How to Transition your Dog onto a New Food

Prior to transitioning your pup onto a new food there are two main things I want to you consider… The first is if the food your are transitioning your pup to is even appropriate for your pup – meaning is this food the best choice for my pup at this moment in their life. Now sometimes there will be some trial-and-error associated with finding the “perfect” food for your pup, but doing some research prior to the transition can be really helpful, and avoid a lot of headache going forward. If you need help figuring out how to choose a pet food, or how to figure out if a food is appropriate for your pup make sure to head over to my article on that first! The second thing to consider is if it is the right time to transition your pup to the new food…

IS IT THE RIGHT TIME TO TRANSITION MY DOG TO A NEW FOOD?

Should you Transition your Dog to a New Food? Here is a great flow-chart to assist you to make that decision.

There are a couple different reasons you might want to transition your pup onto a new food. The first is that you just brought your new bundle of joy home – either from a local shelter or from the breeder – and you’d like to start them off “right” on a new food your feel comfortable with! The second is that you are looking to transition to a new food due to your pup getting older and maybe you want to move them onto adult food. The third is because you are looking to use food to help control symptoms of a certain medical condition – such as allergies, kidney disease, heart disease, liver disease, urinary disease, etc. The fourth is that you are looking to try a new brand just because you think the diet will fit your pup’s needs or lifestyle better than the food you have used previously!

Now I know jumping straight to the transition might be appropriate in some cases (like in the case of a dog that newly diagnosed with kidney disease), however in some situations it may be best to take a step back and ask ourselves if NOW is even the right time to transition our pet to a new food.

When looking to transition a puppy to an adult food it’s important to take into consideration not only the timing of the transition (eg – has your pup stopped growing), but other factors related to their current needs. For more information on this transition check out my article on when to transition your puppy to adult dog food.

In other situations such as a bringing a puppy or adult dog home for the first time after adopting or purchasing from a breed it can often be better to allow your pup time to transition to other aspects of their home life first, rather than switching their food immediately. This is because the stress of a new environment can actually cause what is called “stress induced diarrhea”. This phenomenon is very common with puppies and adult dogs when they are just brought home – and adding an additional stressors – such as a new food – may make their overall transition to their new life harder, and take longer. It’s always ideal to speak with your veterinarian prior to these transitions because often it is actually better to wait a couple weeks to a month prior to even starting the transition.

TRANSITIONING YOUR DOG TO A NEW FOOD

The basics of transitioning to a new dog food are pretty simple – it is done slowly, over a period of time and should be largely directly by your dog and how they handle the new food NOT by you or your schedule. I know it’s probably not what the “type A” personalities want to hear, but transitioning is done best when we are mindful of our pup’s experiences and adjust to how they are handling the transition. Meaning that your dog’s transition onto the new food might take 4 days, or it might take 3 months – it’s all up to them.

During the transition what you want to do is calculate how much food in total your pup will need on the new diet, and also know how much your pup is currently eating from their current diet. Then for a faster transition – times the new diet amount by 0.25 (or 25%), and the old diet amount by 0.75 (or 75%). So you will be feeding 25% new food, with 75% old food. Each day during the transition you will monitor your pup’s stools – making sure they are firm with a normal consistency – and once you feel that your pup is doing well on this stage of transition you will move onto the next step. You will take the new diet amount and times that by 0.5 (or 50%), and then old diet by 0.5 (or 50%) – and go through the same monitoring process. Then move onto 75% new diet, 25% old diet – again monitoring stool consistency. Finally you will go onto 100% of the new food! If at any point of the transition your pup isn’t doing well, or something just isn’t right – back off and go back to the previous percentages – some dogs no matter how much you force them will not do well on certain types of food or certain diet compositions. So it is important to listen to your pet and look at their individual needs during this process.

How to transition your dog onto a new food. First start with 100% of your current diet, then slowly, while monitoring your pet's stool, remove some of the current diet, and add in the new diet until you are giving 100% of the new diet.

Now if your pup happens to be more sensitive to new foods you may need to go even slower during the transition – maybe in 10% increments instead of 25% – that is totally fine. Some dogs with certain diseases (like IBD) cannot tolerate quick transitions. Their gut needs time to adjust to the new food, and this is normal.

Items that may help during a transition period are Probiotics – which can provide support while the microbiome of the gut is transitioning onto the new food.

When transitioning your dog onto a new dog food it's important to make sure to adjust the amount fed of the new food based on the calories associated with it. You don't want to be feeding too much or too little of the new food to your dog.

