You did all the research, you spent the money, and your dog still won’t eat the more expensive, high-quality dog food you brought home. What’s a pet parent to do when your furry friend seems to prefer the cheap stuff you snagged off the supermarket shelf?
It turns out, some dogs may be addicted to junk food the same way humans are.
“What kid is going to choose broccoli over pizza?” Integrative veterinarian Dr. Katie Kangas asks. “It’s the same thing with animals.”
Dr. Kangas is a pet nutrition expert and she’s sharing some tips on how to steer your dog away from the junk and get him digging food that will be better for his health.
What is Considered Junk Food for Dogs?
Junk dog food is pretty easy to discern. It usually contains any of the following ingredients:
- Animal digest
- Preservatives like BHT, BHA, or ethoxyquin
- Artificial colors and flavors
“Anything that has multiple grains or starts out with grains in the top-three ingredients is a lesser-quality food,” Dr. Kangas explains. “A lot of quality foods are moving away from using grains and use carbs such as sweet potatoes, potatoes, or turnips.”
But carbs can be addicting, especially when they’re sprayed with flavor enhancers.
“Normally, dogs shouldn’t be attracted to corn, soy or wheat, so it’s sprayed with animal digest so it has an attractive flavor,” Dr. Kangas explains. “Most people consider animal digest to be poor quality, but it’s used to increase palatability.”
Some people have been known to go all out for healthier alternatives, spending as much as $39,000 on dog food! That really isn’t necessary, though. Once you know the truth about what distinguishes low-quality from high-quality food, it’s easy to pick out an option in your budget. Getting your dog to eat that food, though? Read on for the professional tips.
Why is a Healthy Diet Important for Dogs?
“Nutrition and diet are truly the foundation of health,” Dr. Kangas explains. “Low-quality food will not allow the body to thrive.”
Dr. Kangas specializes in integrative veterinary medicine, which aims to support pet health and prevent disease through nutrition and diet. She says food that’s heavily processed is less bio-available to the body, and the extrusion process actually causes chemical changes in the food.
“Anything we can do for our pets that promotes an anti-inflammatory diet or lifestyle will be beneficial. Limiting or eliminating processed foods is part of that picture.”
“Bottom line, processed food is pro-inflammatory, and inflammation is at the core of all disease,” Dr. Kangas adds. “Anything we can do for our pets that promotes an anti-inflammatory diet or lifestyle will be beneficial. Limiting or eliminating processed foods is part of that picture.”
Getting Your Dog to Eat Healthy
Getting your dog to eat healthier food isn’t always a one-and-done kind of deal. Usually, it takes trial-and-error.
“There’s no one right food for every animal,” Dr. Kangas says. “There’s no 100% blanket rule of thumb but generally, the fresher, the better.”
The good news is, the quality of dog food on the market is ever expanding, and so are the options.
Step 1: Adding Healthy Toppers or Mix-ins
Wean your dog into a healthier alternative by mixing in any of the following:
- Raw food: including freeze-dried raw, frozen packaged raw, and straight-up raw meat. “Any type of raw is better than kibble,” Dr. Kangas says. You can now find frozen raw food at major pet retailers or even in the supermarket. The Honest Kitchen sells dehydrated raw food that’s certified human-grade food by the FDA. And of course, there is plain raw meat.
“Some people get worried animals can get sick from raw meat, but most pets do well with a raw diet because their stomachs are more acidic than ours, which is a protective mechanism,” Dr. Kangas adds. “So a healthy dog should be able to handle raw meat, but you should go with what you’re comfortable with.”
- Meat toppers: Sprinkle your dog’s food with pulverized dehydrated meat, like PureBites or another 100% meat source with nothing added.
- Fresh foods: best options are eggs, sardines, or another oily fish. “You can do veggies, but raw veggies will usually pass right through and your dog won’t get all the nutrients,” Dr. Kangas explains. “If veggies are chopped fine or lightly cooked, they’re going to digest better.” Fruits like apples, berries, and papaya are okay, but only in small quantities. Avoid high-sugar fruits like bananas or dried fruit.
- Bone broth: considered a superfood for dogs. “Fresh versions are awesome, but The Honest Kitchen has a dehydrated version, and you can even find bone broth on supermarket shelves in the soup aisle,” Dr. Kangas says.
- Goat’s milk: “If goat’s milk is raw and unpasteurized, it’s loaded with beneficial enzymes,” Dr. Kangas explains. “It should be used within 7 days of opening though, which makes the dehydrated version great for convenience.”
Step 2: Be persistent
The majority of dogs will be attracted to these options if you keep persistently exposing them to it.
“If you tried one or two of the items on the list and your dog didn’t take to it, don’t just say, ‘He didn’t like it, I’m just going to feed him cheap, dry food,'” Dr. Kangas suggests.
Keep trying until you find an option that works for your pet.
Step 3: Rotate the choices
You would get bored if you ate the same thing every. single. day. So why do we make our dogs do it? Mix it up and keep your dog on his toes, not sure which yummy treat he’s going to get next.
Step 4: Transition slowly
There are rules for weaning your dog onto a new food.
“Never try to abruptly change a diet because that’s less likely to appeal to your dog and it’s more likely to cause digestive upset,” Dr. Kangas explains.
Generally, follow this pattern and see how your dog does:
- Week 1: 3/4 old food, 1/4 new food
- Week 2: 1/2 old food, 1/2 new food
- Week 3: 1/4 old food, 3/4 new food
- Week 4: all new food
Step 5: Make sure your dog is healthy before switching up food
Do not try to transition your pet during any kind of illness or stress. Also be careful with geriatric pets. Consult a veterinary professional for the best options for your dog.
The Bottom Line
Nutrition is the foundation of health for our pets. Your furry friend can’t thrive on junk food in the same way we can’t thrive on the nutrition of fast food.
“Dry junk food doesn’t do anything for your pet’s health,” Dr. Kangas adds.
If your dog is reluctant to eat the healthier alternatives, there are a number of tricks to try to increase your chances of success. Don’t give up on getting your dog to eat healthy—he will thank you in the long run.