Changing your dog’s food is one of those things that shouldn’t be that hard, but one bad experience can have you feeling a little hesitant to make the next switch. Find out everything you need to know about changing dog food.
We eat different foods every day at every meal, but we feed our dog’s the same diet over and over again. Do they get bored of eating only one food? Can they get enough nutrients out of a single diet?
Dogs who eat one diet for a long time are not accustomed to recognizing and digesting new foods very well, so when you do end up changing their food, your dog might be surprised with some unpleasant digestive reactions. Knowing how to change your dog's food safely can reduce reactions and help your dog adapt to his new diet quickly.
If your pooch has been lucky enough to not have any food allergies, weight problems, or other health issues, then you may have never had to worry about changing your dog's food yet. The chances are though, at some point in your dog's life you are going to need to change their diet for one reason or another.
Whether you need to change your dog's diet to treat an issue or just to give your dog a little flavour variety, knowing how to change dog food safely is important.
You may find that your dog may have some unfortunate reactions if you don’t know how to transition dog food properly. The way you change dog food may depend on why you are changing dog food. Here are a few common reasons that you might consider switching up your dog’s diet:
- Dog food allergies
- Sensitive stomachs
- Changing life stages
- Picky eaters
- New diet formats
Health conditions, like dog food allergies or sensitivities, may require quicker or more drastic diet changes, whereas changing your dog’s diet as they age can be done slower and more gradually. Not sure if your dog is eating the right dog food? Check out our Beginners Guide to Dog Food to help you assess your dog's food.
Take a look at some of the most common reasons to switch up your dog’s diet:
Is It Good to Switch Up Dog Food?
There are many reasons you might change up your dog’s food, like when you are managing dog food allergies or other health issues, but there is also value in switching your dog’s food to provide your dog with more ingredient and nutrient variety.
Routinely offering different nutrients so your dog can benefit their overall health. This is called rotational feeding.
The popularity of commercial dog foods focused on convenience, and we got used to the concept of a single consistent dog diet, but the truth is that feeding the same diet, day in and day out, can lead to some problems.
Dogs who eat a single diet are more likely to get bored or disinterested in their meals. Poor eating habits can lead to weight issues and nutrient deficiencies, especially if you supplement with dog treats and table scraps to encourage eating.
Another factor to consider is food sensitivities. Though we don’t know for sure what causes food sensitivities and allergies, it’s possible that feeding the same diet over long periods of time could lead to the development of these sensitivities.
Rotational feeding may help prevent the development of food allergies or digestive sensitivities in dogs.
Transition From Puppy Food To Dog Food
For most people, the first time you change dog foods might be when your dog goes from puppy to adult. Growing puppies require some additional nutrients, but once your puppy is full-grown, switching to a maintenance formula will help keep your dog lean and healthy.
This switch can be done as slowly as is needed, and the diet changes are typically less drastic between puppy and adult formulas of the same brand.
When to Switch Puppy to Dog Food
Most puppies need to transition to adult food around 1-year-old, though age and breed may be factors here. Larger breeds may grow up to 18-24 months, so they can stay on a large breed puppy food longer than smaller breeds.
The best way to tell when your dog is ready to transition from puppy food to adult is to monitor their weight. Dogs tend to reach full height and length before reaching their adult weight range, so monitor their weight and muscle development using the dog body conditioning score.
This can help determine if your puppy is ready to switch to adult food. Adult dogs fed puppy food can gain excess weight and maybe consume higher levels of nutrients, like calcium, than they require, which could lead to problems as they age.
How to Switch Dog Food Safely
No matter why you are changing your dog’s food, it’s important to transition them from one formula to another properly. Every dog is different and will react differently to food changes.
Some dogs can easily switch between different foods and tolerate changes well, while others have severe reactions. The method you use to switch dog food will depend on your comfort level and your dog’s history of diet changes.
What Happens If You Change Your Dog’s Food Too Fast?
