The Water Bowl
Breed & Health Resources

Switching Dog Food: When, How, and What to Choose

By Dr. Patty Khuly

french bulldog eating dog food

It is not uncommon for our pets to experience food allergies, a sudden upset stomach, or other digestive issues. If you’re one of those pet parents who is currently asking themselves, “should I switch my pet’s food? Where do I start?” – you’re not alone.

While cats are notoriously picky eaters, dogs can also be tricky when it comes to stomach sensitivity. Most owners must be very careful when considering changing diets, food suppliers, and treats; lest they face the wrath of canine gastrointestinal issues!

These concerns, mixed with the recent change in veterinarian food standards, has caused many pet owners to seek advice. Embrace is here to help:

New Research on Canine Food Standards

Recently, veterinary cardiologists took the unprecedented step of issuing a nutritional alert on behalf of dogs nationwide. Not since the Great Pet Food Recall of 2007 have so many brands of pet food been potentially implicated in the snowballing flak over one ingredient. This time, veterinarians are calling out the lack of taurine in canine food brands.

Taurine and grain-free foods are the focus of the scandal. Taurine is an amino sulfonic acid that is a building block for protein; it is a necessity in keeping the brain, eyes, and heart healthy. We’ve long known that taurine is essential for cardiac health in cats. Yet, according to a study published in August 2018, an insufficiency of taurine in these diets may be responsible for certain diseases of the heart muscle in dogs, as well.

The newfound importance of this nutritional variable has hastened a fresh round of hand-wringing over what’s best for our pets. Given that nutrition plays such a crucial role in the home-delivered health of our pets, many dog owners are now asking themselves if it’s time to either switch brands or apply themselves to home-cooked recipes with renewed vigor.

Here is a breakdown on the signs of when to switch, what options you have, and how to ease into the process.

When to Switch Dog Food

There are many reasons pet owners decide to change their pet’s diet. If your dog is displaying any of the behaviors below, they may be in need of a dietary change:

  • Change in life stage (puppy to adult, in particular)
  • Change in eating habits (for example, some dogs start to prefer wet diets once they’ve lost a few teeth)
  • Healthcare condition (diabetes, kidney disease, food allergy, inflammatory bowel disease, liver disease, heart disease, etc.)
  • Gastrointestinal sensitivity (not necessarily considered a true healthcare “condition”)
  • Optimizing coat condition
  • Need to administer medications (sometimes it’s easier to switch over to wet and offer meds therein than to try and trick dogs into scarfing down a pill pocket or “cream cheese surprise”)
  • Finickiest (this is perhaps the least defensible reason but it’s the one I’m most often treated to)
  • Better selections in the marketplace (price, quality, location of distribution, etc.)
  • Pet food brand recalls

These are all reasonable reasons. But recognize that sometimes you don’t need to change foods altogether. Adding in supplements or specific ingredients can often get you to the same place without having to make a big switch.

Explore Your Dog Food Choices

Some owners may have pets that need a consultation with a veterinary nutritionist. These pets may need special home-prepared meals that fit their specific nutrient deficiency needs or dietary supplements. Others may be content with commercial diets or store-bought brands. Here are some common routes that pet owners can take when it comes to their pet’s diet:

  • Home- prep recipes vs. Commercial diets
  • Raw prepared foodvs. Cooked food
  • Wet food vs Dry food
  • Therapeutic diets vs Supplemented Diets
  • Standard supermarket brands vs. Super-premium pet store brands

The choices seem almost endless. If you suddenly have more time on your hands, you’re retired, or a new empty-nester, you might just want to home-prepare. Or, if you happen to have a larger pool of disposable income, it might be time to step up and feed a brand with more selective ingredients. If your pet has just been diagnosed with a disease that’s amenable to nutritional therapy, you’ll want to make some changes.

Then there’s the possibility that you just might want to hedge your bets and start mixing home-cooked with your existing commercial diet, add in a pricier brand, or start switching over to wet after your pet’s recent round of dental extractions.

The options are limitless yet directly related to your individual pet. The safest option is to speak to your veterinarian, or veterinary nutritionist, to see what is recommended.

How to Ease Your Dog into a New Diet

To avoid such disasters (or at least temper the effects), a gradual introduction of the new food is recommended. To be safe, it’s typically undertaken as a five-to-seven day adventure in mixing diets. The general idea is as follows: mix a quarter of the new in with three-quarters of the old for at least a couple of days. If there are no ill effects, no softening of the stools or other evidence of GI distress, continue to half-and-half then to three-quarters and a quarter. It’s simple!

Tips and Tricks to Consider When Switching

Here are some tips to help dogs who suffer from extra gastrointestinal sensitivity or whose appetite issues might just make things more troublesome:

  1. Consider offering your dog a probiotic for a couple of weeks, starting a few days before the switch. Probiotics offer your pup’s body lots of wonderful bacterial colonies, as they do with humans. After all, it’s not the sensitivity of our actual intestines that’s typically the trouble, it’s the sensitivity of our bodies’ bacterial colonies.
  2. Add something starchy, like boiled rice or plain mashed potatoes, during the change. This’ll help settle the belly while addressing some of the issues associated with pickiness. Most dogs like rice and potatoes!
  3. Some dogs dislike the texture of wet food. If you’re switching over to a wet diet, consider offering water in his dry food for a few days before offering the wet. This’ll help mitigate the risk of refusal due to the change in texture.
  4. Be patient! It takes time for some dogs’ palates to become acclimated to new foods. But don’t be afraid to back down and try another diet if after a week the new food is getting no love.

Whatever your life circumstances, there are choices to explore. Your veterinarian is always a good place to start, but recognize that some veterinarians don’t make nutrition their forte; don’t be afraid to reach out to a specialty veterinarian for help!

While you can't predict when your pet is going to get sick or injured, you can protect yourself from expensive veterinary bills. Embrace Pet Insurance gives you the freedom to do what’s best for your pet without stressing over the cost. Easily personalize your coverage to fit your budget and your pet’s needs, then visit any vet for nose-to-tail coverage. Check out what the Embrace plan covers or compare pet insurance providers to learn more.

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