Dog Food for Picky Eaters: 8 Best Options in 2023
Feeding your dog a complete and balanced diet is an essential part of pet parenting. For most pet parents, this isn’t a problem; their dogs will eat a full meal that’s placed in front of them without hesitation. But there are dogs out there who are truly picky eaters, who will turn their nose up at certain foods from time to time (or worse, constantly). And for pet parents, this can be understandably nerve wracking.
Here, we give insight into some of the reasons your dog won’t eat, look at some of the best dog food for picky eaters, and share tips for getting your picky canine back to mealtime.
Our Top Dog Food Picks for Picky Eaters
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- Best Overall Dog Food for Picky Eaters: Ollie
- Best Dry Dog Food for Picky Eaters: Blue Buffalo Wilderness Adult Dry Dog Food
- Best Canned Dog Food for Picky Eaters: Wellness Complete Health Stews
- Best Grain-Free Dog Food for Picky Eaters: Instinct Limited-Ingredient Diet Grain-Free Lamb Recipe
- Best Dog Food for Picky Eaters with a Sensitive Stomach: Hill’s Science Diet Dry Dog Food, Adult Sensitive Stomachs & Skin Recipes
- Best Dog Food Topper for Picky Eaters: Open Farm
- Best Puppy Food for Picky Eaters: Merrick Backcountry Raw-Infused Puppy Food
Why Won’t My Dog Eat?
There are many potential reasons why your dog may refuse to eat certain foods, and it’s not always easy to pinpoint what’s going on.
Subjectively, some pets just don’t like the taste or feel of specific items. “Flavors, shapes, and smells can all play a role,” says Dr. Jay Stonefield, co-medical director at VCA Flannery Animal Hospital.
But besides flavor and texture, medical conditions can cause dogs not to eat. “Underlying diseases can lead to inappetence,” Stonefield adds. If your dog won’t eat kibble, dental issues may be at play, as mouth discomfort can lead dogs to shy away from harder foods in favor of softer solids or liquids. Food allergies or other sensitivities can also cause stomach or other discomforts that trigger pets to shy away from certain ingredients.
Additionally, environmental stressors and other underlying factors, like separation anxiety, can all play a role in contributing to picky eating.
How to Tell If Your Dog Is a Picky Eater
If your dog isn’t eating kibble, are they just being picky or is there something wrong? Sometimes, it can be hard to tell. But dogs are creatures of habit and having a mealtime routine can help you diagnose whether your pet is truly a picky eater or experiencing some type of medical condition.
“While there isn’t a universally accepted ‘sign’ of a picky eater, most veterinarians agree that picky eaters must demonstrate a pattern before being condemned to this title,” says Dr. Natalie Marks, a veterinarian at VCA Blum Animal Hospital.
Aside from just turning their nose up at the foods you place in front of them, some physical cues can provide guidance if a pet is experiencing underlying disease. “Pet parents should look for signs of weight loss, pawing at mouth, vomiting, diarrhea, or not eating food that your pet once liked,” says Dr. Stonefield.
If your dog stops eating their food – especially if they are showing other symptoms – it’s important to have them evaluated by your veterinarian to make sure a medical reason isn’t to blame.
Dog Food for Picky Eaters: 8 Best Formulas
If your dog’s a picky eater, don’t fret; there’s hope to get them to find something they’ll like. Below are some of our recommendations for the best dog foods for picky eaters.
Best Overall Dog Food for Picky Eaters
Our Pick: Ollie
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Ollie is a pet food delivery service that focuses on delivering human-grade dog food direct to pet parent’s doors. The company caters to canine diners by personalizing meal plans, getting to know their canine clients through a short quiz/survey, and then customizing a meal plan directly for them.
Ollie is a great option for picky dogs due to the variety they offer. They offer numerous flavors across core proteins like beef, turkey, chicken and lamb, as well as a variety of textures including fresh, baked, or mixed, making it easy to try different food options until the right mix is found.