If you are feeling impatient or need to switch your dog’s food rapidly, you need to be prepared for possible consequences. Some dogs have an "iron stomach" and rarely experience issues when introducing new foods or ingredients, but even the most digestively sturdy dogs can experience problems when their food is changed too quickly.
The severity of reactions can depend on many things, like the quality of the foods you are changing between, your dog's current gut health, and the type of diet you are switching to.
Can Changing Dog Food Cause Diarrhea?
One of the most common reactions to quick diet changes in dogs is diarrhea. This can range from mild (and even go unnoticed) to explosive diarrhea that can be both messy and very uncomfortable for your pooch.
When you change your dog’s diet, especially when it’s a drastic change, it alters the pH of your dog’s digestive tract. Your dog’s body has a homeostatic reaction, meaning it will try to correct the change by flushing the intestines with water and diluting the pH.
This process may correct the problem, but it also causes two new ones. Firstly, it causes very watery, loose stool that moves quickly through your dog’s lower intestines, known as diarrhea. The second problem is that this water loss can lead to dehydration, especially in dogs fed dry foods.
How to Stop Dog Diarrhea From Switching Food
Mild cases of diarrhea often correct themselves, but in the case of diet changes, the condition can be prolonged until your dog’s body fully adapts to the new food. The risk here is with the dehydration factor.
If your dog isn’t rehydrating, prolonged and consistent diarrhea can be dangerous, even life-threatening. This can be hard if your dog is eating dry foods because it is unlikely they will drink enough water to counterbalance the moisture loss.
The best way to manage diarrhea in dogs is to add fibre and moisture to their diet to soothe the digestive tract and prevent dehydration.
Adding cooked rice can help quickly bulk stool and absorb moisture to relieve watery stool but won’t help our dog replenish moisture. A better food to have on hand during diet changes is pumpkin.
Pumpkin has both soluble and insoluble fibre, which can help to regulate the speed of digestion and bulk and firm up loose stool. It is also moisture-rich and can help replenish the moisture that your dog is losing during digestion.
To learn more about feeding your dog pumpkin, check out the 10 Health Benefits of Pumpkin for Dogs.
Skin Issues After Changing Dog Food
Another common reaction to dog food changes is skin reactions. It's often misdiagnosed as food or environmental allergies in dogs, but more often than not, itchy, dry, or irritated skin after a big diet change is a result of digestive distress.
New foods, especially to a sensitive dog tummy, may not digest as well as they could. This will trigger the immune response and can quickly lead to skin problems in dogs. Check out some of the digestive aids below to help improve digestion during the transition and avoid skin problems in sensitive dogs.
Digestive Aids to Help Switch Your Dogs Food
Diet changes are inevitable, and sometimes, no matter how delicate and gradually you make the switch, some dogs need a little extra help adapting to their new diet. There are plenty of doggy digestive aids, but some are better than others when it comes to transitioning your dog to a new food.
Nummy Tum Tums Organic Pumpkin
Pumpkin is great for managing symptoms of digestive issues from diet changes, but it can also be used preventatively. Starting your dog’s diet change with pumpkin included can limit, and for some dogs, eliminate reactions.
Another fibrous food aid that can provide valuable fibre and moisture is sweet potatoes, though these are high in natural sugars, so they should be fed less frequently.
Omega Alpha Probiotic 8 Plus
A big part of your dog’s digestion is the healthy bacteria that live and flourish in your dog’s small intestine. This bacteria breaks down dog food into individual nutrients to be distributed throughout your dog’s body.
Probiotic supplements are made of several strains of healthy gut bacteria that help your dog break down new foods easier. Look for supplements that offer both pre and probiotics as these will quickly raise good bacteria levels and provide food for that bacteria to colonize and reproduce.
Raw goat’s milk is one of the most popular ways to offer your dog probiotics because it’s extremely palatable and easy to add as a meal topper to any dog food. Additionally, the probiotics in goat’s milk are more capable of surviving your dog’s natural stomach acids.
Best Methods for Switching Dog Food
There is no guaranteed or foolproof method of switching dog food, as every dog has different digestive health and sensitivities. That being said, the most common method for transitioning dog food is the 7-day switch.
