Your dog’s primary food is an important part of keeping him healthy and active, so it’s important to know how to switch the dog’s food safely. A change that’s too fast or that involves ingredients that the dog can’t digest properly can cause problems. Luckily, most of these issues are relatively mild gastric upset, which may include diarrhea and vomiting. Even this can be dangerous for young or underweight dogs, though, and some dogs may have a much more violent reaction. The best approach is to take it slow, make sure you really do have to switch, and make detailed observations about your dog’s temperament and progress.
Decide why you’re switching
Your dog’s staple food is not something to change on a whim. Why are you switching? If you’re going to a higher-quality food, dealing with food allergies or intolerance, or changing to an age-appropriate food as your dog gets older, that’s great. If your dog seems to be losing interest in a food that he previously liked, then you may want to hold off on the switch. Bear in mind that a dog’s appetite will change with the weather, physical activity levels, and even his mood on any given day. If you see a significant lack of appetite or other signs of illness when the dog has previously done well on his current food, then get an evaluation from a vet.
Switching from one dry food to another
Changing your dog’s dry kibble from one brand or type to another is pretty straightforward. In this case, a lot of the base ingredients are similar, and the actual mass of the food probably won’t change significantly. Usually, a simple gradual switch works the best. Start with replacing about 20% of the dog’s meal with the new food. Let him eat that amount for several days, and then do about 40% new food and 60% old food. It should take about two weeks to switch to 100% new food.
Changing up dry food for a raw food diet
While a canine raw food diet is often better for your dog’s health, especially if the dog has high nutrition needs such as an extremely active lifestyle, it is a more drastic switch from dry kibble. In general, dogs handle the switch very well in terms of gastric upset. However, you’ll usually feed a lot less raw food than dry kibble since it’s all high-quality, nutrient-packed ingredients. Just like someone who starts on a healthy diet and significantly decreases their portion sizes, your dog may feel persistently hungry if the switch goes too quickly.
Keep plenty of cold, fresh water available at all times to help the dog keep his stomach feeling full. Decrease the amount of dry kibble very slowly, and be ready to vary the schedule if your dog acts frantic for food. Most dogs will eat raw food much more readily than dry kibble, so don’t be alarmed or feel that you’re starving the dog if he gobbles up his entire meal very quickly. When in doubt, discuss your dog’s exact nutrition and calorie needs with your vet, and keep the vet updated on your schedule for changing the food.
Important warning signs and precautions when switching dog food
Throughout the entire process of switching your dog’s food, be alert for any change in behavior or health that may indicate food intolerance. Watch for diarrhea and vomiting, lethargy, increased itching, coughing or sneezing. Mild symptoms may go away quickly, but any worrying signs should be reported to your vet. Slow down the food change schedule for dogs with sensitive stomachs. If you’re switching for an allergy, discuss the pros and cons of changing the dog food faster with your vet. Severe allergies may require a “cold turkey” switch, but mild food intolerance may be worth dealing with until the dog can complete a slow switch.
Every dog has different nutrition needs at each stage of life. Always talk to your vet about the most recommended diets for your dog’s size, age and activity level. The internet is full of misinformation; don’t risk your dog’s health if you’re not sure, and get personalized recommendations from a trusted vet.