Before we discuss a safe and effective way how to switch dog food from their current diet to a new one and embrace diversity at dinnertime, let’s first address common questions and dispel some myths surrounding switching your dog’s (or cat’s) food.
Is it ok to switch your dog’s food? Can you switch dog food flavors? Will changing dog food cause diarrhea?
The story goes that switching your dogs’ food is not recommended as it will give them stomach upset, diarrhea, or constipation, because dogs prefer consistency, or perhaps they won’t like the new food. While all of these may occur, these reasons alone should not stop us from trying.
Is it ok to switch your dog’s food? Absolutely! In fact, it is good for Fido’s health & longevity to periodically or even regularly switch up the mealtime fare. If so, at what age and how often? Starting younger is better, though any age is great, and frequent is ideal.
Supplying different meat sources is a great way to vary amino acid sources and mixing up the vegetables and grains allows for varied sources of vitamins and minerals. This effectively results in a more robust stomach as well, one that is not as sensitive to a plethora of different foods and ingredients.
Would you want to consume the same recipe at every meal, for years on end? Taking that a step further, would you be content in always eating cereal for every meal, or only ever eating TV dinners (and never the option for a less processed, more fresh dinner – like a homemade lasagna)? Perhaps more importantly, Fido is a member of the family and as such warrants a diversified livelihood, which includes regular walks (outside of their yard), protection from inclement weather, obvious dangers, and a varied diet.
I’m not suggesting that home cooking is the route we all need to take. Baby steps, do what’s doable, and every bit counts. Maybe the integration of a new food entails feeding the exact same brand as the current food but choosing the lamb and potato version instead of the chicken and rice recipe. Or maybe switching it up means adding in some of your leftover oatmeal from breakfast or a little baked chicken from your own dinner. Don’t be afraid to add variety and table scraps! Yes, indeed, these are a great addition to Fido’s health.
Table scraps are not bad; this is HUMAN GRADE food! Whereas pet food is by definition of lesser quality and not even allowed in our human food-producing facilities (more on human-grade vs. feed grade later)!
Variety is the spice of life and the splice of health!
The dry dog food kibble we’re so accustomed to feeding is brown, aka; not fresh, heavily processed, not nutrient-dense, and essentially, dead. There are no active enzymes left to nourish your canine companion. It will allow your dog to survive, yet not thrive.
Fresh food on the other hand is full of color, aka; full of color, minimally-processed, nutrient-dense, and ALIVE! Feed some of this to Fido.
Dogs inherently know what they need.
For more times than I can count, throughout the years, I’ve had customers and clients ask how to switch dog food and then relay that when they switched up their dog’s food the once irreverent eater became the voracious one at mealtime – eating it all in one sitting where they once used to let it sit for hours, picking at it unenthusiastically throughout the day. This is especially the case when a dog disinterested in their dry food kibble goes crazy for the less processed option, like a dehydrated, freeze-dried, home-cooked, or raw meal.
Now, How to Switch Dog Food and Transition: Slowly!
If for example, you’re switching from lower quality to higher quality dry food kibble, err on the side of caution and plan for a 7-14 day transition period from the current to the new food. Slower changeover avoids digestive upset, especially for those pups that have not had a change in a long while or have a more sensitive stomach (for these instances a digestive aid* may be warranted). An adequate transition can also prevent aversion to the new food. Some dogs will be tolerant of a more swift transitional period.
If you want to transition your dog from a more processed food (like dry food kibble) to a less processed (dehydrated, freeze-dried, or raw) food, the above and below also apply. Additionally, adding a digestive aid* (digestive enzymes or other) is a must-do for assisting the digestive tract and enhancing the whole system for the short and long term.
Day 1 Transition Dog Food
90% current food, 10% new Digestive aid recommended*
Days 2-4 Transition
75% old food, 25% new Digestive aid*
Days 5-10 Transition
50% old food, 50% new Continue digestive aid if showing any signs of discomfort
Days 11-14 Transition
10-25% old food, 75-90% new
Day 15+ – Continuing to Switch Your Dogs’ Food
If the dog continues to show no reaction to a new food, transition to 100% new food.
If he/she shows signs of itchy skin, diarrhea, loose stools, or aversion to a new food, a digestive aid is strongly recommended and reverting back to the previous change level (ie. 11-14 day ratios).
Note: skin issues can actually be a sign of the body’s detoxification of offending substances from the old food, (chemicals, preservatives, AGEs, and more). This should be considered as a potential reason especially if the new food is of better quality (improved ingredients, less processed, or other enhancements). There may be a purging period, whereby these constituents the dogs’ body got used to will now begin shedding and removing from the system as the detoxifying mechanisms “wake up” in a sense.
If you want to consider your dog’s weight status during the transition and are not sure how much your dog should weigh, this brief blog on A Dog’s Ideal Weight and determining how much your dog should weigh may be helpful.
*Digestive aids: canned pumpkin (organic), Perfect Form, Holistic Transition, Ark Naturals Gentle Digest are all ideal options (all available at the time of this post, inquire within for sourcing). Please note: the above recommendations are based on my experience with the brands/companies and products with my own or clients’ animals, and do not include monetary affiliations/kick-backs from product recommendations.