It seems like few people ever mention one of the biggest challenges of puppy ownership: the fact that many of them have sensitive stomachs. It may seem like regardless of what you feed them, the food comes back with a vengeance — often on your most valuable piece of furniture.
Finding a suitable puppy food isn’t easy, either. There are so many ingredients to look through, and labels seem to be designed to be intentionally confusing. It can be terrifying to think that you might feed your dog the wrong food and accidentally make the problem worse.
Fortunately, we’ve made finding the right food for hair-trigger tummies easier than ever before. In the reviews below, we take an in-depth look at some of the top puppy foods on the market today, so you can finally find one that your adorable little friend can keep down for longer than a few minutes.
Comparison (updated in 2021):
|Best Overall||Purina Pro Plan||
The 7 Best Puppy Foods for Sensitive Stomachs:
1. Purina Pro Plan Wet Dog Food – Best Overall
One of the biggest causes of sensitive stomachs in dogs is the use of chemicals and other fake ingredients in dog food. Purina Pro Plan 3810002773 lists real chicken as its #1 ingredient, so you can be sure your pup is eating something that his stomach naturally expects to eat, rather than being forced to try to digest a bunch of fillers and preservatives. It also has rice, which is bland enough that it’s not likely to cause problems.
The food is extremely soft and tender, so your pup should have little problem getting it down easily — and that’s the first step towards proper digestion. It’s gentle on little teeth and mixes well with dry kibble if you have some you’d like to add to it.
Beyond being easy to process, this food is chock-full of other nutrients that are important for a growing dog, like vitamin B-12. This will keep your little buddy’s fur soft and manageable while making sure that his eyes, brain, and other organs develop according to plan.
Pro Plan is somewhat expensive, but we feel it’s worth it, as its other qualities help separate it from the pack, making it our clear winner.
2. Wellness Grain Free Dry Dog Food – Best Value
While we feel that the Pro Plan is the best food you can feed a picky pup, it’s expensive. If you’re looking for something a little more budget-friendly, we believe Wellness 89147 Natural is the best puppy food for sensitive stomachs for the money.
It’s grain-free, eliminating one of the most common triggers for touchy bellies while also helping reduce the risk of obesity. Instead of corn or other grains, it uses ingredients like salmon that are high in DHA, and it has probiotics and chicory root extract to support healthy bacteria in the intestines and aid in the digestive process.
This is a dry kibble rather than a wet food, and you may find that you need to feed your dog more of it to keep him full. Some puppies also turn their nose up at dry food as well, so you may need wet food to mix it with.
The Wellness 89147 Natural was neck-and-neck with the Pro Plan for our top spot, but the fact that the latter is a wet food helped push it over the edge. Still, the Wellness offers excellent nutrition at a great price, making it a no-brainer for our value pick.
In addition to chicken and white and brown rice, AvoDerm 100064769 Natural is bolstered with avocadoes, which are chock-full of the omega fatty acids your dog needs to grow a healthy immune system. It’s also good for the skin and coat, making it a good choice for animals struggling with allergies or other skin conditions.
The kibble pieces have been pressure-cooked to seal in all the nutrition, and this also makes it easier for your pup’s stomach to break down. You should be able to feed your dog less of this food than other brands, without skimping on nutrition.
Our biggest beef with the Avoderm is the fact that the first ingredient is chicken meal, rather than actual chicken. That seems out of place in a food like this, given its relatively high price point, but the rest of the ingredient list goes a long way towards making up for it.
The high price and use of chicken meal keeps this food from climbing any higher than #3, but this is still excellent food. We would just recommend starting with the two options above it first.
- See our guides to doggy nutrition here!
4. NUTRO Puppy Dry Dog Food
NUTRO 10157655 has added calcium in it, which helps build strong teeth and bones (and let’s face it, puppies need strong bones to survive all the times they somersault down the stairs). It’s also filled with natural protein from lamb or chicken, as well as glucosamine and chondroitin for joint health.
They have a formula specially designed for large breed puppies, which is good because those dogs can be susceptible to digestive problems like bloat.
