How to Switch Your Dog's Food

Jennifer Coates, DVM
Published: November 17, 2022
How to Switch Your Dog's Food

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Dietary changes are an unavoidable part of a dog’s life. Maybe the switch is expected—like changing from puppy food to an adult food—or maybe something unanticipated happened, like an illness or food recall.

In either case, knowing how to switch your dog’s food properly can make the transition easier for you and your canine friend.

Reasons for Changing Dog Foods

There are many reasons why you might find yourself having to change your dog’s food. Let’s divide them into two categories—those that need a quick switch and those where you can take your time.

You may need to quickly switch your dog’s food if:

  • Your dog’s current food has been recalled, discontinued, or is simply not available.

  • Your dog won’t eat their current food.

  • Your veterinarian recommends an immediate change to a new diet. This occurs most frequently if a dog has developed food allergies or other adverse reactions to food. It may also be beneficial to make a quick switch if a dog has gastroenteritis or another health problem that needs to be treated quickly.

You can switch your dog’s food gradually if:

  • You’ve decided to change your dog’s food to one that better fits your budget.

  • You want to feed your dog a different type of food (dry versus wet, or one with grains instead of grain-free, or rotational diets, for example).

  • It’s time to switch to a different life-stage food (puppy to adult, for example).

  • Your veterinarian prescribed a new diet and recommends that you make the change gradually. This can be appropriate if a dog is being transitioned to a diet to help manage chronic diseases like obesity, canine cognitive dysfunction, or osteoarthritis.

What Are Rotational Diets for Dogs?

Some pet parents routinely switch their dog’s food, using a practice called rotational feeding. The thought process behind rotational feeding goes something like this: Since it’s impossible to have 100% confidence in any one diet, routinely rotating through several different foods limits the chances that a dog could become sick due to nutrient deficiencies, nutrient excesses, or contaminants.

As long as all of the diets being fed are high-quality and nutritionally complete and balanced, rotational feeding may be beneficial and shouldn’t do any harm. However, rotational feeding isn’t appropriate if a dog develops an upset tummy from all the dietary changes or needs to be on a specific type of food for health reasons.

People approach this in many different ways. Some buy a few different bags of kibble and feed one type of food per week. Others make more dramatic changes—kibble until the bag is empty, then wet food for a couple of weeks, followed by a couple of days of home cooking. Still others focus on purchasing products made from different protein and carbohydrate sources—beef and barley for a month followed by a month of chicken and rice, for example.

Steps for Switching Dog Foods

Some dogs seem to have an iron stomach. They can eat almost anything and do just fine. But others have a more delicate constitution.

It’s best to err on the side of caution, since the potential downside of making a diet change too quickly is unpleasant for everyone.

Here are two good ways to switch your dog’s diet that reduce the chances of food refusal, diarrhea, vomiting, and gassiness.

Gradual Dog Food Switch

Whenever possible, take at least a week to switch your dog to a new diet. Mix the new and old foods in these ratios:

  • Day 1 – 10% new food / 90% old food

  • Day 2 – 20% new food / 80% old food

  • Day 3 – 30% new food / 70% old food

  • Day 4 – 40% new food / 60% old food

  • Day 5 – 60% new food / 40% old food

  • Day 6 – 80% new food / 20% old food

  • Day 7 –100% new food

You can take it even more slowly if your dog has a history of problems with dietary changes or if the new food is very different from the old (switching from a dry salmon-based food to a wet chicken-based food, for example).

If at any point during this process your dog stops eating or has vomiting or diarrhea, switch back to the old food and make the transition even more slowly. Call your veterinarian for advice if your dog’s symptoms continue after switching back to their old diet.

Quick Dog Food Switch

Sometimes you have to change your dog’s food without a transition period. Healthy adult dogs can safely miss a few meals if they refuse a serving or two of the new food using this method. If your dog is still refusing to eat after two days or they’ve developed vomiting or diarrhea at any point, try a different food or call your veterinarian for advice.

Do NOT use this method for puppies or dogs with health problems. It can be dangerous for them to go without food.

  • Day 1, Meal 1:
    • Offer just a small amount of the new food—about a quarter of what they’d normally eat in a meal.
    • If your dog doesn’t eat it in 30 minutes, pick it up and don’t offer more food until their next meal.
  • Day 1, Meal 2:
    • If your dog ate their last meal well, offer a bigger portion of the new food.
    • If your dog didn’t eat their last meal, offer just a small amount of the new food.
    • If they don’t eat it in 30 minutes, pick it up and don’t offer more food until their next meal.
  • Day 1, Meal 3:
    • If your dog ate their last meal well, offer a bigger portion of the new food.
    • If your dog didn’t eat their last meal, offer just a small amount of the new food.
    • If they don’t eat it in 30 minutes, pick it up and don’t offer more food until their next meal.
  • Day 2, Meal 1:
    • If your dog ate their last meal well, offer a bigger portion of the new food.
    • If your dog didn’t eat their last meal, offer just a small amount of the new food.
    • If they don’t eat it in 30 minutes, pick it up and don’t offer more food until their next meal.
  • Day 2, Meal 2:
    • If your dog ate their last meal well, offer a bigger portion of the new food.
    • If your dog didn’t eat their last meal, offer just a small amount of the new food.
    • If they don’t eat it in 30 minutes, pick it up and don’t offer more food until their next meal.
  • Day 2, Meal 3:
    • If your dog ate their last meal well, offer a normal meal size of the new food.

How to Find a Similar Formula When Changing a Dog’s Food

Another trick to making a diet change go smoothly is to make the change as small as possible. If your dog likes eating wet food, pick a new wet food; don’t try switching to dry.

If beef is their favorite flavor, stick to beef-based diets. Look at the old food’s ingredient list and guaranteed analysis and try to find a new food that is a close match in as many ways as possible. Staying with the same manufacturer can help as well.

Troubleshooting When Switching Dog Foods

Some problems that are commonly seen when switching dog foods can be handled at home:

  • Your dog refuses the new diet – As long as it’s safe for your dog to miss a few meals, let them get hungry, but do not try this with puppies or dogs with underlying health problems, including dogs that have diabetes and are on insulin. You can also try a meal topper to entice them to eat, but if your dog is changing diets for medical reasons, ask your veterinarian if a meal topper is appropriate based on the specifics of their case.

  • Your dog develops mild diarrhea – If you can, go back to your dog’s old diet for a few days until their stool returns to normal, and then try to make the transition to the new food more slowly. Mixing some plain pumpkin into the food or giving your dog a probiotic can also help.

  • Your dog becomes gassy – Gassiness will usually improve after a dog has eaten a new diet for a few days. A nutritional supplement designed to help with gas may speed the process along. (Example: Vet’s Best Gas Busters)

Talk to your veterinarian if your dog develops severe diarrhea, starts vomiting, or their milder symptoms don’t clear up in a couple of days.

 

Your vet can prescribe appropriate treatment or perhaps recommend a different diet that will be better a better match for your pup.

Featured Image: iStock/Chalabala


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