- Customized based on your dog
- Variety of flavors and textures
- Made with human-grade ingredients
- Dog food delivered to your door
Things to Consider
- More expensive than some off-the-shelf options
- Only available as a subscription
Best Dry Dog Food for Picky Eaters
Our Pick: Blue Buffalo Wilderness Adult Dry Dog Food
Blue Buffalo’s Adult Dry Dog Food is a high-protein option that’s formulated with a blend of red meat using real beef or bison. In terms of texture, Blue Buffalo’s formula is more in line with traditional kibble, but makes this list for its commitment to raising flavor that’s sure to satisfy picky canine diners.
Blue Buffalo is a well-recognized brand player available at most pet stores and pet store chains, but is fairly well-reviewed both by consumers and veterinarians alike.
- High-quality dry kibble made with real meat
- Two different flavor options: Red Meat or Bison
- Formulated with Lifesource Bits to help immune function
Things to Consider
- On the expensive side for dry kibble
- No leaner meat flavors (chicken or turkey) available
Best Canned Dog Food for Picky Eaters
Our Pick: Wellness Complete Health Stews Wet Dog Food
Wellness is a brand that’s committed whole-heartedly to pet nutrition. This stew-like canned dog food option can be used as a meal or as a meal topper to change up dinner time. It scores high marks for its flavor that delivers savory taste to appease picky eaters.
The formula is available in five different flavors – choose from chicken, turkey, beef, lamb and beef, or venison and salmon – making it a good option for pets with food sensitivities. Most importantly, Wellness’ canned dog food is formulated by nutritionists.
- Stew-like consistency is appealing to most dogs
- Variety of flavor options to choose from
- Doesn’t contain artificial ingredients or preservatives
Things to Consider
- Higher price point than some other wet food options
- Need to refrigerate open containers of wet food
- Not formulated for puppies
Best Grain-Free Dog Food for Picky Eaters
Our Pick: Instinct Limited-Ingredient Diet Grain-Free Lamb Recipe
With a picky eater, it’s always a good idea to find an option with limited ingredients so that you can isolate flavors and pick up your dog’s preferences. Instinct’s limited-ingredient grain-free lamb option does that to perfection.
Instinct’s lamb recipe is naturally grain-free and formulated with one protein and one vegetable. While Instinct’s formula is technically kibble, it does have a freeze-dried raw coating for nutrition and taste, raising its flavor profile. In addition to this distinct texture and flavor, its limited ingredients make it a good option for pets with food sensitivities.
- Unique raw-coated kibble ups the flavor profile
- Limited ingredients may help with food sensitivities
- Lamb is a novel protein and may be enticing to picky eaters
Things to Consider
- Limited ingredient recipes may not work for all dogs
- This is an adult formula – not meant for puppies
Best Dog Food for Picky Eaters with a Sensitive Stomach
Our Pick: Hill’s Science Diet Dry Dog Food, Adult Sensitive Stomach & Skin Recipes
Hill’s Science Diet recipes are widely available, and are a hallmark of many local veterinary practices and recommendations. Their dog food is a good solution for picky eaters and for pet parents who are a little less adventurous and don’t want to dive into unknown territories (like seeking raw options).
Specifically, Hill’s formulas for sensitive stomachs are packed with flavor and formulated for pets with food sensitivities. This formula is definitely a reliable food option for pets with digestive issues, and its flavor profile is designed to hopefully satisfy picky canines.
- Veterinarian recommended for sensitive stomachs
- Contains prebiotic fiber to help your dog’s microbiome
- Includes ingredients like vitamin E and omega 6 to support coat health
- Good palatability for a sensitive stomach food
Things to Consider
- Kibble size is a bit bigger than average
- Won’t work for dogs with chicken sensitivities
Best Dog Food Topper for Picky Eaters
Our Pick: Open Farm
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For adventurous pet parents trying to crack the code of their picky eater, Open Farm should definitely be a consideration. The brand offers a variety of formulas – including bone broths – that can act as dog food toppers to make mealtime more appetizing.
Open Farm’s freeze-dried raw products can be used as a meal topper and put over dry foods to make them more satisfying. They also offer gently cooked meals that feature human-grade ingredients. We’re big fans of the brand’s bone-broth toppers that are easy to use, easy to store, and packed with wholesome, nutritious ingredients. Just pour them over wet or dry food and even the pickiest eaters will gobble up dinner.