It does have a bit more salt than we’d like, which can cause your dog to drink too much — which, ironically, can lead to diarrhea or vomiting. So, while this is a gentle food overall, monitor your pup’s water intake the first few days to see how they react. The bag isn’t re-sealable, either, so you’ll need to find a way to keep it fresh if you don’t want to feed your pooch stale kibble (and the lamb formula is especially prone to going bad quickly).
Overall, NUTRO 10157655 is a nutrient-dense option that should help your pup grow big and strong. We just can’t rank it any higher than 4th, primarily because of the high sodium levels.
5. Blue Buffalo 574 Dry Dog Food
Blue Buffalo 574 Natural is a limited ingredient food, so there aren’t a lot of potential culprits to make your mutt sick in each bag. It’s limited to a single protein source as well — in this case, turkey, which tends to be handled well by most dogs.
The kibble also includes the company’s “LifeSource Bits,” which sounds like artifacts you need to collect to defeat an evil wizard. Instead, it turns out that they’re chunks of vitamins and antioxidants that are mixed in to meet your pup’s nutritional demands.
However, one of the few ingredients listed is potatoes. Many dogs have issues tolerating potatoes, and they can cause loose stools or thunderous gas. This isn’t true of all breeds and tends to break down on a case-by-case basis, so if your dog can handle this food, it’s well worth keeping them on it. There’s also more salt in it than we’d like to see.
While Blue Buffalo Natural is certainly better than most bags of food you’ll find at your local supermarket, there’s a decent chance it could cause some of the same ailments you’re trying to avoid, so we’d recommend starting with one of the gentler foods above.
6. Nature’s Recipe Dry Puppy Food
Fiber is important for keeping everything running smoothly in a dog’s gastrointestinal tract (and yours, too, but we recommend finding a better source than puppy kibble), and Nature’s Recipe 730521504373 is packed with fiber. Your dog may go to the bathroom more often, but as long as the stools are well-formed, that’s a good thing.
It’s loaded with taurine, which is important for maintaining healthy heart function. The combination of taurine and fiber may help to combat obesity (but only when combined with regular exercise and strict portion control).
The biggest issue we have with this chow is that it uses lots of barley and oatmeal, which some dogs react poorly to. Some dogs don’t care for the taste, either, so you may struggle to get your pup to eat it at all. That may be a blessing in disguise, because while this can make your dog’s poop healthier, it will definitely make it smell worse (and we bet you didn’t think that was possible).
Nature’s Recipe is a smart choice for dogs who struggle with constipation or breeds that are prone to heart problems, but the considerable grain content limits how high it can rise in these rankings.
7. Blackwood Sensitive Stomach Dog Food
Blackwood Pet 22300 Sensitive Stomach is more like a home-cooked meal for your pup than it is a bag of dog food, as each batch is slow-cooked with quality ingredients like salmon, celery, beets, and spinach. Your dog will get quite a few nutrients from a wide range of sources, which is good for long-term development.
The manufacturer also adds pre- and probiotics to the food, which can help improve the quality of your dog’s gastrointestinal tract.
Unfortunately, it’s heavy on protein meal and grains, which isn’t ideal. We’d recommend supplementing this food with some additional meat to ensure that your dog gets all the fuel needed to build strong, supple muscles.
There also isn’t much fiber in it, and it’s not formulated specifically for puppies, so you might be better holding off on it until your pooch gets bigger (but not too much bigger, as the bits might be too small for larger breeds to eat easily).
All in all, Blackwood Pet Sensitive Stomach is delicious food with plenty of nutrients and probiotics, but it may be better suited for older dogs, and so we can’t justify ranking it any higher on this particular list.
Deciding on the best food to feed a puppy with a sensitive stomach is no easy task. There’s so much conflicting information out there, and ingredient lists on dog food labels can be longer than War and Peace. So, how are you supposed to know what to feed your pooch? Rely on trial and error and hope for the best?
That’s one way, but we feel you have better options. Below, we’ll discuss exactly what to look for when shopping for puppy food — and, perhaps more importantly, what to avoid.
