How to Change a Pet's Diet

Whenever possible, change your pet's food gradually.
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For a variety of reasons, a dog owner must occasionally change his pet’s diet. While most dogs are eager eaters who do not mind changing foods, make the switch gradually to avoid causing digestive problems for your pooch. If you must change your dog’s diet quickly, avoid offering her too much of the new food at once. Regardless of the reasons or pace of the intended change, consult your veterinarian first to ensure your pet stays healthy.

Common Reasons for Changing Foods

On some occasions, such as during a dog food recall, abrupt dietary changes are unavoidable. Additionally, nutritional deficiencies or food allergies may cause your pet to have an upset stomach, itchy skin or irritated ears. Such problems require a visit to the veterinarian, who may encourage a relatively rapid dietary switch. Even if you and your pup manage to avoid such acute problems, your pet’s nutritional needs will change over time – pregnancy and nursing will also change her body’s needs. However, you can usually make such dietary changes slowly, over a week’s time or more.

Gradual Changes

If you need to change your dog’s food because she has graduated from puppyhood or is entering old age, for example, make the transition gradually. Limit intestinal distress by changing the food gradually over a period of five to seven days. Initially, mix a small amount of the new food in with the old. If your dog accepts the food eagerly and digests it without ill effect, increase the percentage of new food in each meal.

When You Must Change Quickly

If your dog develops a strong allergy or begins refusing her normal food, you may have to switch her food quickly. To do so, replace the old food with a new food that is as similar as possible, recommends the PetMD website. For example, if your pup’s old food was primarily composed of chicken and rice, select a new food with a similar composition. If you must switch foods completely and immediately, offer your dog small meals at first. If she suffers no intestinal distress for several hours, offer her a small amount again. Continue slowly offering more per serving when you are sure she is tolerating the new food well.

Keep Your Vet in the Loop

Always consult with your veterinarian before switching your dog’s food, particularly if you are changing it for health reasons. Pet nutrition is a nuanced issue, complicated by misleading claims and hype. Your vet can help ensure your pet is getting an appropriate number of calories; the proper balance of protein, fats and carbohydrates; and all of the essential vitamins and minerals she needs. Discuss her nutritional needs with your veterinarian at least once per year regardless of whether you're considering a diet change. (Reference 3)