Fussy Eaters: Tips and Tricks

Picky dogs and cats can drive us crazy. We might try 50 different foods, we beg and cajole… but sometimes nothing seems to work. From Animal Wellness Magazine. 

While most dogs and cats eat well – even too well, considering more than 50% are considered overweight or obese by their veterinarians – there are always some that just don’t have a good appetite. Many cats, along with dog breeds like huskies and great Danes, can be famously fussy eaters.

If you have a picky eater, keep in mind that the ideal body condition for any animal is what most of us would consider a little too thin. But research has shown that animals of many species (including humans!) live longer and have fewer chronic diseases if they stay slim.

However, if your dog or cat’s appetite has recently decreased (whether suddenly or gradually), a veterinary visit is in order. While a day or two of fasting is normal for many animals, there are numerous health issues that can cause anorexia (not eating) or inappetance (eating less). These include infections; dental disease; gastrointestinal, heart, kidney or liver disorders; cancer; certain hormone abnormalities; many medications; recent vaccination; pain; and stress – to name just a few.

Food Preferences

First, let’s look at what influences which foods our animals prefer to eat:

  • Food preferences are formed early in life, but weaning onto a varied diet produces adults with broad food preferences.
  • Kittens prefer the same diet their mothers ate; and many adult cats will refuse any new food.
  • Adult cats self-select a diet containing 52% protein, 36% to 46% fat, and 2% to 12% carbohydrate.
  • Puppies are influenced by early experience, but dogs are generally more willing to try new foods.
  • Adult dogs self-select a diet containing 30% energy from protein, 63% energy from fat, and 7% energy from carbohydrate. (However, dogs who are not accustomed to a high fat diet may develop pancreatitis if fat consumption is abruptly increased).

Providing your dog or cat with a low carb, high moisture diet may give you the best chance of turning her into a happy, healthy eater. Feeding a variety of foods right from the start reduces the chance that your animal will become finicky, and avoid both the “monotony” and “novelty” effects (see sidebar on page 32). It can also help avoid the development of food allergies, which tend to occur in animals fed the same food for a long time.

Tips and Tricks

If your vet has given your dog or cat a clean bill of health, there are quite a few tricks that can help you overcome her pickiness. (These tips can also help you transition her to new foods.)

  • An animal who is hungry at mealtime is more likely to eat what is offered, so don’t use perpetually full bowls or feeders that allow 24/7 snacking. Individual feeding at timed meals will give you the best results, as well as allow you to assess how much your fussy companion is really eating – especially important in multi-animal households.
  • Stick to a regular meal schedule, so she learns to anticipate food at those times.
  • Never feed your dog or cat from the table; this only encourages “holding out” for something tastier.
  • Try a different brand or flavor of food. The “novelty” effect may help stimulate her appetite.
  • If feeding wet, raw or homemade food, warm it by adding a little hot water. Warmth increases the food’s odor, which stimulates appetite. (Never microwave pet food; it can create hot spots that will burn your animal’s mouth – which definitely won’t help!)
  • Feed smaller amounts more frequently; this is especially helpful for cats, who naturally eat multiple small meals per day.
  • Move the food bowl; it may be in a location that your dog or cat just doesn’t want to hang out in. Put it a good distance away from water bowls and, of course, litter boxes.
  • Increase your companion’s exercise level; it will increase hunger.
  • Top the food with plain meat baby food (chicken, turkey, lamb, ham) – just make sure it doesn’t contain onion or garlic powder.
  • Mix lightly browned, unseasoned meat into the food, or use as a topping.
  • Sprinkle grated or powdered cheese on top of the food.
  • For wet, raw or homemade food, sprinkle a handful of your dog or cat’s favorite kibbles or treats on top. Or, crush the kibbles or treats into crumbs, make bitesized meatballs of the wet food, and roll the meatballs in the crumbs. Bear in mind that “bite-sized” for a cat or small dog is pretty darn tiny.
  • Give treats only after your animal has eaten a good meal.
  • Use “tough love”– if your dog or cat hasn’t eaten her meal in 10 or 15 minutes, pick it up and put it away, then offer the exact same food at the next mealtime.

