While it is always a good idea to keep your dog on a well-balanced dog food that is consistent over the life of the dog, there are some reasons why you may want or need to change foods. One of the biggest reasons includes switching your puppy from a puppy formula to an adult formula, or changing to a particular brand that you know is more nutritionally balanced for your dog.
Occasionally dogs may also develop allergies or may begin to refuse some foods, which will necessitate the need to switch dog food brands or types within the same brand. Senior dogs that are less active may need to be switched to a lower protein, lower fat diet to help keep weight down as natural energy levels decrease over time. Diabetic dogs and dogs with other health conditions may also need to be switched to specific types of food to help with maintenance, health or recovery from a disease or condition. Pregnant and nursing females will also need to change foods during the last few weeks of pregnancy as well as while they are responsible for feeding the puppies.
Finally, you may find that a dog you are rehoming or adopting needs to be switched to the food you are currently feeding your other dogs. All of these possibilities are good reasons to change dog foods. Reasons that are not considered to be good include:
Switching to whatever brand is on sale
Switching just to give the dog a change
Switching foods on an ongoing basis because you just buy whatever brand you see on the store shelves
Too much switching or regular switching of dog foods can result in several conditions and while none are serious on their own if the dog does have other health conditions they can really have a negative impact. Common symptoms of switching foods too rapidly or too often include diarrhea or constipation, bloating, excessive gas, straining to defecate, increased frequency of bowel movements, vomiting, food refusal, lack of energy and pain through the abdominal area. If the dog stops eating there is also a concern with weight loss, poor coat quality and anemia.
How To Switch Foods Correctly
The biggest problem that most people have with switching either a dog or a puppy to a different type of food is that they don't take the time to gradually adjust the dog's digestive system to the new food. Rather they simply feed one type of food one day and then empty a new food into the bowl the next.
When the dog is faced with the new type of food they have two reactions, one is to simply gobble and gulp the food down or the other is to tentatively try a few bites and turn up their nose. To stop either of these types of behaviors the correct way to switch food is gradual and measured.
Start planning to switch the food when you have approximately two to three weeks supply of the old food remaining, especially if you are buying larger bags of kibble. For properly switching the food to minimize digestive and eating problems is it better to have the dog eating regular meals rather than having access to food free choice, however either option will work.
To first prepare for the switch be sure to carefully measure your dog's food portion at every meal. Know exactly what measurement, such as one cup, three cups or a cup that you routinely give your dog at each scheduled feeding. If your dog leaves food behind in the bowl, drop back slightly until he or she is eating the whole portion provided.
Purchase a bag, can or container of the new food, in this example dry kibble will be used but the process is the same for the other food types. On whatever day you want to start, measure the total original ration of the old food, then add the new food to bring up the total to the full portion. Mix the old and the new food well, don't leave the new sitting on the top or bottom of the bowl as picky eaters can work around eating the new food if they don't like it as much as the old food. Feed this mixture for a week, ensuring that the dog is still eating the complete portion at each feeding. If the dog is refusing to eat, add a slight amount of warmed low sodium chicken or beef broth just to moisten but not soak the food. If you are doing this dispose of any leftover food and wash the dish between feedings to prevent bacterial growth. The second week go back to the original fully dry mixture, then continue on from there.
The next week mix the old and new foods at a ratio of 1 to 1 or half of the old food and half of the new food. Feed this for one week and providing the dog is eating well go to a mixture of new and old for the following seven days. The last week the dog should be on full rations of the new food and you should have had no major digestive disturbances. You may notice the dog has some gas and possibly looser stools for a few days, but that should be the extent of the problem.
Not to pick on toy dogs, but sometimes these breeds are, shall we say, both spoiled and very headstrong breeds. They are often the most challenging to switch food with, particularly if you are trying to move from a canned or semi-moist food to a dry kibble. In these cases if the dog refuses food, skipping a meal or two may be appropriate until the dog gets hungry enough to sample the much healthier kibble. Check with your vet first if the dog misses more than two feeding in a row, and be very carefully about not providing any treats or snacks as this can sabotage your plans.