Wednesday, 16 March 2022

Your Dog and Cat are Not Fussy: Understanding Self-Selection, Zoopharmacognosy

Your dog and cat are not fussy: understanding self-selection, zoopharmacognosy

★ 3.5 min read


In this article:

  • Self-selection, zoopharmcognosy, a brief history 
  • Self-selection vs "Fussy"
  • Why is my dog or cat selecting items that aren't appropriate?
  • Never Force your dog or cat 
  • Is That a Permanent "No"?
  • My dog and cat doesn't want this, Can I Hide it in Food or Treats?
  • Self-selection of Topically Applied Medicinal Substances
  • Self-selection How To
  • Self-decline How To

Self-selection, Zoopharmcognosy a Brief History

For millennia, animals have self-medicated by self-selecting plant materials, soil and other natural substances to prevent, treat and remedy trauma, illness and disease. Your dog and cat’s instinctive and learned capacity to self-select natural medicinal substances is called zoopharmcognosy (pronounced zoo-faar-muh-kaag-nuh-suh).


Humans also have a long history of self-medication by self-selecting natural medicinal substances. Evidence of self-medication by humans dates back to the Paleolithic period and is called pharmacognosy.


Self-selection is also an important form of communication, a way for your dog and cat to communicate their needs to you. 


This article will help you:

  1. Understand what your dog and cat are saying to you.
  2. Mindfully support your dog and cat's instinctive ability to support their personal health and wellness.


Self-Selection vs “Fussy”


Your dog and cat are not fussy. Your dog and cat are practising self-selection.


Often, I see people say “my dog (or cat) is fussy” and “how can I get her” to eat a specific food or supplement.  


Your dog or cat’s hesitancy or refusal to eat a food or take a supplement is often misinterpreted as “fussiness”. However, it is highly likely your dog or cat is using instinct to self-determine items that don’t suit her needs. The rejected item(s) may be inappropriate for one or multiple reasons, for example the item:

  • Contains inappropriate additives 
  • The texture of the food is unfamiliar to the individual animal; for example you've offered your dog or cat a raw sardine and she's never had whole, raw fish before
  • Is contaminated with incidental (hidden) substances
  • Is generally safe but for your animal is contradicted due to an acute or chronic health issue or condition 
  • Is generally inappropriate for all dogs or cats


Self-selection for dogs and cats

 Click on the image above to zoom in


Why is My Dog or Cat Selecting Items That Aren't Appropriate?

If your dog or cat is selecting items that are not appropriate e.g., starchy carbohydrates foods such as beans (pulses), grains, sweet potato, potato, yam, dry food (kibble, biscuits) and treats, or other inappropriate items; it's important to address the root cause.  To properly address the root cause, I strongly encourage you to engage the services of a knowledgeable holistic diet and wellness practitioner.


Never Force Your Dog or Cat


If your dog or cat self-determines to decline a specific food, herb, nutraceutical, or alternative medicine, you should always respect and listen to your dog or cat’s indication.


When a dog or cat declines an item, it’s because the item is not appropriate for the individual animal. Dogs and cats self-select and decline items to suit their individual situation.


Food, herbs, nutraceuticals, and alternative medicines should never be forced upon a dog or cat.



Is That a Permanent “No”?


Not necessarily.


An item that your dog or cat self-selects or declines may receive a different response when offered another time (e.g. days or weeks later). Also, if your dog or cat self-selects an item and later declines it, respect her indication.



My Dog and Cat Doesn’t Want This, Can I Hide it in Food or Treats?


It’s not appropriate to hide rejected items in your dog or cat’s food or treats. I strongly discourage against this practice.


If you force your dog or cat to take an item they don’t want, significant adverse consequences may result. Risks include:

  • Exacerbating existing health issues and conditions
  • Triggering new health issues or conditions
  • Escalating your dog or cat’s anxiety level and/or trauma


Always respect your dog or cat’s indication.


If your dog or cat is experiencing a health issue or condition, I strongly encourage you to engage the services of a knowledgeable holistic diet and wellness practitioner.



