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How to Transition Dog Food
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Dogs have changing nutrition requirements throughout various stages of life. Puppies, adult dogs, and senior dogs all need different diets to ensure they get the proper amount of nutrients to stay healthy and fit.
Unfortunately, switching your dog's food too quickly can cause GI issues because many dogs have sensitive stomachs. Whether your vet is putting your dog on a new diet or it's time for a change based on age, changing pet food is a complex process that requires a smooth transition.
- Reasons For Switching Dog Food
- When Do I Know It's Time to Change My Dog's Food?
- Changing Pet Food
- How Often Should I Be Changing My Dog's Food?
- When Should I Seek a Doctor's Help About My Dog Not Eating?
- Final Notes
Reasons For Switching Dog Food
Dog food is one of the many costs of owning a pet, and the products you purchase and how much you spend will change over the years. But, every pet owner will eventually have to change their dog's food. Even if your dog loves their kibble, here are a few instances when you should switch your dog’s food:
- Life stage: Commercial pet diets are created for a dog's life stage, which is why many of them state "puppy," "adult," or "senior" on the packaging. These life stages determine which nutrients your dog needs and provide them with a balanced diet. Dog nutrition requirements change as they age, so puppies must transition to adult foods while adult dogs transition to a senior dog diet. Make sure you buy food that is suitable for your dog’s life stage to support their energy needs.
- Weight: Overweight dogs are prone to several health conditions, including diabetes, which can shorten their lifespan. Luckily, you can prevent weight gain in dogs and even help dogs lose weight with the right diet. If your dog has recently gained weight, you might put them on a weight management diet instead of feeding them their regular kibble. You can also switch out their treats for crunchy vegetables instead, like celery, baby carrots, or broccoli. Just remember to always carefully monitor your dog’s behavior after feeding them any new food.
- Health: There are several specialty diet options for dogs that can ensure they get the right balance of nutrients depending on their health needs. For example, some foods are specially formulated to address dogs with sensitive stomachs, while others can protect against weight changes, skin conditions, and allergies. It’s important to find food that supports your dog's unique nutritional needs.
When Do I Know It's Time to Change My Dog's Food?
Since there are several reasons to change your dog's food, you might wonder when you should do it. Of course, some answers are obvious. For example, when your puppy becomes an adult, they should transition to adult formula. Here are other signs that it could be time to change your dog's food:
- Dull, dry skin and coat: Your dog needs essential fatty acids for skin and coat health.4 If your dog's coat looks dull or their skin is flaky and dry, your vet may recommend changing their food to something that contains more fatty acids. Luckily, many pet brands have formulas created especially for skin and coat health.
- Lethargy: Your dog's food should give them all the calories they need for daily energy. If your dog seems more tired than usual, it could be due to their diet. While stress, medication, surgery, physical illness, increase in activity, and weather, can affect your dog's energy levels, a proper diet should boost their immunity and provide them with the nutrients their bodies and mind needs to be more alert.
- Change in life stage: As we've mentioned, puppies, adults, and seniors have different nutritional needs. Therefore, when your puppy is fully grown, they should switch to an adult formula. With senior dogs, it's a little more complicated since different breeds age at different paces. However, you can consult your vet to determine when your adult dog should switch to a senior formula.
- Weight gain: Obesity is a common problem in pets. However, changing your dog's diet to a weight management formula may help them lose weight, especially when they can't be as active due to the weather or recent illnesses.2
- GI problems: Your pet's stool can tell you a lot about their GI health. Regularly loose stool may indicate that your dog has a food intolerance or allergy affecting their ability to process nutrients. If you notice that your dog has been suffering from any GI problems, contact your vet so you can figure out an appropriate food to switch them to.
- Itchy skin: Itchy skin is a common sign of food allergies.3 Unfortunately, dogs can be allergic to any ingredient in their food. Since food allergies occur over time, your dog may eat the same food for years before experiencing adverse reactions. However, if your dog has constant itchy skin and/or ear infections, it might be time to switch to a hypoallergenic or prescription diet. If you notice your dog is itching frequently, talk to your vet.