Transitioning your dog’s food over 7 days is commonly recommended by dog food brands and vets, and if you’ve never tried to change your dog’s food before then, this is a great place to start.
It’s a pretty simple method that involves replacing 25% of the old diet with the new diet for 2-3 days, then up that to 50% for 2-3 days, and then finally 75% for the final 2-3 days. Most dogs can successfully adapt to the new diet in that time period without any major upsets.
How to Change Dog Food Quickly
In some cases, a quicker change is necessary or desired. This can be because of severe allergies or other sensitivities that require limiting or eliminating certain ingredients. You may want to change the diet in a shorter period to reduce symptoms and skin reactions.
This can be done by simply speeding up the 7-day process by skipping the first step and going straight into a half and half diet for 2-3 days. If no digestive issues are observed, you can switch completely to the new diet after that.
This is generally tolerated well if you only make minor dietary changes, like switching to a different protein from the same brand or formula type. Changing only one or two ingredients may not be as difficult as changing most or all ingredients.
Switching Dog Food Cold Turkey
In some situations, you may be forced into changing your dog’s diet cold turkey, meaning no transition. This isn’t ideal, especially if your dog has been fed only one food for a long time, but there are situations where it’s necessary.
Acute illness, like pancreatitis, may require sudden and drastic diet changes to help during the recovery from a life-threatening illness. These diet changes should always be discussed with your vet to ensure they are done safely and according to the treatment of the illness.
A less critical reason for changing dog food quickly could be something as simple as running out of dog food. If you run out and can’t get to your regular pet store, or if the brand or formula you feed is unexpectedly out of stock, an impromptu replacement diet might be necessary.
In this case, you should stick to simple diets that are as similar to your pet’s regular food as you can get. If you have to buy a different brand or formula, try to find something of similar quality and similar ingredients.
An easy homemade recipe to temporarily substitute your dog’s food in a pinch is to feed boiled meat and rice. Try to stick to the same animal protein that your dog is used to eating to limit possible digestive upsets.
Under the Weather makes an easy-to-feed single-serving makeshift diet that can easily be substituted for your dog’s regular meal in a pinch.
How to Transition Your Dog to Raw Food
Changing your dog’s food can be even tougher when you change between different diet formats, and switching your dog to raw food can be one of the toughest. This is because mixing raw and cooked foods can lead to digestive issues, meaning the typical 7-day transition is likely not the best idea.
When it comes to raw diets, the cold turkey method might actually be one of the better options. This can be done by fasting your dog for 12 hours and switching them to a complete and balanced raw diet. Digestive aids, like goat’s milk or pumpkin, can be a useful tool to support this quick transition.
For sensitive dogs and dogs with a history of digestive issues, dipping your toes in the water, so to speak, is possible. You can start the process by feeding your dog small treat-sized pieces of his new raw diet, separate from meals.
Over the course of a few days, this can help your dog adjust to digesting raw meat. Then you can fast your dog for 12 hours and switch to the raw diet.
Even though a slower transition to a raw dog food diet is an option, it’s not always the best way. Sometimes a slow transition to a raw diet just prolongs the digestive issues. Ripping off the band-aid may be the easiest solution.
Choose the Approach That’s Right for You
Every pet handles diet changes differently, and playing it safe is recommended for newbies and dogs with known digestive sensitivities. As much as food changes can lead to inconvenient and messy consequences, the real concern should be the discomfort and danger to your dog.
A quick food change might be the most convenient, but your dog is the one who will be feeling the effects.
Once you’ve found a method that works for you and your dog, you may want to consider a rotational feeding plan for your dog. Find two or three diets that work well for your dog and start to feed them regularly.
This could be weekly or monthly changes, or even just grabbing a new flavour each time you restock on dog food. Your dog will become more accustomed to food changes in time and practice, and transitions will become easier and easier.
What are your tips for changing your dog’s food? Share your successes and struggles with us in the comments below!