Rotational Feeding for Dogs & Cats: Benefits and How-To Switch Food
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Rotational Feeding for Dogs & Cats: Benefits and How-To Switch Food

Dogs and cats, just like people, appreciate and benefit from a diet full of variety. Eating the exact same food day after day can lead to boredom, can limit the spectrum of nutrients that your dog receives, and may even increase their risk of food sensitivities.

Rotational feeding, or switching up the foods on your pet's menu on a regular basis can broaden their palate and may allow them to benefit from a wider spectrum of nutrients and ingredients. You can swap foods daily, weekly, or on another frequency that’s convenient for you. This feeding method has a range of potential benefits for dogs and cats of all ages and is easy to start doing.

If you’re considering trying rotational feeding, read this guide to learn how to do it safely and find answers to commonly asked questions.

Benefits of Rotational Feeding

Moving your pet from an old diet to a new diet and figuring out which new foods to give them can feel intimidating at first, but there are many perks to doing so. Here are some reasons why rotational feeding is worth it.

Keeps Your Pet from Becoming Bored or Disinterested in Their Food

When dogs and cats get bored with their food, they often become fussy about it. They may not eat enough of their current food to feel satisfied after mealtimes or get the necessary nutrients. This can lead to deficiencies, weight loss, and other health problems, like digestive upset and constipation. Boredom can also lead to eating unsafe, non-food items — like garbage, dirt, or paper — which could potentially cause unexpected weight gain or dangerous intestinal blockages.

Rotational feeding broadens your pet's palate, which could keep them open to new foods, and can make mealtimes more exciting.

Increases the Variety of Nutrients in Your Pet's Diet

Rotational feeding means your dog or cat will have the opportunity to take in a much wider variety of nutrients including amino acids, EFAs, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.

While a high-quality adult pet food should have the right mix of ingredients to meet your pet's nutritional needs, it’s believed that eating the same foods every day for years on end can potentially increase the risk that your pet becomes intolerant to the foods they eat. When you vary up your dog’s diet by adding new dog food to the rotation, you increase the range of nutrients, and in return, you could possibly reduce the risk of developing food sensitivities later in life.

Also, a varied diet more closely mimics the way dogs and cats’ wild counterparts eat. In nature, dogs, cats and other predators consume different meats throughout the week. Perhaps it’s rabbit for one meal and bird or squirrel the next, interspersed with grasses, berries, and other foodstuffs based on season and availability.

Adds Diversity to Your Pet's Gut Bacteria

Gut bacteria is a vital part of health that many pet parents aren't aware of. More and more research shows that good digestive health and strong immune systems are more likely if dogs have a “happy,” diverse gut microbiome.

When you change up your pet's diet — with plenty of foods that contain fiber, probiotics, and prebiotics — you can potentially add more helpful bacteria to their body.

Frequently Asked Questions About Switching Foods

If you're like most pet owners, you probably have some questions about how to switch your pet's food safely. Check out these answers to rotational feeding FAQs.

Is It Okay to Rotate Your Dog or Cat's Food?

Yes. Many people get nervous that changing their pet's diet might lead to an upset stomach, and in some cases, this is true. But when you introduce a rotational feeding schedule properly, with a slow transition that gradually gets quicker over time, there is likely to be few tummy troubles to worry about.

As we mentioned in the previous section, rotating your dog's food could potentially improve their health. However, you’ll want to follow best practices (which we cover in the next few sections) to make sure that the dog food transition period goes well, and make sure you’re watching for any signs of food sensitivities.

How Often Should You Rotate Your Pet's Food?

The schedule for rotating your dog’s food is really dependent on your comfort level and preference. There's really no right answer! Some pet parents change their dog’s food daily, but some pets eat a rotational diet that includes weekly to monthly rotations.

Whether you opt for daily, weekly, or monthly, it’s all about a smooth transition. Don’t switch your pet's diet suddenly; start slowly and increase the amount of new food while decreasing the old food gradually over the course of a week.

Additionally, instead of opting to change their entire bowl in one sitting, you could opt to start by rotating a topper with different protein and vegetable combinations. This requires less transition time, as the core part of their meal stays consistent.

After you repeat this process several times, your pet's system may get used to digesting different sorts of food. It will likely become stronger and stronger and may eventually (over a period of a few weeks) be just as capable of accepting and embracing mealtime changes as you or their wild counterparts.

