Imagine eating the same exact thing for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, every day of your life. Wouldn’t that get boring? Your pets think so too! Even though pet food is nutritionally sound, feeding your dog or cat the same food for a very long time can cause problems -- boredom, weight management issues, and maybe even allergy symptoms. One way to get rid of these problems is to know how to safely and effectively transition your pet’s food from old to new.
How to switch your dog or cat to a new diet
When you want to switch your pet’s diet, you should do it gradually to avoid stomach issues. Just like human diet changes, sudden shifts in what your pet is eating can produce gas, intestinal discomfort, bloating, and even diarrhea. Instead, you should introduce new food, be it kibble, raw food, or wet food, gradually over the span of one-to-two weeks, depending on how your pet handles the new food.
On the first few days, you’ll want to include just a small portion of the new food on top of your pet’s old food diet. For example, if your dog eats a cup of food at feeding time, you’ll want to reduce that to three-quarters cup, and add a quarter-cup of the new food on top. If the new food is more nutrient dense, and they’ll need less of it, reduce accordingly. You can check the feeding instructions on the label, and do a bit of math, to get in the right ballpark.
After introducing the food for a few days, you can move on to a half-and-half mixture of their old food and new food. As long as they seem happy and their digestive processes are still going strong, you can switch fully to the new food in the next phase.
What To Watch For: Digestive Troubles
Watch your pet’s poop. It may change in texture or smell, but if there’s diarrhea or other major changes, slow down the food switching process until your pet’s bowels have adjusted. If it’s a cat, you might also watch for strange behavior, e.g., pooping outside of the litter box, although this is rare.
If your pet is having digestive troubles, you can always use some extra food supplements to help. Dehydrated pumpkin is a great source of fiber that should help their digestive systems, and can be given to either cats or dogs. Just like humans, dogs and cats can benefit from probiotic supplements, like goat’s milk.
What To Watch For: Loss Of Appetite
The other major issue you might have when switching your pet’s food is that they may not like it as much as the previous food. There are a few things you can try to solve this problem, especially if the new food is necessary (e.g., a prescription food).
First, if your pet is free-feeding, switch them to a schedule. They may just not be as hungry because they snack all day. You can switch them to a schedule by taking the bowl away after they walk away from it. After a few days, they’ll get the hang of it. You may get some evil looks in the meantime.
Second, if your pet simply doesn’t like the food, you can add some food toppers to get their creative juices flowing. With older animals especially, adding wet food toppers can increase their appetite and make dry kibble or other food more appetizing.
How Often Should I Switch Food?
If your pet likes their food and doesn’t have any issue, there’s no medical reason to switch their food. However, there are lots of human reasons to switch food: you’ve moved farther away from the store where you got your food; the price has increased dramatically; the company has changed the food formula; or any other number of reasons. Switching your pet’s food is not dangerous, and it’s easy if you introduce the new food gradually. In other words: do what’s best for you, your pocketbook, and your pet!