How to Transition you Dog onto a Fresh Food Diet

How to Transition onto a Fresh Food Diet from Kibble

So you want to transition your dog to a fresh lightly cooked dog food. Well let me give you some quick tips and advise on how to do it so that we can avoid your dog getting loose stools during the transition to a new food. And everything can go smoothly.

Prior to transitioning onto the new food…

First evaluate the new food to make sure it fits your dog’s nutritional needs. Nutritional needs are based off a variety of different factors – including age, activity level, pre-existing medical conditions, diagnostics, body condition score, muscle conditioning, stool consistency, hair/coat quality – and more!

Second we want to evaluate the new food for quality control, formulation expertise, ingredient sourcing, research & development, and make sure it’s a complete and balanced diet. You can do this by asking my “9 Questions to ask a pet food company” if you are using a premade diet.

Third we calculate how much to feed of the new diet according to our dog’s nutritional needs and goals.

And Last, we make sure this is the right time to transition our dog to the new food. Typically transitions will take several days to weeks, and we don’t want to do this during a stressful time. Aka if you just adopted or brought home a new dog, you may want to delay the transition for a month or so to allow for your dog to adjust to their new environment before we go switching up their food too.

Calculating How Much to Feed of Premade Fresh Food Diet

Unlike most dry dog foods that have the “amount to feed” listed on their package. Fresh food brands often do not have feeding recommendations listed on their package. But do not despair! There is some pretty simple math you can do can get an estimate of how much to feed of the new food.

1. Look up the kcal/cup on your bag
2. Multiply the kcal/cup by the volume you are feeding
3. This will give you the kcals/day your dog is eating.

If your dog is at a good weight, and this amount makes up 90% of your dog’s overall calories fed then use this amount to calculate how much to feed of the new food.

4. Look up the kcal/ounce of the new food
5. Take total calories per day (step #3) and divide by kcal/ounce of new food.
6. This will give you the ounces to feed per day.
7. Divide this into however meals you want to feed each day.

Below is an example of how you do this.

Calculating How Much to Feed of a Homemade Diet

Similar to the premade diet, we first want to evaluate how much we are currently eating, and make sure our balanced diet/diets are 90% of our dog’s caloric needs. Next we will create a complete and balanced homemade diet around our dog’s caloric needs and nutritional needs. You can do this by using software like BalanceIT. If you are unsure of how to do this you can either check out my tutorial below of how to use BalanceIT to create complete and balanced homemade dog food recipe, or check out my recipe book which has 15+ homemade recipes.

How to Transition to a Fresh Food Diet

Just like with transitions onto any other dog food – transitioning to a homemade diet should be done slowly over at least 4 days. However can be extended for two weeks to several months depending on what you are most comfortable with, along with how your pup does during the transition.

Probably the easiest way to transition onto a homemade diet is what I like to call the “Two Week Transition”

Basically what this involves is either cooking or purchasing one week’s worth of food (if you fed the diet at 100% of calories). Then splitting that diet over two weeks. This will allow us to ease the gastrointestinal tract from one diet to the other without shocking the system. It also makes is much easier to meal-prep or purchase food.

Get out 14 containers, fill seven with the new diet at 100%. Then take 75% of the food from the first four containers and place it into the last four containers. Next remove 50% of the food from last three containers and place it into the three empty containers. Then you just fill in to 100% with your old food. This will give you a two week transition!

Basically what you do is feed:

  • Day 1-4: 25% New Diet, 75% Old Diet
  • Day 5-10: 50% New Diet, 50% Old Diet
  • Day 11-14: 75% New Diet, 25% Old Diet
How to do a two week transition from kibble to fresh food.
Example of Two Week Transition Meal Prep

Storage of Fresh Food

I cannot stress this enough – fresh food is FRESH. Meaning you need to store it exactly the same as you store your own fresh food.

Fresh premade or homecooked dog food need to be stored in a similar way as to foods that you cook yourself. Typically foods are okay to be stored in your fridge for 2-3 days, then the rest of the batch should be stored in your freezer.

