Is it OK to Play Switcheroo With Your Pet Foods? (Part 3: How it’s Done)

Patty Khuly, DVM
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Published: September 10, 2010
Is it OK to Play Switcheroo With Your Pet Foods? (Part 3: How it’s Done)

Feeling ready to start mixing it up? If I, your veterinarian, or some other reasonably trustworthy resource have convinced you that you might want to play around with your pets’ diet, here's the post that should help you avoid any pitfalls.

For this I can only offer you my simplest recipes for success. Here’s my thoroughly unpatentable five step process for switching pet foods:

(As for the last couple of posts, this one assumes you’ll be feeding commercial pet foods. Nonetheless, I’ll bet those who don’t might also find some timeless gems here.)

Step 1: Starting From Scratch

This is for the true first-timer pet. The first time you undertake a diet change, as when you find a pet on the street and you don’t know what he’s ever eaten before, try offering what I call a "bland diet."

For dogs, I mix the brand of dog food I plan to introduce along with an equal volume of starchy food (rice, potatoes, oatmeal, etc.). Initially, I keep the volume small (about half what I think they might need). I wait 12 hours and if no untoward GI (gastrointestinal) accidents have befallen us, I plow ahead and increase the amount to a more normal volume of 1/2 dog food, 1/2 starchy stuff.

Alternatively, trying a 1-to-5 combo of meat to starch for a day or two before mixing in some commercial food is also a good way to go, especially if you meet with gastrointestinal resistance on the first commercial try.

Over the next three to five days (seven or more days for those whose stool seems softer than it probably should be), gradually increase the amount of commercial food, decreasing the extra starch as you go.

For cats, I tend to use a prescription diet for intestinal sensitivity since most cats don’t take rice with their cat food. Still, I’ve found that hungry cats will eat pumpkin or puréed peas with their commercial cat food, or a chicken and rice baby food diet. (Libby’s canned pumpkin is a fave of mine. I always buy a bunch after the holidays since it’s usually half price.)

As long as the cat's stool stays nice and normal, I’ll slowly add in more of the standard commercial fare; usually over 3 to 5 days.

Step 2: Switching From One Diet To Another

The most common method I’ve always ascribed to is pretty simple. It’s the one-quarter, one-half, three-quarters method.

Day 1: 1/4 new food, 3/4 old

Day 2: 1/2 new food, 1/2 old

Day 3: 3/4 new food, 1/4 old

By day four — voilá! — you’re on the new diet. This works for most pets, but some require extra tinkering (read: a longer transition period). This usually depends on a couple of factors: 1) Your pet’s GI sensitivity (you get a handle on this pretty quickly after a couple of changes); and 2) the degree of difference between the diets involved.

Step 3: Handling Sudden Changes Born of Necessity

This happens. Recalls, hurricanes, earthquakes, surgery and other misfortunes will befall us all at some point, whether we’re ready for them or not. These cataclysmic(ish) events mean that from one day to the next we may face a strict diet change. In these cases, simply reference Step 1.

Step 4: Playing the Field

If you keep enough pets over your lifetime, I promise you will run into at least one animal whose health demands that you play the pet food field. Being systematic is the way to go. For example, I tend to have my clients stick to a monthly diet change if they’re on a mission to find the one right food for any given gastrointestinal condition (i.e., a new food every month). For skin conditions it’s more like every three months (refer to my food trials post for more info).

Of course, a monthly or twelve week-long course may not work out. Sometimes foods are obviously problematic from the get go. Or the size of the bag, case or shipment doesn’t always match up exactly. Still, it’s a rule of thumb.

Step 5: Keeping Track

Round robin starts to look a whole lot more like whack-a-mole if you don’t keep track of what you are feeding your dog or cat. As you make the changes, write down when you feed your pet and what your pet’s health is like while you’re feeding it. This makes a whole lot of sense, right?

My solution: Start keeping a feeding diary. It need be nothing more than one sheet taped to the inside of the pantry door or a few pages in a spiral bound memo pad. Nothing fancy, but you really should keep track. So that if something goes awry you know where in the process it happened.

My work here is done. The rest is up to you. Have any tips or tricks you’d like to offer? Give ‘em up ...

Image: niclindh / Flickr

Last reviewed on July 26, 2015.

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