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Best dog food for picky eaters, according to a vet

If your dog is turning their nose up to their kibble, check out these dog foods and toppers for even the pickiest of eaters.

Updated October 5, 2021

Created By

Emily Johnson,

Our favorite foods for picky eaters to try

Dog food for picky eaters, reviewed

What we love: Purina Pro Plan is backed by a team of nutritionists and veterinarians to ensure the quality of their dog food. The Complete Essentials formula is made with real chicken and a blend of other essential nutrients — like vitamin A, linoleic acid, omega-6 fatty acids, and live probiotics — to promote healthy skin, coat, and digestion to keep your pup feeling great. Purina Pro Plan also offers many other food formulas for puppies and large breeds.

What customer reviews say: Pet owners who switched their dogs to Purina Pro Plan Complete Essentials are loving the nutritional value at the lower price point. Their dogs enjoy the shredded bits of the kibble and the owners love the shiny coats, clean teeth, and high energy it gives their pups. Plus, being backed by vets is an added plus.

How many proteins: 3 — chicken, fish meal, and beef tallow.

How many years has the food been on the market? 20 years

Any past recalls: None

Ingredients: Chicken, rice flour, whole grain wheat, poultry by-product meal (source of glucosamine), soybean meal, beef tallow preserved with mixed-tocopherols, corn gluten meal, whole grain corn, fish meal (source of glucosamine), natural liver flavor, glycerin, wheat bran, mono and dicalcium phosphate, calcium carbonate, salt, dried egg product, soybean oil, potassium chloride, fish oil, minerals [zinc proteinate, manganese proteinate, ferrous sulfate, copper proteinate, calcium iodate, sodium selenite], vitamins [vitamin e supplement, niacin (vitamin b-3), vitamin a supplement, calcium pantothenate (vitamin b-5), thiamine mononitrate (vitamin b-1), vitamin b-12 supplement, riboflavin supplement (vitamin b-2), pyridoxine hydrochloride (vitamin b-6), folic acid (vitamin b-9), vitamin d-3 supplement, menadione sodium bisulfite complex (vitamin k), biotin (vitamin b-7)], choline chloride, l-ascorbyl-2-polyphosphate (vitamin c), dried bacillus coagulans fermentation product, l-lysine monohydrochloride, garlic oil.

What we love: This Hill’s digestive care food is formulated with decades of cutting-edge research to be a tasty and healthy meal your pup can enjoy. It’s made in the USA with globally sourced ingredients pet owners can trust — like real chicken, yellow peas, and barley. The formula is also highly digestible for optimal nutrient absorption, which makes stool pick-up easier for pet parents.

What customer reviews say: Dogs who switched over to the Hill’s Science digestive care food have shown significant improvement in their skin health (less itchiness) and GI health (solid poop and less gas). Dog owners also mentioned how they assumed grain-free food would’ve been healthier for their pups and were surprised when Hill’s was actually highly nutritious.

How many proteins: 1 — chicken.

How many years has the food been on the market? 19 years

Any past recalls: None

Ingredients: Chicken, chicken meal, yellow peas, cracked pearled barley, brown rice, brewers rice, whole grain sorghum, egg product, chicken fat, soybean oil, dried beet pulp, chicken liver flavor, lactic acid, flaxseed, pork liver flavor, potassium chloride, iodized salt, vitamins (vitamin e supplement, l-ascorbyl-2-polyphosphate (source of vitamin c), niacin supplement, thiamine mononitrate, vitamin a supplement, calcium pantothenate, riboflavin supplement, biotin, vitamin b12 supplement, pyridoxine hydrochloride, folic acid, vitamin d3 supplement), choline chloride, taurine, mixed tocopherols for freshness, minerals (ferrous sulfate, zinc oxide, copper sulfate, manganous oxide, calcium iodate, sodium selenite), natural flavors, beta-carotene.

For extra picky eaters, try these dog food toppers:

What we love: This human-grade bone broth is rich in protein and collagen to aid in your dog’s joint and muscle health. Pet owners can add it to any kind of food — dry kibble, dehydrated, or freeze dried — and don’t have to worry about shelf life, thanks to its powder consistency.

What customer reviews say: Pet parents are thrilled that their picky eaters are finally eating more steadily when they add this beef broth to their kibble. They mention a strong meaty smell that really entices dogs to eat their food, and they like that it’s safe for cats too!

How many proteins: 1 — Beef bone broth.

How many years has the food been on the market? 1

Any past recalls: None

Ingredients: Beef bone broth and sunflower lecithin.

What we love: These easy-to-open gravy pouches make serving quick and easy, especially compared to using canned dog food as your topper. It’s made without grain, dairy, eggs, chicken, beef, fish, corn, wheat, soy, carrageenan, artificial colors, artificial flavors, or preservatives — ingredients known to trigger food sensitivities. This food topper is a great option for puppies and seniors alike.

