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Switching Dog Food: How to Make the Change

By Dr. Patty Khuly

french bulldog eating dog food

You’ve decided to change dog foods. Now for the hard part … or not, depending on your dog’s appetite. While the post I wrote on cats went into some detail regarding the legendary (but very real) pickiness of cats, this post focuses rather more on its canine equivalent: their legendary (but very real) gastrointestinal sensitivity.

Not sure what I’m talking about? Consider yourself lucky. You’re in the minority of dog owners who’s yet to experience a truly foul round of bloody, blow-out diarrhea after running out of dog food and deciding to feed a random kibble on a whim. Indeed, most dogs will experience at least some digestive upset after a hard switch.

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 this: 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 on to half and half then to three-quarters and a quarter. It’s simple!

Tips and Tricks to Consider When Switching Dog Diets

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. Whenever I travel to another country I take along some Culturelle probiotics. Because I have little interest in spending my trip in the loo, I choose to ingest these little pills that offer my body lots of wonderful bacterial colonies. They help my Gi tract handle all kinds of new things. (TMI?)

    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. Same goes for dogs. Make sure you ask your vet for a brand-name recommendation (it matters!).
  2. Maybe offer a prebiotic too. Prebiotics are ingredients that feed the good bacteria and thereby support their health and proper function. These typically include digestible fibers like those found in pumpkin and psyllium husk. A plop or two of canned pumpkin in their food truly is a wonderful thing.
  3. 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!
  4. If you’re switching over to a wet diet and you think your dog might not like the change in texture, 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.
  5. 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.

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