How (and Why!) to Properly Transition Food

So you’ve decided to change foods for your dog. Maybe it’s a new brand you’d like to try, or maybe your veterinarian recommended it for health reasons. Great, go for it! You are then told that you need to transition from one food to the next slowly. You may think, dog food is dog food, right? Except for a few ingredients, how different can it be? Why on Earth do you need to be so cautious when changing foods?

First, think of your dog…

A new food has novelty! It is a new taste adventure! A change in food can often increase a finicky dog’s enthusiasm for food. If a dog isn’t overly picky, however, they might be overzealous and eat too quickly. They ingest air as they gulp down the food, which can cause cramping and in extreme cases, dangerous gas bloating in the stomach. Ouch!

Switching from one food to another introduces a different level of fat, protein, and carbohydrate to their gastrointestinal system. Have you ever abruptly increased your dietary fiber in an attempt to be healthy? Did that go well? How about overindulging on a type of food that didn’t agree with you, such as dairy, wheat, or extra spicy Tex-Mex? (On second thought, don’t answer that, I’m getting too personal). Perhaps if you had introduced this offending substance more slowly, your body might have had a chance to signal you about a potential problem prior to your full-bore gastrointestinal disaster. The concept is similar with your dog. Don’t let a bout of severe vomiting or diarrhea be your first warning that something is amiss with the new diet. Watch for appetite changes, belching, flatulence, and decreasing eagerness to eat the new food.

Next, be a little selfish…

Does getting up in the middle of the night multiple times to let your dog out due to upset stomach (and whatever other symptoms he or she may be having) sound like something you’d tolerate well? How about cleaning up vomit? Don’t get upset at something your furry companion had no control over. Instead, switch that food slowly!

The Big Switch

So what’s the best way to transition food from one to another? Plan out the next 7-10 days and each day mix slightly more of the new food in with the old food. For example:

   Day 1: 10% new food, 90% old food
   Day 2: 20% new food, 80% old food
   Day 3: 30% new food, 70% old food….and so on…

You may be thinking, “Do I really need to be this careful with my dog? He can eat garbage from the trash and be fine!” The answer, I’m afraid, is a resounding “maybe.” Some pets tolerate abrupt food changes well without so much as a burp. The adage “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” rings true. For your dog’s sake, as well as your own, it really is best to take it slow.

Dr. JenJennifer Deming, DVM, is a practicing veterinarian and member of the American Academy of Veterinary Nutrition. She strives to improve her patients' wellness through nutrition counseling and preventative medicine. Dr. Deming lives, works, and plays in the beautiful community of Durango, Colorado.