- Made with high-quality, human-grade ingredients
- Variety of flavors and textures to choose from
- Dog foods can be used on their own or as toppers and mix-ins
- Bone broths are an easy way to top food for picky eaters
Things to Consider
- Difficult to find in stores
- Foods expire more quickly than traditional kibble
Best Puppy Food for Picky Eaters
Our Pick: Merrick Backcountry Raw-Infused Puppy Dry Dog Food
Picky puppies may need a little bit of flavor boost in order to dig in to their food, and Merrick Backcountry’s recipes deliver. Specially formulated for puppies, their raw-infused dry dog food provides flavors like chicken and salmon that put picky eaters at ease. Pet parents specifically like the freeze-dried raw pieces in the formula.
The protein-heavy formula can be purchase with whole grains or without grains. It supports healthy digestion, and provides balanced nutrition for all breeds and sizes.
- Formulated specifically for puppies
- Kibble has a raw coating for flavor and nutrition
- Available in two different formulas – one with grains and one without
- Made in the USA
Things to Consider
- Limited flavor options
- Seems to be some inconsistency with the amount of freeze-dried raw pieces in each bag
Dog Food for Picky Eaters: Buying Guide
When it comes to shopping for dogs who are picky eaters, some experts explain that it’s about knowing your pet best and keeping track of what has or hasn’t been tried already.
“It’s not so much to pay attention to a specific ingredient, texture, flavor, or shape that’s best, but what’s different to try,” says Dr. Marks.
Regardless of how picky your dog is, pet parents need to remain persistent, no matter how hard it may seem to find the right formula. And all pet parents should find a food that’s formulated professionally with proper seals of approval.
“Only a quality dog food is a truly balanced diet,” says Dr. Stonefield. “Pet parents at home simply can’t put together a balanced meal without the help of a board-certified veterinary nutritionist. This is why it’s important to choose a prepared food from a company who has veterinary nutritionists formulating the food.”
More Tips for Getting Your Dog to Eat
It can be tricky to get a picky canine to start eating again, and so trying to prevent picky eating where possible is important. Here are some other tips to get your dog to eat:
Stay Away From Table Scraps
According to Dr. Stonefield, one major factor that can contribute to the picky eating behavior is caused directly by pet parents themselves.
“Frequently, dogs who are picky eaters have a history of being given human food, whether as a treat or as a meal,’ says Dr. Stonefield. “When a dog gets chicken or some other type of people food, they often turn their noses up at anything else in an attempt to hold out for the good stuff.”
Give Your Dog Options
If you do find yourself in a situation where you truly do have a picky eater, providing your dog a variety of options and letting them guide the choice can inform your future purchasing decisions.
“Typically, I suggest offering up to three different textures and flavors in small amounts, buffet style, to see what your dog’s preferences are,” says Dr. Marks. “Then transition to solely that diet.”
Dr. Stonefield agrees. “You can try a smorgasbord of different foods in a few bowls, so your pet can be exposed to a few choices and choose the food they like the most.”
Keep Food Transitions Slow and Steady
No matter where pet parents ultimately land with their choice of food, it’s important to transition to it slowly. “The key is speed, and in this case, it’s a slow, patient process,” says Dr. Marks. “We typically recommend at minimum a 7-10 day transition introducing only 25 percent of the new food every 48 hours and pausing the transition until acceptance at each new stage.”
Contact Your Vet if Inappetence Persists
If you’ve tried everything and your pet still isn’t eating, a trip to the veterinarian may be in order.
“A general rule of thumb is to contact your veterinarian if your dog has a change in appetite that lasts more than 24 hours for puppies and more than 24-36 hours for adult dogs and doesn’t return to normal,” says Dr. Marks.
Other warning signs pet parents should look out for include “losing weight, having a dull, dry coat, or other clinical signs like lethargy and change in behavior,” she adds.
A Parting Word About Picky Eating
Facing a picky eater can seem like a daunting task for any pet parent. But there’s light at the end of the tunnel. Stay true and persistent in the search for the right food options and maintain the right routine. Your dog will be enjoying dinner again in no time!