However, remember that each pet is different. Your dog or cat may need more or less time to transition between meals. Be sure to observe your pet and adjust your plan according to their needs.

What Are the Different Methods of Rotating Dog Foods?

There are a few different approaches to rotational feeding. Some suggested plans are outlined below, and our customer support team is here to help if you need a little guidance along the way:

  • Alternating proteins: Switch between proteins like chicken, beef, turkey, and fish on a regular basis. For example, feed one box of Dehydrated Grain Free Turkey Recipe and then change to Dehydrated Grain Free Beef Recipe, with a couple days of overlap to make the transition easy.
  • Alternating between grain-inclusive and grain-free (primarily for dogs): Both grain-inclusive food and grain-free food have benefits, and your dog can get both of them if you alternate between the two. We recommend keeping the protein consistent.
  • Alternating between dry, wet, and dehydrated foods: Outside of flavor variation, this solution really provides an assortment of different textures to help keep things interesting for your pet at mealtime. You can try swapping between dry kibble, wet food, and dehydrated food.
  • Adding toppers, extras and mixtures: You can also get similar benefits by simply adding an array of toppers to your pet's food. Some pet parents mix dehydrated or wet food in with their pet's dry food. Others like to add a traditional food topper. Whichever option you choose, opt to switch proteins and vegetable mixtures to expose your pup to a variety of nutrients. Additionally, be sure you’re not overfeeding, and adjust their food accordingly to account for the added calories of a food mixture or topper.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms a New Food Isn't Right for Your Dog?

Some signs that indicate a food isn’t sitting right with your pet or could be affecting your pet's health include:

  • Discolored or loose stools
  • More frequent pooping
  • Less frequent pooping (constipation)
  • Bloating
  • Gas
  • Disinterest in eating
  • Drinking excessive amounts of water

If you worry that your pet has an allergy or sensitivity to the new food you introduced, contact your veterinarian. They will likely recommend an elimination diet — read our complete guide to learn what you can expect.

You Might Have Just Switched Foods Too Fast

If your dog is having digestive trouble, it may not mean there is a sensitivity or serious allergy at play. You may have simply introduced the new food too quickly. This could be the case if your pet's stool has changed, they’re struggling with gas, or they lack interest in the food. Try adding more of their previous food back into their diet and slowing down your rotational feeding plan to see if that helps.

Switching Your Dog's Food: A Basic Transition Plan

Time is key if you want to start rotational feeding. If you rush the transition, it could lead to an upset stomach and an unhappy pet.

A good rule of thumb is to switch your pet's diet over the course of a week. This gives your pet a chance to adjust while you look for any negative reactions. If your pet has a particularly sensitive stomach or special health conditions, you may want to take longer with the process.

Here is a general timetable to transition your pet's diet:

  • Day 1: Replace 25% of the old food with the new food.
  • Day 3: Replace 50% of the old food with the new food.
  • Day 5: Replace 75% of the old food with the new food.
  • Day 7: Fully transition 100% of the old food to the new food.

Rotate in The Honest Kitchen's Dog Foods

As you make the transition from the usual daily diet to a rotational feeding schedule, take the opportunity to choose a high-quality food for your pet. The Honest Kitchen has a wide variety of human grade pet food that is formulated to meet the nutritional guidelines established by AAFCO. Browse our dehydrated, wet, and dry dog food options as well as our protein-packed cat food options for tasty, nutrient-rich options to add to your pet's rotation.

Note: This article is not meant to provide medical advice. Always discuss any dietary changes with your vet. Each pet is different, and rotational feeding may, or may not, be a good choice for your pet's specific needs.

Lucy Postins

Lucy Postins is founder and Chief Integrity Officer at The Honest Kitchen. She is a companion animal nutritionist who started The Honest Kitchen in her kitchen in 2002. She is passionate about advanced nutrition and holistic health including complementary modalities such as herbalism and homeopathy. Considered an expert in her field, Lucy frequently writes articles for local and national media, conducts radio interviews and educational spots, and occasionally holds educational seminars for pet owners on the importance of good nutrition. She also recently authored Dog Obsessed, a guide to a happier, healthier life for the pup you love.
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