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Some dogs are pickier than others—and some dogs are so picky, it can feel near impossible to find food they’ll actually eat.
Having a dog that’s a fickle eater can be a real challenge. So what’s a pet parent to do? We asked of Dr. Jennifer Pearl, Assistant Director of Animal Medical Center of Mid-America, for her insights on the topic—and put together a list of some of our top product recommendations for picky eaters.
Why Are Some Dogs Picky Eaters?
There are a variety of reasons why your dog is finicky about his food. The first (and most simple) reason is that it could be a matter of preference. Just like humans, “individual dogs have individual preferences, and some dogs can be particular about their food,” says Pearl.
A refusal to eat certain foods (or to eat at all) could also be a behavior issue. “Sometimes there is a behavioral component to being a picky eater,” says Pearl. “Dogs can hold off eating for quite a while if they think they may get something better to eat later like treats or table scraps. Behavioral conditions like separation anxiety and attention-seeking behavior can also play a part.”
An aversion to certain foods, a refusal to eat, or under-eating could also be a red flag that something is going on medically. “There may be an underlying medical condition that is causing the dog to not want to eat. This is especially concerning if the dog is underweight,” says Pearl.
If you suspect your dog’s issues with food are more than just a picky palate—or if you’re concerned about your dog’s weight—it’s important to make an appointment with your vet. “If a pet remains steadfastly picky or is underweight, then a veterinary consultation and examination should be sought,” says Pearl. “Once a diagnosis is established, more specific recommendations can be made.”
What Kind of Dog Food Should You Feed a Picky Dog?
Because the dogs we’re talking about are inherently picky, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to what kind of food to feed them; the “best” food for them is going to depend on what they’ll actually eat.
Again, it’s best to talk to your vet to determine the best food to feed your picky dog. But, in general, Pearl recommends offering “a commercially produced, balanced diet with proper AAFCO labeling, which stands for Association of American Feed Control Officials. It regulates the sale and distribution of pet food as well as develops quality standards, regulations, and laws regarding commercial animal food.”
If you deviate from that kind of diet, make sure to work with your vet. “If the pet is eating a homemade diet, a boutique diet, raw diet or is eating a commercially produced diet heavily supplemented with other foods then the pet may or may not be getting proper nutrition,” says Pearl. “A veterinarian should be consulted.”
What’s the Best Way to Find the Right Dog Food for Your Picky Pet?
When you’re trying to find the right dog food for a picky eater, you’re probably going to need to experiment with different foods, flavors, and textures before you find the right option for your pet. “If your dog is picky, you can offer both canned and dry dog food to determine which texture your dog prefers. You can also try foods with different protein and/or carbohydrate sources, such as lamb or sweet potato.”
If your dog is still not getting on board with his dog food, “There are also ways you can enhance flavor, such as sprinkling probiotics formulated for dogs on their food or add small amounts of cooked chicken, beef, or low sodium broth,” says Pearl.
Best Dog Food for Picky Eaters for 2020
Need some options for your picky pup? Here are some of our favorite dog foods for picky eaters for 2020:
The fewer ingredients and flavors in a dog food, the fewer chances there are for your dog to dislike something in it (and for you to have to guess what it is). This makes limited ingredient dog foods a great option for picky eaters.
The Instinct Limited Ingredient Diet Dog Food is made with a single animal protein and vegetable (in this case, grass-fed lamb and peas) and formulated without ingredients prone to causing food insensitivities (including dairy, grains, and potato).Shop Now on Amazon
If you suspect your dog’s picky eating has more to do with a sensitive tummy than his taste, a food specifically formulated to support digestive health, such as the Digestive Care Dog Food from Royal Canin, could be a great option.
Royal Canin’s Digestive Care Dog Food also comes in breed-specific sizes—so whether your picky eater is a small, medium, or large dog, you can find the right formulation for your pup.Shop Now on Amazon
Another great option for dogs with sensitive stomachs, the Leaping Waters dry food from Solid Gold is grain, gluten, and potato free, making it more easily digestible for your pup.Shop Now on Amazon
If your dog turns their nose up at most dog foods, the Nulo Freestyle Limited+ (which is formulated without common dog food ingredients like chicken, corn, wheat, soy, eggs, peas, and white potato) could be a good option to try.Shop Now on Amazon
If your dog will only eat foods that are packed with flavor, the Core Bowl Boosters from Wellness could be just what you need to transform mealtime. Just sprinkle a few of these grain-free mixers into your dog’s bowl and they’ll pack a flavorful (and protein-rich!) punch that can help jazz up a bland meal—and make the food more appealing to your picky pup.Shop Now on Amazon
Before Choosing Any Dog food for Your Picky Pet, Talk to Your Veterinarian
We said it before, but we’re going to say it again. Before you introduce any new foods into your picky pup’s diet—including the foods suggested on this list—it’s important to consult your veterinarian. Your vet can help you determine what’s behind your dog’s picky palate—and make sure he gets the right foods to support his nutritional needs and overall health, no matter how picky he may be.
For more information about specific varieties of dog food and treats, check out one of the articles below.