Getting a fussy dog or cat to eat properly requires patience and ingenuity, but it’s nearly always possible with time and persistence.

Warning Sign: Head Pressing

If your dog or cat is pressing their head on a wall, they’re trying to tell you something important. This article by Pet MD explains.

Have you ever seen a dog or cat press their head against the wall? It kind of looks adorable, but it isn’t something that should be taken lightly. Head pressing is one of the biggest red flags that something is wrong. If your pet presses it’s head against a wall or an object, it’s time to see a veterinarian to rule out the following illnesses:

  • toxic poisoning
  • brain tumor
  • liver shunt
  • metabolic disorder
  • prosencephalon disease
  • encephalitis
  • infection of the nervous system
  • stroke

Toxic Poisoning

A number of toxic chemicals can poison our dogs and cats. Certain foods, such as grapes and chocolate, can also cause toxic poisoning. Toxicity can eventually lead to a whole host of other health problems including cancer, arthritis, liver disease, and immune system and neurological disorders.

Brain Tumors

A primary brain tumor occurs from cells normally found within the brain and its membranes, while a secondary brain tumor is the result of cancer or another tumor that has spread into the tissues of the brain. In addition to head pressing, symptoms include seizures, abnormal behavior, vision and mobility problems, and hyper-sensitivity to touch or pain around the neck and skull.

Liver Shunt

A liver shunt is a condition in which blood flow to and through the liver is compromised. It causes blood from the intestinal tract to bypass the liver and flow directly into the systemic bloodstream. This prevents the by-products from digested and absorbed food from being processed by the liver and removed from circulation. So the by-products remain in the bloodstream and can adversely affect some animals. One of the main symptoms is urate crystals and urate stones.

Metabolic Disorders

This is a broad category that encompasses hyper or hyponatremia, hepatic encephalopathy, hypoglycemia, and more. Metabolic disorders can be genetic or acquired and affect the body’s energy production and can damage tissues. Learn more.

Prosencephalon Disease

Pacing, circling, vision problems, seizures, changes in behavior, and damaged reflexes are other symptoms of prosencephalon disease. With this disease, the forebrain and thalamus parts of the brain are affected.


Inflammation of the brain can be caused by many factors, including reactions to vaccines and viral infections. Seizures, lethargy, and mobility issues are other symptoms.

Infection of the Nervous System

Rabies, parasites, and bacterial, viral, or fungal infections all affect the nervous system. These infections can be contracted through insect and animal bites, and from exposure to bacteria and viruses found in food and in the environment. Infections such as these are very serious and require immediate veterinary treatment.


Nancy Scanlan, DVM, advises that stroke occurs when the blood supply to the brain is interrupted and is caused by a blood clot or ruptured blood vessel. Other symptoms of stroke include dizziness, staggering, falling, seizures, eyes flicking back and forth, sudden or gradual collapse, and a twisted or distortion of the neck or torso. Many factors can lead to stroke, including encephalitis, toxic poisoning, cancer, kidney disease, and more. If your pet has any of these symptoms, please see a veterinarian immediately. For more info on strokes, read Nancy Scanlan’s article here.

Head pressing is almost always an indication of one of the above illnesses and is not a symptom that should be taken lightly or treated at home. However, it should not be confused with affectionate head butting or playfulness that is common in dogs and cats. By recognizing the other symptoms that often accompany head pressing and seeking veterinarian attention, you can save your pet’s life.

Poison Prevention Week

The third week of March every year is dedicated to Poison Prevention Week. The Pet Poison Hotline constantly receives calls about pets that have gotten into prescriptions, vitamins, insecticides, etc. Since a lot of these cases could have been avoided, the Pet Poison Hotline wrote this article on what is dangerous to your pet and how to prevent them into getting into those items.

For more than 50 years and since its inception by Congress in 1961, the third week in March has been designated as National Poison Prevention Week. This year it falls on March 17-23, and the veterinarians and toxicology experts at Pet Poison Helpline are urging everyone to remember the four-legged members of the family, as they are among the most vulnerable.

“Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, and 365 days a year, we receive calls from distressed pet owners  across the country,” said Ahna Brutlag, DVM, MS, DABT and assistant director at Pet Poison Helpline. “In addition to dealing with the stress of an emergency situation, they are often forced to cope with feelings of regret in light of a mishap that, in most cases, could have been avoided. It takes only a few minutes to educate yourself on how to pet-proof appropriately and avoid the inevitable heartache that so often happens when a beloved pet is accidentally poisoned.”

Awareness is the key to preventing poisoning emergencies. Almost 91 percent of calls to Pet Poison Helpline in 2012 involved dogs – a testament to dogs’ curious nature and indifference to eating just about anything. Of these calls, nearly half were for dogs that ingested human medications. It’s clearly wise to keep medications out of their reach, but there are many other common, household substances toxic to dogs. The veterinarians at

Pet Poison Helpline perused their records and below are the five most common toxins that poisoned dogs in 2012.

Human Medications

43 percent of calls to Pet Poison Helpline in 2012 were for dogs that ate over-the-counter (OTC) or prescription medications. The majority of them involved antidepressants such as Prozac, Paxil, Celexa and Effexor, and common OTC drugs containing acetaminophen (e.g. Tylenol®) and NSAIDs (e.g. Advil®, Aleve® and Motrin), which can cause serious harm to dogs when ingested.

Human Foods

16 percent of calls were for dogs that helped themselves to foods that are safe for humans, but poisonous for dogs. The most prevalent cases were for dogs that ate chocolate. Dark chocolate is the most dangerous since it contains high amounts of theobromine – a relative of caffeine that can be deadly. Xylitol, a sweetener in sugarless gums and candies, is also very dangerous and can be life-threatening even when ingested in small amounts. Raisins and grapes are often overlooked by dog owners as potentially dangerous, but they are extremely toxic and can cause kidney failure. Other human foods toxic to dogs include macadamia nuts, garlic, onions, yeast-based dough and table salt.


7.5 percent of calls for dogs were because they ate insecticides in the form of sprays, granules, insect bait stations and more. While many household insecticides are well tolerated by dogs, certain potent types such as organophosphates (often found in rose-care products), can be life-threatening even when ingested in small amounts.


6.5 percent of calls for dogs were for dogs that got into mouse and rat poisons, which contain various active ingredients that are poisonous to dogs. Depending on the type ingested, poisoning can result in moderate to severe symptoms—anywhere from uncontrolled bleeding, swelling of the brain, kidney failure and seizures. Only one type of mouse poison (anticoagulant or blood thinner) has an antidote to counteract the effects of the poison. The rest, unfortunately, have no antidote and are more difficult to treat. There is also potential for relay toxicity, meaning that pets and wildlife can be poisoned by eating dead rodents that were poisoned by rodenticides.

Dietary Supplements and Vitamins

5.5 percent of calls were concerning dogs that ingested dietary supplements and vitamins. While many items in this category such as Vitamins C, K, and E are fairly safe, others such as iron, Vitamin D and alpha-lipoic acid can be highly toxic in overdose situations. Additionally, Pet Poison Helpline has managed several cases involving xylitol poisoning from sugar free multi-vitamins.

If you think your pet may have ingested something harmful, take action immediately. Contact a veterinarian or Pet Poison Helpline at 1-800-213-6680. Pet Poison Helpline is the most cost-effective animal poison control center in North America charging only $39 per call; this includes unlimited follow-up consultations. Pet Poison Helpline also has an iPhone application listing an extensive database of over 200 poisons dangerous to cats and dogs. “Pet Poison Help” is available on iTunes for $1.99.


Poisonous Plants

Spring time is coming, which means beautiful new plants and flowers. During this time we need to be aware of what plants are poisonous to our pets. To help raise awareness of this,  Pet MD shares these tips on poisonous plants. When it is time for you to go out shopping for new flowers, keep these tips in mind so you can keep your pet safe.

As you head into the garden to plant some bulbs or clip some fresh flowers, it’s important to keep in mind some plants and fertilizers can be toxic to your pet in the springtime. We’ve asked Justine Lee, the associate director of Pet Poison Helpline to share some details on potentially poisonous plants to dogs and cats and what to do if your pet ingests one of them.