Changing Pet Food
Switching dog food too quickly can cause vomiting, diarrhea, stomach upset, and constipation.3 Of course, while the symptoms are short-lasting, you don't want your dog to experience discomfort, especially when it's associated with their food. You should make it a slow and gradual transition whenever you decide to change your pet's food. Never fill an entire bowl with completely new food. Instead, follow this guide for changing dog food to avoid unpleasant side effects:
- Days 1 & 2: 75% old food with 25% new food
- Days 3 & 4: 50% old food with 50% new food
- Days 5 & 6: 25% old food with 75% new food
- Day 7 & beyond: 100% new food2
Keep in mind that some dogs need a longer transition period. Unfortunately, you won't know until you start with the first day and monitor your dog for signs of GI upset. If your dog experiences GI issues, including gas, diarrhea, or vomiting, give them 10% of new food and 90% of old food the following day and continue to monitor them. Ultimately, you know your dog best, so transitioning dog food can take as little as a week or much longer to prevent uncomfortable symptoms.
If your dog has any adverse reactions to the food, such as nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea, you should have them evaluated by your veterinarian. Your vet may recommend doing an elimination diet, which is when your dog will eat a specific hypoallergenic diet and nothing else for eight weeks.3 This will help to identify if the new dog food was triggering the symptoms.
How Often Should I Be Changing My Dog's Food?
How often you change your dog's diet depends on how well they respond to their food. If your dog's food keeps them healthy and active, there's no reason to change their diet until they've entered another life stage or are experiencing a health issue that might benefit from the new food.
If you do decide to change your dog’s food, make sure you pick the right type. Choose food that is best suited for your dog based on their life stage, age, weight, and nutritional needs. You can always consult with your vet if you need help choosing the best dog food for your pup.
When Should I Seek a Doctor's Help About My Dog Not Eating?
If you've recently switched pet foods and your dog isn't eating, it might be time for a trip to the vet. Of course, there are several potential causes for dogs not eating, including the fact that they might simply not like their new food. Dogs can be picky eaters like humans and cats, so if your dog doesn't eat their new food, consider finding another. Psychological problems are other reasons dogs may not eat. Anxiety and changes in routine can affect your dog's appetite.3
Meanwhile, if your dog's eating habits have changed, and you haven't recently switched the food, it could indicate a serious health issue. Even if your dog isn't showing any symptoms, you should take them to the vet if they haven't eaten for 24 hours or more. Meanwhile, if your dog isn't eating and is vomiting or has diarrhea, you should contact your vet within 8-12 hours for the next steps.3
If you're concerned about your dog's eating habits, try Dutch telemedicine for pets. Our licensed vets can diagnose and treat various illnesses in dogs with online vet prescriptions and personalized plans to ensure your dog lives a happy, healthy life.
If you have a dog that's a picky eater, finding the right food takes time. Then, one day, you'll have to transition them to brand-new food. Most pet parents transition their dogs only when they've reached a new life stage, but illnesses, weight gain, and allergies can force you to change your dog's diet more often. Luckily, a smooth transition over a week should prevent any GI issues.Of course, transitioning dog food is just one part of ensuring your dog's health. Dutch can advise pet parents on how to transition dog food and which option to choose based on health and age. Compare Dutch vs. traditional vets by signing up for your first televet appointment today.
Deborah E. Linder, DVM. “How Do I Switch My Pet's Food?” Clinical Nutrition Service at Cummings School, 25 Nov. 2019, https://vetnutrition.tufts.edu/2019/11/how-do-i-switch-my-pets-food/.
"How to Switch Dog Foods: Transitioning Your Dog's Diet." American Kennel Club, 2 Mar. 2022, https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/nutrition/right-way-switch-dog-foods/.
"Six Signs It's Time to Change Your Pet's Food." PetMD, https://www.petmd.com/cat/centers/nutrition/slideshows/6-signs-time-to-change-pet-food.
The National Academies Press. https://nap.nationalacademies.org/resource/10668/dog_nutrition_final_fix.pdf.
Traverse, Teresa. "Why Won't My Dog Eat? Learn about Reasons Why Your Dog Isn't Eating." American Kennel Club, 22 Sept. 2021, https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/health/why-wont-my-dog-eat/.