, DVM

In need of tips for a pet who won’t eat? A pet that will eat one type of food one day and then turn their nose up at it the next? Or how about a pet that holds out on eating only for the good stuff? Or maybe your pet is sick or just recently got over an illness.

My Pet Won’t Eat

What to do when your pet won’t eat! It can be quite frustrating and exhausting when you try to entice your pet to eat and they just refuse, especially if you are needing to give your pet medicine your veterinarian has prescribed. Nutrition is vital to healing and staying healthy, which is why I have put together a few suggestions and tricks to help you encourage your pet to eat.

Read Dr. Brooks bio on Meet the Vets

Hand-feed Your Pets

dog receiving treat

Some pets are just social eaters. Eating is a social activity for them and they want you involved in the process. For these pets, getting down on the floor with them, at their level, and offering them food directly out of your hands can sometimes encourage them enough to eat at least eat a little bit.

Even though they may not want to go to their food bowl or have the energy to eat on their own, seeing you put that much effort into getting them to eat will be enough to get them to eat some out of your hands. Sometimes just the novelty of being fed in a different way can encourage eating as well.

Additionally, pretending like you are eating the food and “oh my gosh, it is so good,” can sometimes do the trick.

Offering Different Types of Pet Food in Different Ways

cat eating from bowl

If your pet is used to eating a dry, kibble-type food, they may be more inclined to eat a wet, moist, or canned version of their food if they aren’t feeling well. Canned foods have a strong aroma, which can stimulate their appetite, especially if it’s something they aren’t used to getting. It can also be somewhat easier to eat, as oftentimes they can just lick it and don’t have to chew too much.

Offering lunch meat or canned tuna (for cats) is also okay on a temporary basis to encourage eating. If your pet is on a prescription food or special food they need to eat for their health, sometimes mixing in small pieces of lunch meat or cooked hamburger meat to their food can entice them to eat some of their necessary food as they attempt to eat the more flavored meats mixed in. Make it extra special for them by offering the food as though it’s coming directly from your own plate. Even though this is not recommended in regular circumstances as it may promote begging, it may be enough stimulation to help your pet eat.

Cooking for Your Pet

You could even temporarily cook for your pet. For a dog or cat that is sick, cooked chicken (or hamburger meat) and rice (or sweet potato) is a bland diet that is easily digestible and often readily eaten. Make sure to not add any flavoring and to only feed lean meats. It’s best to offer this in very small portions, four to six times a day.


If your pet is not sick, but just a picky eater, they may like you cooking for them. If you try a few nights of home-cooked meals and they seem to enjoy it, work with your veterinarian on developing a recipe for your pet that you can feed to them long-term.

It is perfectly fine to cook for your pet, as long as the meal is well balanced, which usually means adding in a calcium supplement, vitamins, and making sure there is the proper ratio of protein to carbohydrates in each portion. This is where consulting with your veterinarian will be key.

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Add Flavors to Your Pet’s Food

Only on a temporary basis is it okay to add in flavored items, such as a small amount of baby food from a jar or chicken broth to your pet’s food.  The extra flavor and aroma of baby food or chicken broth can entice your pet to eat, but this should only be offered in small amounts for two to three days.

If offering baby food, make sure to only give baby food that does not have any onion or garlic flavoring in it, as those could be toxic to your pet.

Ask a Veterinarian for Medical Help


If all this fails, you could also contact your veterinarian to see if they have any appetite stimulants you can give to your pet. There are some prescription appetite stimulants available and newer formulations for cats that just require you to apply an ointment to your cat’s ear. There is a tablet form that you can give to your dog.

It’s also okay to ask your veterinarian if there are any anti-nausea medications available that may help your pet’s appetite. Oftentimes, even if a pet isn’t actively vomiting, nausea can be a primary reason your pet isn’t eating and getting that under control can help them feel good enough to begin eating again.

There are also plenty of medical reasons why a pet may be a picky eater. These may include anything from having a painful mouth due to dental disease to inflammatory bowel disease or acid reflux disease-causing inflammation in the intestines, resulting in nausea. That is why it is always a good idea to check with your veterinarian to rule out any medical problems as to why your pet may be so picky.

Schedule an appointment with Hello Ralphie

By Dr. Leslie Brooks

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1 Comment

  1. […] Some cats can be picky eaters, which will impact their weight. It is important for cat parents to make sure their cat is not eating due to another illness or nausea. Talk to a vet online at Hello Ralphie to help you determine the cause of your cat’s picky eating behavior. For more information on cats who will not eat, check out our Tips for Pets Who Won’t Eat! […]

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