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How to Transition Dog Food: Switching From Old To New Food

Thinking about switching dog food? Learn from experts how to change dog food so that the transition goes smoothly and your dog stays happy and healthy.

Written by: Kylie Ora Lobell

Last Updated on February 23, 2024 by Dogster Team

Dog eating food from a bowl

How to Transition Dog Food: Switching From Old To New Food

Your dog may be experiencing stomach issues. Perhaps he needs to lose weight. Or, he might be getting older. No matter what the reason is, now you’re looking into switching dog food.

There is a correct way to transition dog food, which involves not switching your dog food too fast or overfeeding your dog. This will ensure the process goes as smoothly as possible and your dog enjoys his new food. Learn from the experts why it’s important to change dog food at certain times of your pup’s life as well as how to properly do it.

Why would I need to switch my dog’s food?

Sometimes, the ingredients in a dog’s food make him sick. Dr. Shannon Barrett, of Charleston, South Carolina, says these health issues include a decrease in appetite, soft bowl movements or vomiting.

Another symptom could be skin allergies. Signs of a skin allergy include chronic ear infections, chronic anal gland irritation/infections, paw licking and generalized itchiness. While many owners believe that their dogs have an environmental allergy or a grain allergy, Dr. Barrett says most dogs are allergic to the protein source found in their food.

If your dog is dealing with a medical problem, transitioning to a different food could help. For instance, if he has diabetes or kidney disease, your veterinarian might recommend changing his diet, says Dr. Megan Conrad at Hello Ralphie, a vet telehealth service.

a brown and white dog sitting next to a bowl of food
Image Credit: Ayla Verschueren, Unsplash

How often should I switch my dog’s food?

There are different opinions on how often to switch a dog’s food, but according to Dr. Barrett, you should only do it if you need to. Changing it too often can make your dog become a picky eater. She says that introducing too many flavors to your dog can backfire in the future if you need to switch him to a prescription diet with a blander flavor. Your dog may not be interested in it if he’s been eating a variety of foods his entire life.

Switch dog food when the ingredients in the food aren’t appropriate for a dog’s size and age, according to Dr. Alex Schechter, of Burrwood Veterinary in Birmingham, Michigan. The wrong dog food can lead to nutritional deficiencies.

Can switching dog food too fast make my dog sick?

Switching dog food too fast, or switching dog food without mixing, can lead to an upset stomach, among other health problems. In order to avoid any issues, the safest thing you can do is gradually change foods so that your dog gets used to the new food, says Dr. Barrett.

She explains it’s crucial to mix the two foods over several days using a very specific ratio. Here is a dog food transition chart you can follow:

  • Days 1 to 3: Mix in 25% of the new dog food with 75% of the old dog food
  • Days 3 to 6: Mix 50% of the new dog food and 50% of the old dog food
  • Days 6 to 9: Mix 75% of the new dog food and 25% of the old dog food
  • Day 9 and moving forward: Feed your dog 100% of the new diet

Monitor for vomiting, diarrhea and soft stools. Dr. Barrett says this should be done during the first three days. If your dog gets sick at the start of the transition, talk to your veterinarian to figure out a new plan. You may have to switch foods again or go back to the previous ratio for three to four more days to see if that helps, says Dr. Barrett. The transitioning process should take 9 to 12 days total, but let your dog and his stomach guide you.

You shouldn’t introduce any new treats during this time. Dr. Barrett explains that if you notice your dog is turning away from his food bowl or isn’t interested in the food, it doesn’t mean that he doesn’t like the flavor. Instead, he might be feeling queasy.

How much food should I give when changing dog food?

Aside from making a gradual transition, follow the feeding guidelines on the dog food bag to portion the food correctly. Feeding your dog too much could cause weight gain or diarrhea. Reducing the amount of food you give your dog and giving your vet-prescribed digestive aids can help when it comes to improving his digestion during the transition phase, explains Dr. Schechter.

How important is using high-quality dog food?

Switching dog food without mixing your old dog food with the new food can upset your dog’s stomach. © KLH49/ Getty Images

Your dog could be experiencing health issues because poor quality food might contain harmful additives he’s coming in contact with, according to Dr. Schechter. Switching to a premium or high-quality dog food could be the answer.

But what does a high-quality dog food include? According to VCA Animal Hospitals, dogs should eat a combination of meat and vegetables with all the vital nutrients that make up a dog’s well-balanced diet. This includes the right amount of certain essential amino acids found in proteins, minerals, some essential fatty acids from fat and vitamins. The right amounts are going to change based on a dog’s stage of life, like puppy, adult, pregnancy or senior.

Purchase the highest quality dog food you’re able to afford as opposed to a budget dog food, which may hurt your dog’s digestive system. The ingredients in the food should be real and recognizable, and if they’re not, look for another food, according to VCA Animal Hospitals.

Most older, sedentary and neutered or spayed dogs don’t have as high of energy requirements, so use a lower-calorie dog food (as long as your veterinarian says it’s OK). /According to VCA Animal Hospitals, there should be less than 350 calories per cup of dog food. If the food is too high-calorie, your pup could gain weight and suffer from health problems.

Buy enough food for the dog’s entire food transition

The supply chain issues of the past two years has affected the pet food industry. If possible, Dr. Barrett recommends purchasing two bags of your pet’s food so that you have a backup.

If you do run out and can’t find your dog’s specific food, purchase a food with the same protein source, as well as similar ingredients. If your pet is eating a brown rice and salmon diet, look for a salmon and oat diet or another fish-based diet. This could keep your dog from getting sick, says Dr. Barrett.

Consult with your veterinarian before switching dog food

Before you make any changes to your dog’s food, consult with your dog’s veterinarian. There could be larger issues going on, such as disease or allergies, and your veterinarian may want to test your dog before you change the food.

Staying in touch with your veterinarian and monitoring your dog’s health as you transition to a different dog food are the keys to success with a new diet.

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