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Some dogs are pickier than others. Some dogs are so picky that 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 Dr. Jennifer Pearl, Assistant Director of Animal Medical Center of Mid-America, for her insights on the topic. From there, we 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 might be finicky about their food. The first (and simplest) reason is 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 be a sign of a medical issue. “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, make an appointment with your vet. The same is true if you’re concerned about your dog’s weight. “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. The “best” food for them is going to depend on what they’ll actually eat—which might take some experimentation.
Try different flavors and textures to 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 their 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.
In general, Pearl recommends starting with “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.”
You can also experiment with homemade, raw, or heavily supplemented diets—but that doesn’t always lead to proper nutrition, so if you go that route, it’s important to consult your vet and come up with a plan together.
Best Dog Food for Picky Eaters
Need some options for your picky pup? Here are some of our favorite dog foods for picky eaters.
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.
This 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 likely to cause food insensitivities (including dairy, grains, and potato).
Ollie Subscription Dog Food (Verified Review)
Ollie’s fresh dog food offers a different texture for dogs who shy away from kibble. Unlike some other fresh or raw options, their portions actually look and smell great, like human food (almost). Our reviewer is typically grossed out by fresh or wet dog food but loved this option, and her dog agreed!
Ollie offers four different recipes, each with a different protein (chicken, beef, turkey, and lamb). And they ask questions ahead of time to get a sense of your dog’s eating habits and dietary requirements. Ollie’s welcome booklet even includes tips for dogs with sensitive stomachs or picky eaters.
For more about Ollie’s subscription pet food, read our in-depth review in our article, The Best Fresh Dog Food Delivery of 2021: Tested by Real Dogs.
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 has a palatable loaf in gravy texture which is easy for most dogs to digest. It also pairs well with Royal Canin dry foods.
Another great option for dogs with sensitive stomachs, this Leaping Waters dry food from Solid Gold is grain, gluten, and potato free, making it more easily digestible for your pup.
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.
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.
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: a veterinarian is your absolute best resource for discovering a the right diet for a picky pup, and especially if you’re aware of any dietary issues, it’s a good idea to consult one before you introduce any new foods. A vet can help you spot underlying health issues that might be contributing to your pup’s pickiness and make sure your dog gets the right foods to support their nutritional needs.
For more information about specific varieties of dog food and treats, read on!