Self-Selection of Topically Applied Medicinal Substances


Self-selection is not limited to ingested items. Dogs and cats also use self-selection of beneficial materials in their environment to help protect and heal themselves.


For example, to help naturally repel insects some dogs and cats will rub up against and roll in wild garlic scapes, neem leaves or other natural insect repelling plants.


So should we also respect our dog and cat’s indication when applying products to our dog and cat’s e.g., fur, skin, ears, etc.? Yes.


Essential-oil insect repellent sprays are a good example.


Does your dog dislike it when you apply an essential oil based insect repellent on her?


Is the dislike because she doesn’t like being sprayed?


If you give her the opportunity, she can let you know.


Put some of the repellent on your hands and gently rub it onto a small test spot on her fur/skin. If she still indicates she does not want the product on her fur or skin, she may be letting you know the essential oil (e.g. lavender, rosemary, lemon grass essential oil, etc., or another ingredient) in the product is unsuitable. For example, she may be hypersensitive to, or have a health condition that contradicts use.

Listen to your dog and cat. Allow her to choose another natural alternative that better suites her circumstances.


Self-Selection How To


There are multiple ways you can allow your dog or cat to self-select or decline an item. For example:

  1. Open the bag, bottle or container the item is in, allow your dog or cat to sniff the open bag or container.
  2. If she continues to sniff, or licks offer the item to her.
  3. Place the item in the palm of your hand or on a plate.
  4. If she wants the item she will sniff, lick and/or eat the item.
  5. She may choose to lick-up or eat part or all the item. 
  6. If she indicates she wants more e.g., she licks-up or eats all the item offered, depending on the type of item, dosage range, etc. you may offer her more at that time, or later that day; provided you do not exceed the recommended daily serving or dosage.



Self-Decline How To


Follow the process above to see if your dog or cat wants the item.


If your dog or cat sniffs the item, then walks away, or turns her head away, or air licks without sampling or returning to the item, or takes a small sample and walks away, she has self-declined the item.


You can try offering her the item again later the same day, or in several days a week or more.


If she continues to decline the item, respect her indication. Continue to the next item on your dog or cat’s self-selection list. Follow the same process and always respect your dog and cat’s indication.


You can read more about Paleolithic and Prehistoric self-medication by humans and non-human animals here


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Article and graphics by Karen Rosenfeld 



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Important Note

1.0 Use of Foods, Herbs, Alternative Medicines:

Safe use of items and protocols in the article above, is your sole responsibility.

Foods, herbs and alternative medicines have health issue, condition and conventional drug interactions. Safe use of all substances and protocol are your responsibility.

Before you use any substance or protocol do your research. Check for cautions, contradictions, interactions and side effects. Do not use substances or protocols not suitable to your animal's individual circumstances.

If your animal has an underlying condition substances and protocols may conflict.

2.0 Definition of Holistic…

Food, herbs, alternative medicines are NOT ‘holistic’ they are a substance and MAY, or may NOT be ‘NATURAL’.

If you use a ‘natural’ substance (ie. an herb) you are using a natural substance, not a holistic substance.

Holistic is not defined by use of one or several substances. Holistic is an approach.

Definition of “holistic” from the Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary & Thesaurus © Cambridge University Press


"relating to the whole of something or to the total system instead of just to its parts"

"Holistic medicine attempts to treat the whole person, including mind and body, not just the injury or disease."

Holistic is a way of approaching life, and within that health, and well-being.

3.0 Expectation a natural substance remedies a health or behavioral situation.

A natural substance used to treat symptoms. But, if factors causing the underlying issue remain you do not have a remedy.

Remedy requires a comprehensive approach. It is necessary to identify root cause. Remove items that trigger, cause or otherwise contribute to issues. Holistic approach includes design, implementation to treat, remedy and maintain long-term health.

4.0 Leave a Comment

I review all comments and publish those deemed appropriate for this site.

I answer questions deemed appropriate when I have time to do so.

Wishing your dog and cat the best of health!

Karen Rosenfeld
Ottawa Valley Dog Whisperer
Holistic Behaviorist - Dogs
Holistic Diet Nutrition Wellness Adviser – Dogs and Cats