What You Want
There are three main components that you should look at in any food, regardless of the dog’s age: protein, fiber, and fat.
Protein is usually the big selling point of any dog food and provides the primary flavor. Typical protein sources include fish, beef, chicken, lamb, and even more exotic animals like wild boar. There’s not one protein source that’s “better” for dogs with sensitive stomachs than another, as your pup is equally likely to be sensitive to anything. This is one of the few areas where trial and error may have to come into play.
More important than the type of protein is the form it takes. While dogs are omnivores, they need meat — real meat, not meat-like substances (guess that means McDonald’s is out, then). Make sure that the ingredients show actual meat as one of the first ingredients, rather than some sort of protein meal.
How much protein should your dog eat? That depends on the breed, but generally speaking, more is better. Think about it: if you turned your dog loose in the wild, do you think he’d spend more time chasing prey or harvesting carrots? Of course, you don’t want to feed your pet an all-meat diet, but you’ll be hard-pressed to give your pup more than he can handle.
Fiber is another important element of any food (and if you’ve ever been told you need to eat more fiber, then you probably know how painful going without it can be). Some sensitive stomachs are exacerbated by a lack of fiber, so look for ingredients like beet pulp, pumpkin, psyllium, or inulin.
These ingredients are all known as “soluble” fibers, which mean they get broken down inside the dog’s digestive tract (“insoluble” fibers pass through pretty much unchanged). This is valuable for dogs with sensitive tummies because that soluble fiber can help feed the beneficial bacteria inside the dog’s intestines, helping to reduce digestive issues.
Most foods average about 5% fiber content, which should be fine. However, a dog with a sensitive stomach may need a little bit more. Just don’t go over 10%, or else you could make things worse.
The fat content is also important. You want to find the sweet spot here, which is probably in the 10-15% range. However, like with proteins, the type is potentially more important than the amount.
Look for healthy fats, like those from fish oils. These are full of omega fatty acids, which can improve your dog’s immune system, brighten their coat, and keep their skin healthy.
Vitamins and Minerals
While the above are the three most important factors, you want to make sure your dog is getting enough vitamins and minerals as well. Most high-quality foods do a good job of making this happen, but your dog may need an additional boost of some ingredients, like glucosamine or chondroitin. This is something to discuss with your vet.
What to Avoid
Knowing what to feed your pup is important, but giving him food with bad ingredients can undo all your other nutritional efforts.
Corn and Animal By-Products
The most common problematic ingredient is corn or other filler grains. Manufacturers use corn because it’s cheap, but your dog will likely have trouble digesting it, and it could lead to obesity down the road. Some grain is ok, but make sure it’s fairly far down the ingredients list.
Corn syrup, on the other hand, should be an absolute no-go. The same goes for ingredients like MSG, preservatives like ethoxyquin, BHT/BHA, and propylene glycol, and any sort of “by-product.” These are included to artificially extend the food’s shelf life or to give the manufacturer a cheap way to get rid of all the nasty meat they couldn’t sell to more discerning customers.
Think of it this way: if you wouldn’t eat animal by-products yourself, why feed them to your dog? (Also, don’t think about this if you just ate a hot dog.)
If you’re struggling to figure out what to feed your picky pooch, we recommend starting with Purina Pro Plan FOCUS. It’s gentle on stomachs without being bland and has all the nutrition a puppy needs to grow up big and strong.
However, it is expensive, so if you’re needing something less pricey, you can’t go wrong with Wellness Complete Health Natural. The grain-free formula is filled with gut-friendly ingredients like pre- and probiotics, which should help tame any nasty issues your dog may be struggling with.
Regardless of which one you ultimately choose, we know how frustrating and heartbreaking it can be to see your dog struggle with digestive issues. We hope these reviews have made it easier for you to find the right food for your pup, so you can both spend more time playing and less time…well, we’ll leave that part to your imagination.
- Comparison (updated in 2021):
- The 7 Best Puppy Foods for Sensitive Stomachs:
- Buyer’s Guide