Gradually Mix the Food
It is important to change diets gradually. Switching foods too quickly can cause vomiting, diarrhea, or excess gas. Unlike humans, dogs and cats often eat the same diet for months or years, and their digestive systems are not as used to change.
If at any time during transition, your pet experiences gastro-intestinal upset, keep the ratio of old to new food the same for several days. This will allow your pet to adjust to the new ratio before you incorporate more new food. This is just a guideline, and you can increase transition time if your pet is particularly sensitive.
The following is recommended when switching to dry pet foods.
- Decrease the amount
When switching to a higher quality dog food, the food is often times more nutrient dense. This means that the food is higher calorie per cup, so the pet gets the same number of calories in less food. If you give your pet the same amount of a higher quality / higher calorie food, it can cause diarrhea and/or weight gain from over-feeding. Use the back of the bag as a guideline for feeding recommendations, but remember that usually those recommendations aren’t one size fits all, and an average pet may need less to maintain their ideal body weight.
Use an actual dry measuring cup to correctly portion your pet’s food.
A food scoop, coffee mug, drinking cup, or big gulp container are not all equal! Using the wrong size ‘cup’ can result in overfeeding, which in turn can cause loose stool. In addition, remember that feeding guidelines give the total amount to be fed per day, not for each meal
- Add Digestive Aids
Mix in some pumpkin – Plain pumpkin is a great source of soluble fiber, and can help prevent digestive upset.
Add a probiotic – Anytime a dietary change is made, the delicate balance of bacteria in a pet’s digestive system can be altered. Adding some of these beneficial bacteria can help the digestive system adjust to the new food and help prevent gas or other gastro-intestinal upset.
The “Cold Turkey” Switch
In some cases, a slow transition is not possible. If the pet has been sick on the old food, or if the old food is unavailable, you may have to switch foods without mixing. Another exception to a gradual switch could be switching from a grain based kibble, to a grain free kibble or raw diet. Grains digest more slowly than an all meat diet, and sometimes when the two are mixed, the different rates of digestion can cause digestive upset. If a gradual change isn’t working or isn’t possible, the following is recommended:
1. Fast your pet for a day – Skip one meal so their stomach is empty and ready to digest the new food. Don’t skip more than one day though, especially with cats!
2. Feed less – For just the first day, feed about half their normal amount. This will keep pets from getting too much new food at once.
3. Add digestive aids – Pumpkin and probiotics are always recommended with a “cold turkey” switch.
Things to Remember
- Give it time – if you notice any issues, go back a step or transition more slowly.
- Not one food is best for every pet – just because a food has great ingredients, or you like something about it, does not mean your pet will do well on it. If you follow the steps above, and your pet is not thriving, pick a different food.
- Allergies or skin & coat issues can take up to three months to resolve completely. If your pet does well with the food transition, give those other issues some time to get better.
- Change in stool – you may notice a change in the appearance of your pet’s stool even after the transition period. This is normal and can be a result of the change in the amount of fiber and protein in the new diet.
- Consult with your veterinarian – If your pet has loose stool for more than a day or two, shows other signs of gastro-intestinal distress, or just isn’t acting like their normal self, never hesitate to get them checked out by their veterinarian.