6 Tips When Changing Your Pet’s Food

Sometimes change is necessary—but when it’s to your pet’s diet, be sure to do it right, or be prepared for a mess.

For many years, pet owners were advised by veterinarians and other pet experts to find a good food for their pet and then feed that food for the pet’s lifetime. However, the introduction of puppy foods, adult formulas, foods for senior citizen pets, and foods for certain health situations created new guidelines for feeding our pets. But even with all of these various foods, pet owners tended to stay with one brand. Today, however, the rules for feeding both dogs and cats are not so firmly established and most pet owners seem more willing try different foods.

No matter what you decide to feed your dog or cat, any changes need to be made gradually so as not to upset your pet’s digestive system. Diarrhea and an upset tummy are no fun for anyone.

The 25% Rule is Good for Most Dogs

The most common recommendation for making changes for dogs is to offer 25% of the new food added to 75% of the old food. After several days, then the ratio would be increased to 50% new and 50% old. After several more days, the formula would increase to 75% new food and 25% old food.

Use the 10% Rule for Cats

Cats can be more hesitant about new foods than most dogs; especially if the cat has been eating one food (or one type of food) for a long time. Many cats who grow up eating kibble, for example, refuse to try other types of foods. Making the change gradually is important. Just add 10% of the new food to 90% of the old food. If your cat is still hesitant; reduce the change to 5% new food. Just place the new food in the food bowl with the old food but don’t mix it up. Let your cat get used to the sight and smell of it and then when you can see that your cat has eaten some of the new food, add a tiny bit more at the next meal.

Take Time to Make the Change

Many experts recommend feeding each step in the change for three days before making the next step in the process. So you would feed the 25% new/75% old for three days before going to 50% new/50% old. Some pets can make this kind of a change with no gastrointestinal upsets but because rapid changes can cause soft stools and an upset tummy, I prefer to make the change over three weeks. I feed 25% new/75% old for a week. The second step then is 50% new/50% old for a week. If all goes well, the third week is 75% new/25% old and by the end of that week, my pet can be eating just the new food.

Offer Small Meals Frequently

Several small meals offered throughout the day can tempt a hesitant eater. The total amount fed in these smaller meals should equal the normal daily amount and the ratio of change should remain the same. However, offering small frequent meals can make eating more appealing when the pet is being fed a new food that is different from what he’s used to eating.

Warm Food Smells Better

Dogs or cats who aren’t sure the new food is worth eating can often be convinced otherwise if the food is warmed. This makes the food smell better and since the sense of smell is important to both dogs and cats, this can encourage the pet to try the new food.

Add More Water

Adding some warm water can also make the food more appealing. Instead of water you can add a little broth to the food. A low or no sodium beef, chicken, turkey, or even a vegetable broth can add extra flavor and smell to the food while the extra liquid dilutes the food and makes it softer.

Many dogs and cats thrive with regular food changes. A new food can keep your pet interested in eating and can help eliminate any potential nutritional deficiencies. Some pet owners feed one food for three months, feed the second food for three months, then go back to the first food. Other owners have three foods that are fed in rotation. No matter what you decide to do, just make any changes gradually, even if you make changes regularly.

Meet the Author: Liz Palika, CDT, CABC

Liz Palika is a Certified Dog Trainer and Certified Animal Behavior Consultant as well as the founder and co-owner of Kindred Spirits Dog Training in northern San Diego county. Liz is also the founder of Love on a Leash therapy dogs; her dog, Bones, goes on visits on a regular basis. A prolific writer, Liz is also the author of more than 80 books. Many of her works have been nominated or won awards from a variety of organizations, including Dog Writers Association of America, San Diego Book Awards, the ASPCA, and others. Liz shares her home with three English Shepherds: Bones, Hero, and Seven, as well as one confident and bossy orange tabby cat, Kirk. To relax from work, or to take work on the road, Liz and her crew travel the West and PNW in their RV. If you see an RV on the road named "Travelin' Dogs", honk and say hi!

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