Changing dog food isn't something you should rush into, especially when bringing home a new dog. Seeing canines chow down on the contents of an overturned trash can you might be tempted to think they have iron stomachs. The reality, however, is that dogs have surprisingly sensitive tummies, and abrupt changes to their food can upset them. To help make a dog food transition go smoothly for your new housemate, follow these steps:
Start with What He Knows
Ask the shelter to send some food home with you. Ideally, they should provide you with enough for your dog's first week. If they can't, find out what they were feeding your dog before you adopted him and pick up a small bag before bringing him home.
Switch Food Gradually
A lot of pet shelters have budgetary constraints that keep them from feeding premium foods to their animals, so you might be anxious in changing dog food right away. And although your intentions are good, you should resist the urge. Abrupt changes to your dog's diet could result in gastrointestinal disturbances that lead to vomiting and/or diarrhea—and the last thing you want to do is condition him to associate his new home with discomfort.
How gradually should you switch? Most experts recommend taking between five to seven days, adding a little more of the new food and reducing the old each day. PetMD recommends the following feeding ratio:
- On day one, mix 20 percent of the new food with 80 percent of the old.
- On day two, mix 40 percent of the new food with 60 percent of the old.
- On day three, mix 60 percent of the new food with 40 percent of the old.
- On day four, mix 80 percent of the new food with 20 percent of the old.
- On day five, feed your dog 100 percent of his new food.
Watch and Learn
Keep an eye on your dog's reaction to the new food. In addition to signs of stomach upset, you should also keep an eye on your dog's stool. If it appears runny or abnormally soft, or if your dog shows other signs of an upset stomach, slow down this process and give him more time to adjust.
Identify When He's Not Ready
Your dog may not seem to tolerate the new food, no matter how slowly you go, and that's OK too. Slowly shift him back to the old food and start again with something else after giving his tummy a break. It could be that the new dog food contains ingredients to which your dog has an intolerance or allergy. If you continue to have trouble changing dog food, or if his stools contain blood or an unusual color, you should consult a veterinarian.
Keep Him Hydrated
Give your dog plenty of water, especially now, as he'll need to stay hydrated during the transition. If he stops drinking, however, or seems to be drinking an excessive amount, this might be a sign of a more complicated digestion issue with the new food. Again, see your vet to ensure he's taking to it healthily.
How to Change Dog Food Quickly
You might be in a situation where your new dog's previous food is unknown to you, and his old food simply isn't something you can get your hands on. In this case, consider introducing your dog to his new food slowly by feeding him small meals every few hours, keeping an eye out for signs of trouble in between meals. If necessary, choose an easily digestible formula to start off with. Once he's used to it, gradually switch him to your preferred brand or formula.
The potential stomach ache (and mess) should be enough of a reason to go slow when transitioning dog food, but above all, consider the numerous changes your new dog is already dealing with as he settles into his new life. Like people, dogs take comfort in the familiar. Being served the food he knows during his first few days with you will help him feel more at home in his new digs—which is just as good for his emotional health as it is for his digestion.
Jean Marie Bauhaus
Jean Marie Bauhaus is fiction author and freelance writer and editor living in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She writes frequently about pets and pet health in her home office, where she is assisted by a lapful of furbabies.