MYTHS ASSOCIATED WITH TRANSITIONING

One thing that I do want you to realize is that having loose stools during a transition IS NOT NORMAL, though you can expect your pet’s stool to change and maybe become more loose for a small period of time, you should not continue moving through the transition process if your pet has loose stools.

I know some people call this diarrhea during transition a “detox” – which is not true.

When you switch your dog from one diet to another the entire system has to adjust – the pancreas needs to release different proportions of digestive enzymes, the gut microbiome needs to transition to digest new fibrous materials (or other cellular components), certain digestive systems for vitamins, minerals, proteins or fats may need to be up-regulated or down-regulated in order to maintain homeostasis (or balance) within the body. Though “detox” sounds very exciting – that isn’t what it happening. Their body is adjusting, transitioning, and adapting to a new diet composition. If you move too quickly through this transition process it can cause a medical condition called gastroenteritis – which is simply inflammation to the gastrointestinal system – this inflammation can lead to damage of the different components of the gut.

Dog Food Transitioning MYTH - your dog is NOT detoxing from their old diet during their transition. Their digestive system is simply adjusting to the new food which can cause looser stools. But its important to never continue through the transition until stools are normal again.

Another common myth I hear about transitioning to a new diet centers around raw food – that you cannot combine both raw and kibbled diets together because they “digest at different rates”. Meaning you either have to just go “cold turkey” onto raw, or you have to separate the meals – raw in the morning and kibble at night. This is just not true and is centered around two myths – the first is that the stomach pH of kibble fed dogs is more alkaline because they are digesting a higher starch diet. NOPE – according to a research study done looking at pH in beagles fed kibble – the average pH was 2 (with a range of 0.5 to 3.5 during the digestion process, being more acidic at the start of entering the stomach, and more alkaline when leaving to stomach). But that entire range is still VERY acidic. In comparison – apple cider vinegar has a pH of 3.15, and distilled vinegar has a pH of 2.69. Another side of this argument states that since kibble and raw foods are digested at different rates that will cause issues with digestion.

This again – IS NOT TRUE – our pet’s bodies work to maintain balance, meaning that the stomach will empty at a regular rate as foods are liquefied and broken down sufficiently by the stomach. I like thinking of the stomach as a blender – you put all the food in, then it works to turn it into a liquid so that it can be further broken down in the intestines. The body doesn’t know if it’s kibble and fresh food – its all just food – protein, fat and carbohydrates. When looking at these elements what we know is – carbohydrates have variation in digestibility rate – from digesting quickly (simple carbohydrates) to slower (complex carbohydrates) – these items provide the best source of quick energy for our pups. Proteins digest more slowly because they are more complex, with intricate formations that have to be un-wound prior to being able to break them down. Fats are digested the slowest, but provide the biggest “bang for your buck” as far as meeting energy needs.

Different types of nutrients in dog food are digested at different rates. The carbohydrates found in dog food will digest the quickest, and the fats will digest the slowest.

And like I said – some dogs very easily transition from one diet to another without issue. My pup Ranger is a great example of that – he has what some people call an “iron stomach” and can easily do a 4 day transition without any issues. However my pup Ash has a very sensitive stomach – for him even normal foods cause flares – and he does better on a longer transition (typically at least 14 days if not longer). And with him, I have several times stopped a transition because he couldn’t get over a certain % of a food in the diet. There was nothing wrong with those diets – it was simply that the diet was not for him.

EXCEPTIONS TO THE RULE

Now there are certain exceptions to the rule of a slow transition – often times this will be related to a certain health or medical condition. For example if your pup just had a portion of their bowel removed due to a foreign body perforation – your pup may be immediately transitioned onto a bland, easily to digest, almost liquid diet. Also if your pup ate something bad – like say half the Thanksgiving Turkey – your pup might be immediately transitioned onto a bland diet.

It is never a bad idea to ask your veterinarian prior to doing a transition in order to get their opinion. The great thing about technology now-a-days is most veterinary hospitals have email where you could easily send a non-emergency question – like one speaking about diet transition. They could provide you with information on if the change would be appropriate for your pet, how to do a transition, and if you should even be transitioning your pet at all.

Area you and your pup ready to transition? What diet have your decided to transition your pup to? I’d love to hear from you – make sure to join the conversation on Instagram to ask questions, find answers and connect with other pet parents. I’d love to have you as part of our community of pet lovers.

I hope you and your pup/s have a wonderful day, until next time my Canine Health Nuts!

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