Poisonous Plants for Dogs

The first plants poisonous to dogs aren’t even ones you might expect. Spring flowers with bulbs like tulips, daffodils, Narcissus and hyacinths can be particularly dangerous to dogs, especially the skin at the bottom of the bulb, Lee said. Whether they dig them up from a garden or snack on some bulbs waiting to be planted, ingesting these flowers in large amounts can cause nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. More severe symptoms as a result of larger ingestions can include increased heart and respiratory rate, foreign body obstructions and, in rare cases, cardiac arrhythmias.

Dogs are more likely to dig up bulbs planted in organic fertilizers, which are more dangerous than other fertilizers, Lee said. While they’re a great natural source of nitrogen and utilize unused animal products, they’re often made of bone, blood or feather meal — an appetizing combination of aromas to a dog that will often eat the fertilizer along with the poisonous bulbs. Organic fertilizers on their own are not life threatening, Lee said, but if ingested in large quantities they can obstruct a dog’s stomach and cause vomiting, diarrhea and pancreatitis.

Poisonous Plants for Cats

You may have heard to watch out for lilies around your cat, and if you haven’t, now’s the time to start being wary. While there are some benign species safe for cats, many very common varieties for spring, including tiger, day, Easter, stargazer, red and wood lilies are highly toxic to cats.

Depending on where you live, tiger lilies are the first to bloom and people will often cut these fresh flowers and bring them into their homes, Lee said. The pollen, leaves, stems and even water from the vase of these lilies can cause severe kidney failure in cats. Signs of lily poisoning include lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea and seizures.

Crocus plants, particularly the spring crocus, can cause gastrointestinal issues in cats including vomiting and diarrhea. The less common autumn crocus is also highly toxic. While it does not cause kidney failure, lily of the valley is also dangerous to pets and can cause vomiting, decreased heart rate and severe cardiac arrhythmias.

Tips for Staying Safe

Though you and your pets may have suffered from months of cabin fever and are dying to get outdoors, make sure to be smart about where you exercise your pets and watch out for any toxic plants they can get into. Exercise your dog in a fenced in yard or dog park and, if you dog does ingest something foreign, bring them home and call your vet or the pet poison helpline to determine the best course of action, Lee said.

While you may have good intentions for your cat, do not put any flea and tick medication on them that is meant for dogs. Cats are unable to metabolize drugs as well as dogs, Lee said, so some medications that are safe for dogs can cause seizures in cats. Read labels carefully and always use animal-specific topical flea and tick medication. Hopefully these tips will help you avoid plants poisonous to dogs and cats, especially yours.

How to Get Your Dog to Stop Barking

Have you ever wondered why your dog won’t quit barking or why it’s hard to get them to stop? Modern Dog Magazine identifies several reasons as to why they could be barking and many ways to teach them to stop.

Do you sometimes think your dog just likes the sound of his own voice? While some breeds are naturally prone to barking (the Cairn Terrier and the Chihuahua are two examples), there is often a reason why your dog is being so noisy.

Does your dog want something? Dogs can bark because it’s rewarding. You could be paying your dog for barking and not realize it. If your dog barks to go outside and you let him out, you’ve just paid him for barking. If he barks while you fix his dinner and you give him his food, you just paid him for barking. Be sure you are not accidentally paying your dog for behaviour you don’t want.

Is he frightened? Keep in mind that most aggression (which can manifest in barking, among other behaviours) is actually based in fear. A dog that is frightened of other dogs may lunge towards the other dog, the fur may rise up on his neck, and he may bark and growl. Dogs who are frightened of people, kids on skateboards and other things can show the same behaviour. The dog is barking to try and scare “the monster” away. Other dogs spook at noises or things that suddenly appear in their environments, like thunder or a person coming into your home.

Is he being territorial? Does your dog bark at people who pass by your house or car? If so, your dog is barking to protect and proclaim what he sees as his domain.

Dogs can also bark in greeting because they are frustrated when they hear other dogs bark, and more. Your first step is to try and figure out why your dog is barking. Once you do, then you can tackle the noise.

