The Best Dog Food Options for Picky Eaters, According to a Vet

updated Jul 15, 2020
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If your pooch is a picky eater, you know that mealtimes can be an absolute struggle. Besides the fact that your pup is not getting a nutritionally balanced diet to support its growth, there’s also the constant fear that it may be losing or gaining too much weight, which could eventually lead to health complications. So the best thing to do when dealing with a fussy eater is to get to the root of the problem ASAP. “If a dog has a picky appetite, I always tell patients to make sure that their dog doesn’t have an underlining disease,” says Dr. Carly Fox, Staff Doctor at NYC’s Animal Medical Center. “Get your pets seen by their vets immediately, make sure routine bloodwork is carried out, followed by an exam to rule out anything that could be systemically wrong or causing their appetite to suffer.” Once that’s ruled out, it’s time to put healthy eating habits in place.

Switch Up Their Diet

“Fussy food habits can also just be a behavioral problem,” says Dr. Fox. “Maybe your dog likes variety or needs to switch their diet from wet food to dry food or vice versa.” And if you do decide to push toward a new diet, Dr. Fox recommends doing it gradually over the course of three to five days, which gives your dog enough time to get accustomed to new flavors and textures. You could also experiment with adding moist toppers to dry kibble to make it more palatable. “But if your dog has a sensitive stomach like mine does, I recommend picking a prescription diet from commercial food brands like Hill’s Science to help regulate his GI tract,” Dr. Fox adds. “And he does find it very delicious, which is always a plus.”

Take a Measured Approach

For many pet parents dealing with picky eaters, there’s also the constant fear of overfeeding to compensate for your pet’s fussy food habits. If that sounds familiar, you’ll want to heed extreme caution before you offer a treat or overfill their bowl. “Obesity is a huge problem in our pet population and can shorten a dog’s lifespan up to two years,” says Dr. Fox. “It also puts them at risk of developing other diseases like cancer, arthritis, diabetes, urinary stones and several other complications.” She recommends following a strict feeding schedule to make sure your dog is trim and fit, followed by regular weight checkups. You should also stick to the feeding chart at the back of your dog’s food package for the recommended amount they need to based on their age and weight. “Your dogs can’t go to the cupboard to feed themselves, so it’s really up to the pet owners to feed them in a healthy way,” she adds.

Picking Treats, Understanding CBD and Serving Table Food

When it comes to choosing treats, it’s imperative to pick low-calorie options. If the treats are coming from your fridge, choose vegetables like carrots, snap peas, cauliflower and broccoli. If you’re shopping for treats at a pet store like Petco, Chewy or Amazon, pick low-calorie or dehydrated options that are made using just a handful of ingredients. “Giving too many treats can also lead to fussy food habits,” cautions Dr. Fox. “So you should be very careful about what you’re picking.”

With the recent trend of adding CBD to everything from pet treats to meal options, it may be tempting to give it to your pooch, especially since it’s thought to be helpful for pets with joint diseases or other health conditions. But Dr. Fox recommends avoiding the CBD aisle. “Anecdotally, it sounds promising, and it will have a place in vet medicine at some point soon, but currently it’s completely irregulated,” she adds.

As for the table food, “it’s a complete no-no,” says Dr. Fox. Replacing dog food with human-grade food options from your refrigerator can cause gastrointestinal upsets, even inadvertently leading to toxicity. “If you give your dog a little chicken on top of their commercially available dog food, that’s fine, but it’s considered a treat and not highly recommended,” she cautions.

Best Vet-Approved Meal Subscription Services for Picky Eaters

Credit: Ollie

1. Ollie

This high-quality, freshly prepared, human-grade dog food will be virtually irresistible for even the pickiest of pooches. Ollie starts you off with a detailed quiz where you select your dog’s breed and age. You’re then recommended a plan that’s suitable for your dog’s nutritional needs, although you can easily change the proteins and/or how much of your pet’s food will be made up of Ollie (25 percent, up to 100 percent). Plans start as low as $2 per day, and new customers can save 50 percent off their first box. Your dog’s meals are delivered fully frozen in vacuum-sealed packaging with dry ice and will stay good for up to six months. Meal options include beef, chicken, turkey or lamb with other nutritious ingredients like sweet potatoes, peas and spinach.

Shop: Ollie

2. The Farmer’s Dog

Another vet-approved subscription service that’s known for having high standards, Farmer’s Dog makes meal kits packed with mouthwatering animal protein. You start with a highly detailed quiz about your dog’s eating patterns and preferences. You’re then offered customized options for your pooch, but you can also choose from recipes packed with proteins like turkey, beef and pork (keep in mind that all of them have fish oil and a proprietary nutrient blend). Everything is made fresh and delivered within days in eco-friendly packaging. Plans start at $2 per day and include free shipping. Right now, you can snag 50 percent off your first order.

Shop: The Farmer’s Dog

Best Food Brands for Fussy Eaters

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1. Hill’s Science Diet

A favorite with Dr. Fox, who serves the chicken and rice blend to her dog, Hill’s Science does a great job of creating food options that suit pets with sensitive tummies and finicky food habits. The brand also offers soft and chewy training treats made from chicken that are low-calorie and a delicious incentive for toilet training or bathing sessions.

Shop: Hill’s Science Diet

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2. Rachael Ray Nutrish

For the dog with the most discernable palate, try Rachel Ray’s Nutrish food options. Yes, they’re pricey, but you’re essentially serving your dog a meal carefully formulated by a celebrity chef! Made using farm-raised chicken with added vitamins and minerals, the meals are both delicious and nutritious. There are tons of options and ingredients to choose from, and you can further narrow down your search based on your dog’s age and size.

Shop: Rachael Ray Nutrish

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3. Lucy Pet Formulas For Life

The surprising pairing of fresh flavors like salmon, pumpkin and quinoa is rather delicious and palatable to even the fussiest pooch. Additionally, the grain-free formula is carefully designed to support gut health, digestive health and sensitive stomachs. The addition of Alaskan salmon also supports a healthy coat and skin. The brand offers several interesting flavor pairings along with delicious, low-calorie treats.

Shop: Lucy Pet Formulas for Life

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4. Royal Canin

Royal Canin has an exhaustive range of dry and wet food options for pets with sensitive digestive systems and picky eating habits. The brand takes customization a step further with food options that are catered to specific breeds, sizes and age groups. So whether your medium-size Bassett Hound is having trouble during mealtimes or your pint-size Yorkshire terrier will turn its nose up to whatever you’re putting in the food bowl, Royal Canin’s wide range of options are sure to get them back on a healthy eating track.

Shop: Royal Canin

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5. Purina Pro Plan

Similar to Royal Canin, Purina Pro Plan also offers a pretty wide range of options for dogs with sensitive digestive systems and further whittles things down by breed, size and age. If you know your pet is partial to a particular protein, you can also narrow your search based on ingredients and then choose from chicken and rice, shredded blend, small bits, lamb and rice and even wet food with brown rice. The brand has an AAFCO certification, so you can rest assured that their formulations pass strict quality-control measures.

Shop: Purina Pro Plan

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6. Taste of the Wild

Maybe it’s just a single ingredient or flavor in your pet’s food that’s turning them off. Try grain-free options from Taste of the Wild, which is easier on their digestive system as well as their taste buds. Taste of the Wild also pays attention to prepping their protein, which goes a long way in making the food palatable for your pooch. Case in point: Meats are roasted while seafood ingredients like salmon are smoked before mixing into the AAFCO-approved formula!

Shop: Taste of the Wild

This post originally appeared on Kitchn. See it here: The Best Dog Food for Picky Eaters, According to a Vet