Why Switch Your Dog's Food & How to Do It Safely

Why Switch Your Dog's Food & How to Do It Safely

What you feed your dog is bound to change at some point in its life. Maybe your dog is older and needs a diet specific to its age, it's put on a few pounds, or the vet prescribed it a special diet. Many reasons justify a dietary transition—and if you want to switch your dog's food, you may know the process isn't as simple as buying new kibble. There is a whole process involved, and we're walking you through it step-by-step.

4 Main Reasons to Switch Your Dog's Food

First things first: why switch your dog's food in the first place? There are many reasons why a dog owner might decide to do this, but most often, it involves one or more of the 4 reasons listed below.

A New Life Stage

Whether your puppy is now a dog, or your dog, a senior, it must eat food appropriate for every stage of its life. That way, your dog gets in all the right nutrients it needs. Puppies, for instance, require more protein, whereas adolescent and adult dogs do not. Formulas for senior-aged dogs will look different, too, and are often packed with ingredients that support aging joints and bones.

Adverse Food Reactions

If your dog's food is causing gastrointestinal upset or skin sensitivity, an adverse food reaction may be to blame. Adverse food reactions happen when dogs develop an intolerance to certain ingredients in their food. If suspected as true, your vet may put your dog on an elimination diet to determine whether your dog suffers from adverse food reactions and, if so, which foods to avoid feeding your dog in the future.

Pregnant Or Nursing Dogs

If your dog is eating for you two, she will need a new dietary formula suited to her—and her baby's—nutritional needs. Likewise, a nursing bitch's nutritional needs will increase dramatically. She won't only need two to three times her normal food requirement. She will also need the right diet to maintain a steady milk supply for her litter. To help dogs cope with pregnancy and/or nursing's physical demands, vets often recommend nutrient-rich puppy food.

Weight Management

Whether your dog needs to shed or put on some pounds, helping it maintain a healthy weight starts with feeding it the right food. The food you choose for your dog will depend on your goals. An overweight dog, for example, might benefit from a low-calorie diet. On the other hand, a dog that needs to gain weight shouldn’t avoid calories, but eat more of it. In any case, it’s important to consult your veterinarian before making any changes to your dog’s diet. 

How to Switch Your Dog's Food Safely

Whatever might warrant a transition, feeding your dog new food will be involved—which seems like a simple enough task. Just pour the stuff into a bowl and call it a day, right? Well, that's one way, but not the only (or even the best) way. Unlike us humans, our four-legged friends cannot stomach new food the way we can. They'll eat it with just as much gusto, sure, but it certainly won't go down as easily, causing vomiting, diarrhea, or both.

Ideally, transitioning a dog's diet should be a marathon, not a sprint—an approach where "slow and steady" is a top priority. Instead of replacing your dog's food all in one go, it is done a little at a time. It is recommended that the process take place over a week-long period—or longer still if your dog has an ultra-sensitive stomach or reverse food reactions. Think: one month or even longer. 

It not only gives dogs ample time to adjust, but it also allows owners to observe whether the new diet sits well with their pet. After all, there is no one-size-fits-all solution to your dog's dietary needs. For owners looking to switch up their dogs' diets but don't know where to begin, there are plenty of suggestions on what the transition might look like. Below is one such suggestion that may apply to most dogs:  

  • Day 1: 25% new diet and 75% old diet
  • Day 3: 50% new diet and 50% old diet
  • Day 5: 75% new diet and 25% old diet
  • Day 7: 100% new diet

As for dogs with stomach sensitivity, it may look like this:

  • Week 1: 25% new diet and 75% old diet
  • Week 2: 50% new diet and 50% old diet
  • Week 3: 75% new diet and 25% old diet
  • Week 4: 100% new diet

In any case, you should be working closely with a trusted veterinarian throughout this period. Consulting a licensed vet who knows your dog inside-out will mitigate any problems that may arise while reducing the potential for harm. Frequent veterinary consultations are especially crucial if your dog suffers from adverse food reactions that often involve a malady of unwanted symptoms.

Managing Unwanted Symptoms 

Whatever the reason for switching your dog's diet, whether significant or seemingly small, keep a close eye on your pet. Is it nauseous or vomiting? Losing tufts of fur, scratching excessively, or suddenly riddled with rashes? If any such issues arise while your dog's adjusting to its new food, it will require an immediate trip to your vet. The most telling sign of how well your dog is adjusting to its food is its bowel movements.

Your dog's poop can say A LOT about its health. Solid or runny, lumpy or smooth, the state of your dog's stool can shed insight on how well it's adjusting to its new diet. While some changes are normal, anything out of the ordinary may be a cause for concern. If you don't know how to interpret your dog's stool, the Fecal Scoring Chart might help. The chart isn't for the squeamish, but it is no doubt useful. 

It is a diagnostic scale used by veterinarians, illustrating seven different types of feces of various shapes, sizes, and consistencies. One equates to a hard, solid stool, whereas seven will be a runny, almost liquid, one. According to the chart, healthy dog stool is in the range of one through three. Just keep in mind that while your dog is adjusting to its new diet, it may not fall within this range at first. 

But, if any bowel-related issues persist, this will again merit a consultation with a trusted veterinarian. From there, you can both decide what the best course of action is—whether it's to move forward with the same diet or try another.

The Verdict

Transitioning your dog's food is a lengthy process that involves some trial and error, but doing it safely, will ensure the best possible outcome. As with anything regarding your dog's nutritional needs, be sure the transition is made under your veterinarian's supervision. A trusted vet can help monitor your dog's health during this period and determine whether the new diet is the right choice for your dog.