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Latest health and behavior news and advice from the veterinarians at Tufts University.

Features February 2020 Issue

Why It’s Important to Switch to a New Food Gradually

Dogs have more delicate systems than you might think.

© anastas | Bigstock

If you introduce the new food gradually, your dogís sensitive stomach will be able to make the adjustment without undue problems.

Your dog has to go on a weight management diet, or a prescribed diet to cut down on the risk for kidney stones, or a special diet for heart or kidney disease. You might think that because so many dogs will scarf up any food in sight, all you have to do is stop feeding the food he has been eating and start feeding the new one. That does work in some cases, but much of the time, a more gradual transition is necessary to avoid the unpleasant symptoms of gastrointestinal upset — gurgling, excess gas, diarrhea, vomiting, and constipation. How gradual?

Some dogs will need a month to 6 weeks to make the transition comfortably, although in most cases, a week should do, says Tufts board-certified veterinary nutritionist Deborah Linder, DVM. She recommends checking the chart below as a general guideline:

The guideline is for percentages by calories, Dr. Linder comments, not the amount you scoop into a measuring cup. That’s because a cup of the new food may contain more or fewer calories than a cup of the old. She says to check the label for calories per cup or can.

Even if you follow this guideline to the letter, your dog may have some soft stools and a bit of stomach gurgling. That’s okay if your pet is still acting his usual peppy self, the doctor says. You’ll just want to stretch the transition a little longer. Go back to the previous ratio of old-to-new food for a day or two and then continue from there.

But call the veterinarian if your dog’s stomach upset is continuing to cause problems — including bouts of liquid diarrhea that last more than a day, or symptoms like vomiting that are making him not want to eat or engage in his usual activities. It’s possible the new food is simply the wrong choice. Or maybe it is the right choice, but the switch has to be made even more slowly. The doctor will advise you on whether to stick with the current choice or try a new diet.

Whatever happens, don’t panic. There are usually several different types and brands of foods for medical issues that need to be addressed with diet. If one food turns out not to be the solution, another will.

Comments (2)

First time dog owner and my experience these past two years is that my dog tires of eating the same dog food. The food he gobbled up for months is now left uneaten in his dish. I get it.

In talking with other dog owners, they have similar experiences with their dogs. I just heard the term " rotational diet" for dogs which I've come to understand means giving them a variety of foods so they don't get bored with their food

I would like to see more information on the rotational diet from Tufts-a trusted resource. I'm hearing different theories of how to implement such a plan. This article provides insight on the gradual introduction of new food. How would that work in a rotational diet?

As a PS- I wish dog food companies would offer samples prior to our plunking down $$$ to buy a bag that my dog doesn't like! I found a local store that allows the return of food .

Posted by: CharHav | February 17, 2020 10:29 AM    Report this comment

I'm confused by seemingly contrasting advice. I keep reading that mixing up your dog's food frequently, specifically to include varying protein sources, is beneficial. Is this not the case?

Posted by: Odielove | February 3, 2020 10:25 AM    Report this comment

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