Top 10 Reasons Your Senior Dog or Cat is Finicky

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As pets age, pet feeding can become more challenging especially if your senior pet has become more finicky during meal time. Although it may seem counter-intuitive, some older pets just don’t love to eat. Pet feeding can become a real source of stress for pet parents, especially if your cat or dog was a hearty eater at one time. It can be especially concerning if your senior pet is also losing weight, or has developed other illnesses that may require eating in order to administer medications. 

There are many reasons a senior pet won’t eat, some are more serious than others, but if at any time your pet is becoming more finicky and is eating less and less, and especially if they are losing weight, they should be evaluated by a veterinarian or vet nutritionist. 

Here are the top 10 reasons a senior pet may become finicky at meal time. 

  1. Too much people food. 

Once dogs or cats have a taste of people food, they can become increasingly finicky about eating their commercial dog or cat food. Let’s face it, people food generally has more fat and flavor, both of which may not be appropriate for your senior pet, but nonetheless, just taste better. If your senior pet’s appetite is changing and people treats and table scraps have become a more regular part of your pet’s diet, it stands to reason that they may start to turn their nose up at their commercial pet food. 

One way to help is to stop feeding your pet people food and table scraps. Stick to a dog or cat food that is designed for pets. People food simply does not have the proper nutrients a dog or cat needs to flourish. For more on cat or dog foods, read our article on senior pet food. 

       2. Change in schedule

Pets are creatures of habit and rely on their pet parents to keep to a regular feeding / potty schedule. If you constantly change their routine, feeding them at different times on different days, this can cause them to become more finicky at mealtime. 

One way to help is to ensure that your pet is fed at approximately the same time of day every day. If your work schedule dictates that you feed your pet very early in the morning, try to feed your pet within an hour of that same time each day. Being a responsible pet parent means making your pet a priority. If your senior pet is more finicky and your feeding schedule is erratic, this fluctuation in his feeding schedule can be the cause. 

      3. Stress

If you recently moved, added a new member to the family, a death in the family or divorce, or a new pet has been added to the home, your senior pet may be feeling anxious about the changes. This anxiety can be causing your pet stress that can be affecting his appetite. Another consideration is distractions that cause stress at mealtime – thunderstorms, fireworks, or too much activity during mealtime may be causing your pet stress. 

One way to help is to monitor your pet closely and offer lots of love, attention and extra exercise. Exercise will help your pet feel less stressed and may also help your pet to work up an appetite. If loud noise or people are distracting your pet from eating, you may want to move your pet to an isolated/quiet area so he can focus on eating, instead of the commotion. 

      4. Stomach Upset

As pet’s age, their appetite may change because their stomach has become more sensitive to certain foods. If your pet has developed a food sensitivity, it may be time to switch his food. If stomach upset is the cause of your pet’s finickiness, talk with your vet about switching his food or introducing a medication to help ease stomach upset in pets. There are medications that can help ease stomach discomfort and help pets feel better. 

If your vet recommends switching your pet’s food, read our article on pet food for senior pets.

     5. Illness or injury

If your pet is not eating, it is important that a vet evaluate your pet for an underlying illness. If your pet has had a recent injury or illness has been diagnosed, it can affect his appetite. A pet who doesn’t eat great for a few days may not be a great concern especially if there is a specific cause. However, if your pet goes more than a day or two without eating, then it is important to have him seen by the vet again. 

Vet’s can help by taking xrays and blood work to determine other reasons why your pet may not want to eat. Your vet can also prescribe an appetite stimulant if no other cause has been identified. If it turns out that an injury is the cause, and pain is the issue, then a pain reliever may help ease your pet’s discomfort to where he enjoys eating again. If an illness is the culprit, medication to help treat the illness may help alleviate symptoms and help your pet feel better.  

      6. Medication

If your pet is ill and taking medication, some medications can cause stomach upset and also cause a pet not to want to eat. If you recently introduced a new medication and your pet is refusing to eat, talk with your vet about alternatives. Oftentimes there are other comparable medications that won’t have stomach upset as a side effect. 

If the medication is causing the stomach upset, then switching the medication may help. If there are no alternatives, then your vet may prescribe an appetite stimulant to help get your pet to eat. 

      7. Bored

Sometimes pets get bored with their food, especially if they’ve had a taste of people food, and would prefer your t-bone steak instead of their dry kibble. Sometimes changing their food, or even just warming their food, or topping their traditional kibble with wet food or broth can change things up enough to encourage your finicky pet to eat more regularly. 

Read our article on feeding a finicky pet for more information on switching your pet’s food.

      8. Bad Teeth 

As pet’s age, they may have issues with their teeth which may cause discomfort chewing food. Your vet should assess your pet’s teeth to ensure there are no issues that may be causing your pet to shun their food. 

Some older pets do better having the problematic teeth extracted, after which they should resume their normal feeding schedule and start eating again.

      9. Too much food

As pet’s age, they often do not require the same amount of food as they once did. Many pet parents overfeed their pets to begin with, which can often cause them to become overweight. Especially if you feed your pet treats throughout the day, they may become full more easily and just not be that ravenous at meal time. If you are feeding them more than they need, they may just pick at their food or not eat at all. 

One way to help is to limit treats throughout the day, exercise your pet often, and feed the appropriate amount of food based on your pet’s ideal weight. It is recommended that a dog should be fed approximately 1/3 cup for every 10 pounds over 100 pounds of body weight. It is recommended that most dogs be fed their daily allotment over two meals per day; once in the morning and once at night. 

dog food feeding chart

For cats it is recommended that a cat get between a half a cup and 3/4 cup for a 15 pound cat. Cats should also be fed 2 times per day, once in the morning and once at night. A larger cat may require more food and more feeding per day. 


cat feeding chart


      10. The pet feeding dish

Believe it or not, sometimes the feeding dish can be the issue. Many dogs and cats prefer to eat off the floor because they don’t like being obstructed by a traditional dog or cat bowl. A flat pet dish can often help a finicky pet because it changes the presentation of the food. Another consideration is an elevated food bowl. Some senior pets experience pain when stooping over to eat. An elevated bowl can often help older pets who have joint pain and discomfort while eating. 

Read more about feeding a finicky pet. 

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