What customer reviews say: Customers like how the pouches are easy to use and that the formula is only two ingredients. It’s also mentioned that this topper doesn’t trigger any food allergies like other toppers have in the past. The downsides that pet parents are noting are the pouches being messy and that their dogs seem excited about the topper at first, but become less so after a while.

How many proteins: 1 — Lamb.

How many years has the food been on the market? 3 years

Any past recalls: None

Ingredients: Lamb broth, lamb, lamb liver, ground dried chickpeas, guar gum, natural flavor, sodium phosphate, salt, and sodium carbonate.

How we made our picks

  • Closely investigated ingredients — We avoided grain-free diets due to the possible risk of heart disease in dogs (these diets are only necessary in the rare scenario that your pup is gluten-free). We also avoided raw food due to the risks of E. coli and Salmonella.
  • Chose foods formulated by a boarded veterinary nutritionist — Expert nutritionists know best, our vets recommend foods formulated by a nutritionist to ensure they’re well balanced with proper nutrients for dogs.

Common reasons why your dog may be picky

There are a number of reasons why your picky pooch may be turning their nose up to their kibble, including:

  • They don’t like the flavor or texture of the food
  • The food is spoiled
  • They don’t like the type of bowl being used

There are also medical issues that can make your dog seem picky, when it may actually be an underlying cause, such as:

  • Dental disease. If your pup’s teeth hurt, they’re likely not going to want to crunch on hard kibble.
  • Gastrointestinal upset. Just like with people, if a dog has an upset stomach then food may only cause it to hurt more, discouraging your dog from eating.
  • Pain. Discomfort or pain can lead to a change in your dog’s behavior, including a lack of appetite, especially in senior dogs.

What ingredients are most enticing to picky doggies?

A dog’s favorite ingredient varies from dog to dog, just like picky humans. Most dogs prefer meat — usually chicken more than other meat proteins, but they might not enjoy it as much if they’re used to eating other meats like salmon, venison, or turkey. Peanut butter and cheese are also popular, but not common diet ingredients. These are mostly found in treats.

Favorite dog food works the same for most picky eaters — some dogs love wet food while others prefer dry food only. Different pet foods use different recipes and your pup may simply prefer one over another.

Should owners try a dog food topper?

As long as your dog isn’t overweight or dealing with diet restrictions — i.e. from diabetes, food allergies, etc. — then food toppers are fine! They can be an enticing way to get your pup more interested in their food. Some are made just to make dry food more palatable while other toppers provide an improvement to their overall nutrition. Make sure to work with your vet to find the right topper for your dog’s needs.

If you change your dog’s food, make sure you do it gradually

When transitioning your dog to a new food, it’s best to do it slowly over a period of about 7–10 days. According to our vet, start with 75% of their old food mixed with 25% of their new food for three days, then mix 50% old with 50% new for approximately three days. After you get to 25% old food and 75% new food for three days, you can move them completely over to the new food.

👉 If your dog still won’t eat their food, it’s time to see the vet.

Tips to get your picky eater to try their food 

Limit the number of treats — Avoiding feeding excess treats between mealtimes will help keep them hungry when it’s time to eat. It also helps to not feed them scraps directly from the table — if you want to give them a human treat, it’s best to put it in the bowl with their kibble.

👉 Check out our list of vet-approved healthy dog treats

Give them a designated mealtime Put their food down for 30 minutes at a time. If they don’t eat it, pick it up. Eventually, they’ll learn that if they don’t eat, they’ll have to wait until the next mealtime.

Help them feel safe — Put their food bowl in a low-noise room away from distractions.

Add something tasty —  Mixing some healthy veggies into their kibble can help encourage your pup to eat. Some options include sweet potatoes, carrots, or green beans.

Consider changing their food —  If all else fails, you may need to change their food. Be sure to do this gradually over the span of 7-10 days so you don’t upset their stomachs.

Frequently asked questions about picky dogs

Will a picky dog starve itself?

Dogs can purposely refuse certain foods and even go several meals without eating, but dogs won’t purposely starve themselves to death.

However, it should be noted that dogs don’t get hungry the same way people do — some dogs can go 48 hours or more before they start feeling hungry and finally resort to eating.

What are the best appetite stimulants for dogs?

  • Rotisserie chicken. Most dogs love the smell and taste of rotisserie chicken and is a great way to convince them to eat. Remember not to give them the bones or skin and if they’re on a low-fat diet, only feed the white meat portions.
  • Mirtazapine. A common drug that is prescribed to dogs who have a decreased appetite, usually due to other conditions that make them feel queasy, such as kidney disease or cancer.
  • Entyce (Capromorelin). A prescription appetite stimulant that works by stimulating areas of the brain that are responsible for a dog’s appetite and hunger.
  • CBD products. Benefits include a decrease in pain and an increase in appetite. It’s important to note that CBD from hemp is not THC and marijuana is toxic to pets. Ask your veterinarian for CBD product recommendations.

👉 Always check with your vet before adding any new ingredient or supplement into your dog’s diet.