Containers used need to be air-tight. These can be reusable containers (glass, plastic or stainless steal), or ziplock bags.

Always label your food!

This prevents confusion if someone else is feeding your pup, or you have multiple diets offered to other pets in the home.

At a minimum you should have a color-coding system for each pet if you have a multi-pet home. With feeding instructions placed close at hand in case others need to feed your pet.

Dog Food Label Example:

Pet Name: Fido
Date Cooked: May 24th 2021
Ingredients/Recipe: Beef and Quinoa Recipe
Feeding Instructions: Feed half the container, twice daily. In the morning – add 1 tsp Nordic Naturals Fish Oil, and Glycoflex Joint Supplement.

Meal Rotation for Fresh Food

I highly suggest rotating your food within your fridge, and maybe using one area of your fridge (either a drawer or shelf) just for dog food to make it easier to manage.

Each day get in the habit of taking one meal out of the freezer to be placed into the fridge. When you place the item in the fridge, rotate your food. The new item to defrost goes in the back, then other meals move forward. Then you will always grab from the front.

Monitoring During the Transition

Remember to monitor your dog’s stools during the transition. They should remain firm or normal during the transition period – if they don’t then stay at the percentage you are at. If you can’t seem to advance the transition it’s likely a good idea to transition back to the original diet or “go back to the drawing board” as far as the new diet is concerned.

Stools Chart - Stools should be formed, dry but not hard during the transition
Stool Chart from Royal Canin

Common Reasons Why Fresh Food Diets Don’t Work

When I see people transition their dogs to a fresh food diet and it doesn’t work out there are a couple things that usually pop-up. Especially if they chose to create their own homemade recipe using a formulation software like BalanceIT. Typically people see the best results with transitioning to a fresh food diet if composition is similar to their previous diet to start. Remember – you can always make further adjustments to composition after the initial transition period.

  1. Too High In Fat (>35% on a caloric basis, or >17% on a dry matter basis)
  2. Too High in Fiber (too many vegetables or fruit, or using only high fiber carbs like sweet potato)
  3. Too Little Fiber (no fruit/veggies or carbohydrates used)
  4. Too Much Organ Meat, especially Liver (high in copper which can cause diarrhea)
  5. Poorly Digestible Protein (vegan proteins used such as legumes)

FAQ: Should I give my dog a probiotic during the transition?
It may be useful to use a probiotic during the transition period. This can sometimes assist with the transition especially if your dog is prone to loose stools. However it’s important to note that there is a significant amount of dysregulation in the supplement industry. A 2010 research study showed that 80% of probiotics on the market that they tested did not have the microorganisms listed on the label.

So if you’re choosing a probiotic – choose one with:
1. 5-7 species of beneficial bacteria.
2. Third party testing.
3. Excellent Quality Control.

TIP: look for products with the NASC Seal.

The link below is an amazon affiliate link, and if used I will make a commission off qualifying purchases.

Monitoring After the Transition

Once your dog is on their new fresh food diet it’s important to continue to monitor the mover the next 3-6 months more closely. Typically it’s a good idea to weigh your dog monthly for several months to make sure they are maintaining a good weight on their new food. Then, if your dog has a medical condition – it’s a good idea to speak with your vet about follow-up diagnostics that might be needed.

It’s never a bad idea to do bloodwork including a complete blood cell count (CBC) and blood chemistry metabolic panel (CHEM) after 4-6 months of being on the new recipe. Then compare those values to bloodwork prior to transition. This will allow you and your veterinarian to make any “tweaks” needed to your homemade recipe, or may even recommend you switch premade recipes.

About the Author: Nikki is a Registered Veterinary Technician (Veterinary Nurse) and Dog Mom with over a decade of experience with dogs and cats. Since graduation from college (BS Biology, Dip. Animal Nutrition, AS Animal Science) she has adopted two mixed breed dogs – Ranger and Ash, and has focused her time learning about pet food and nutrition.

Nikki shares information on a range of dog nutrition topics: from how to create a homemade complete and balanced dog food recipes, to how to choose a dog food. Nikki strives to give dog parents the information they need in order to make the best nutrition decisions for their pup!

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