Here are some ways you can teach your dog to be more quiet:

1. Ignore the barking
This can be hard! It’s especially effective, however, if your dog is barking to get attention or because he wants something. Only pay attention to your dog when he’s quiet. Keep in mind, if you’ve been rewarding your dog for barking for some time, the barking will get worse before it gets better. Persevere! If you waffle back and forth, the barking will only continue and likely worsen.

  1. Remove the motivation
    If your dog is being territorial, block his view of the things that trigger his barking. If he’s barking at things he sees out a window, close the curtains or blinds, or confine your dog to another area of the house where he can’t see his triggers. You can also find peel-and-stick window film in home supply stores that can prevent your dog from seeing through the window.
  2. Help your dog be less frightened
    To do this, work at a distance from whatever it is that scares your dog; you need to get far enough away that your dog doesn’t bark. When he sees his trigger, give him some delicious treats before he can bark. As long as he does well at this distance, move slightly closer and repeat. Gradually work closer and closer to the triggers until your dog begins to feel more comfortable near them because he anticipates treats. This may take many sessions, depending on how fearful your dog is. If your dog reacts and begins barking, you went too far.
  3. Teach “Hush.
    When your dog is barking, get some treats. When he’s quiet, mark the behaviour with a clicker or a verbal “yes,” and immediately give him the treat. Repeat. When he is reliably getting quiet faster, put in on cue, “Hush.”
  4. Teach him to do something else
    Some dogs find it hard to bark when lying down. Some won’t bark if they have a ball in their mouth. Find a behaviour you prefer and teach your dog to do that instead of making noise.

Ringworm and Your Pet

Have you noticed skin lesions or bald, red flaky patches of skin on your cat or dog? If so, this could be a sign of ringworm. This is something that should be treated because it can be transferred to people. Modern Cat  explains how you pet can be exposed to it and what to do about it if they catch it.

Dermatophytosis, otherwise known as “ringworm,” is a fairly common fungal infection that can affect dogs, cats, and other animals.

“The term ‘ringworm’ actually comes from the circular, ring-like lesion formed on the skin of infected people; however, the disease itself is not caused by a worm at all,” said Dr. Alison Diesel, clinical assistant professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences.

Dermatophytosis is a zoonotic disease, meaning it not only can be transmitted to other animals, but to people as well. An animal or person can become infected with dermatophytes from contact with another infected animal, transfer from infected materials such as bedding and grooming equipment, or from the soil.

“Very young animals and older animals with other underlying illness are at higher risk for dermatophytes,” said Dr. Diesel.  “Additionally, certain breeds of animals, such as Persian and Himalayan cats, and Jack Russell and Yorkshire terriers, have a higher tendency towards disease development.”

Dermatophytosis is the most common cause of alopecia, or hairloss, in cats. In addition to poor hair coat, it can also cause reddened skin, hyperpigmentation, and lesions.

“Lesions will often involve little red bumps called papules, scabs, and circular areas of hair loss. Anywhere on the body may be affected by hair loss, but face and paws will often have lesions,” said Dr. Diesel.

Because of this infection’s ability to spread all over the animal’s body and infect others, you should be sure to see your veterinarian for a proper diagnosis. A common way for veterinarians to diagnosis dermatophytosis is with a Wood’s lamp exam.  This involves passing a fluorescent light source, or Wood’s lamp, over the animal and looking for glowing hair shafts. However, only a few strains of dermatophytes may glow, so this is not always considered to be the best approach.

“A better option for diagnosis is to perform a culture for the organism,” said Dr. Diesel. “Infected hairs or material may be collected by plucking hairs or brushing the animal with a new toothbrush and then submitting these hairs to a laboratory for fungal culture/isolation.”

Although your pet may be able to self-cure the disease on their own, therapy is typically recommended to minimize the amount of infective material present and thereby minimize spread of disease to others. “Treatment may involve strictly topical therapy with antifungal agents (such as lime sulfur) or may also involve oral antifungal medication as well,” said Dr. Diesel.

Treatment of exposed animals and other animals in the household should be considered in order to prevent the spread of infection. If you are concerned that your pet may have dermatophytosis, particularly if skin disease is noted in people in the household, you should contact your veterinarian immediately.