Expert Advice on Transitioning Your Dog to a New Food

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Written by Anne-Marie Hays | Last Updated February 24th, 2020
Anne-Marie Hays is a Content Management Intern with Best Company. She enjoys comedy, hates crowds, and loves that you are reading this bio.

Dog running with a pretzel in its mouth

"Most dogs are used to eating a singular diet for a very long time, if not their entire life," says Krystn Janisse from Homes Alive Pets. "This means that switching foods can upset their delicate digestive balance if not done correctly."

Shifting your fur baby to a new diet can be tricky. Jake Thomas from Golden Hearts, a golden retriever blog, shares an example of what can happen, no matter how good your intentions are:

“When my dog was a puppy, we tried to switch him from one type of food to a more ‘high-quality’ food. We slowly switched him and everything was fine, until about two or three weeks in.

He slowly stopped getting excited about food, and then stopped eating, and we had to coax him into eating (putting treats in the bowl, feeding him out of a kong cone, etc.).

We called the vet and he did all sorts of tests but everything was fine.

Finally, he asked if we had switched food recently and we told him we had. He recommended we switch back to his old food and we did, and everything went back to normal!

We're not sure whether he had an allergy or what, but that ‘high-quality’ food didn't agree with him.”

This isn’t even the worst-case scenario.

Many dogs often have tummy issues and are prone to diarrhea when their food is changed.

It can be hard to watch your best friend go through this distress, let alone the distress that it can be to clean up behind him. To help ease the transition for pet owners and dogs alike, we asked experts for the best way to go about it. Here’s what they said.

Transition dog food slowly

First, whether you are transitioning from puppy food to adult dog food, to a meal that better suits your dog’s nutritional requirements, or just trying to avoid food allergies, a cold-turkey switch is not recommended. “Take it slowly if you do have to switch your dog’s food,” says Dr. Jennifer Coates, DVM, who serves on the advisory board for Pup Life Today. She advocates, “Gradually mix in increasing amounts of the new food with decreasing amounts of the old until your dog is eating only the new food in a week or two.”

This extended transition period is key, whether your pet is used to wet food or dry food. Sara Ochoa, DVM, small animal and exotic veterinarian in Texas and a veterinary consultant for doglab.com has a suggested method:

  • Start off with 3/4th old dog food and 1/4th new food for a few days
  • Then 1/2 and 1/2
  • Then 3/4 and 1/4th
  • Then the whole new food

Throughout the period, watch your dog’s health and behavior. Bukovza warns, “Watch for signs of lethargy or illness after switching foods. If your dog vomits every time he eats the new food, talk to your vet about trying a different type.”

Warning signs from your dog’s body

“New ingredients can change how their body breaks down the nutrients,” explains Janisse. “They can also affect pH levels in their intestines and can even trigger a response from the immune system if foods are poorly digested.”

Li-ran Bukovza, the founder of Puppy Tip explains, “If you change your dog’s diet too fast, it may upset his stomach and cause him to vomit, have diarrhea, or constipation. He may also refuse to eat an entire bowl of new food, which is why you must gradually introduce it to him.”

“This is why many owners are nervous about switching food,” says Janisse.

Transitions take time

Most of the time that we are switching pet food brands or formulas, it is for a good reason, whether that is influenced by health issues or something else.

“You should give the new diet at least a month before giving up,” advises Ochoa. “Some dogs are very picky and a small change in their food they will not eat it. Give it time, and they will adjust to their new foods.”

Don’t give up, and ask for help

If at first you don’t succeed, do you give up?

No.

Switching dog food might just be a learning process.

Coates says, “If at any point, your dog’s appetite decreases or they develop gastrointestinal upset, go back to the old food and try again more slowly once everything has returned to normal. Talk to your veterinarian If your dog doesn’t acclimate to a new food after a few tries.”

TL;DR

At some point in a dog’s life, pet parents may have to face the decision to change what they are feeding their dog.

While some dogs are prone to digestive issues, others have it easier. Dogs that are used to rotational feeding or frequent diet changes will show little to no symptoms of gastrointestinal distress while switching dog food, says Janisse, “A gradual transition should still be done to prevent discomfort further.”

In any case, the key to transitioning your pup to a new meal is baby steps. “Gradually transitioning their food over a week or more by slowly adding the new food to the old food, will reduce digestion problems, and help their body adapt to the new diet easier,” says Janisse. Making it a slow transition is best for all involved — the pooper, and the scooper.

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