Occasionally something I’ve accepted as a given — and which has been confirmed in respected places, including my own extremely well-researched book — strikes me as odd. That’s what happened when I contemplated changing Frankie over from one type of kibble to another. I remembered the so-called truism: You have to shift your dog’s diet gradually.

Um, why?

In this case I’m not talking about switching to a new product, one that Frankie’s never tried. I’m soon going to finish a bag of sample kibble and now I want to go back to a brand he’s enjoyed and did well on before.

But even if I was talking about a total switch — what’s the problem?

Are dogs’ constitutions delicate? I think not. Dogs eat poop, for heavens sake, without negative consequences.

Consider too: Dogs in the wild used to — and still do — scavenge to get scraps. I’d wager their diet changed on a regular basis, depending on what humans ate and discarded. Which is not the same every day, if we humans can help it.

So why should dogs eat the same thing every day — unless it’s for our convenience?

And I don’t care whether the diet we’re discussing is raw, freeze dried, or home cooked. As far as I know, advocates of those diets tend to feed their dogs the same thing every day — or switch them over gradually.

What am I missing? Why can’t you vary your dog’s diet — so long as you keep it healthy — or switch it quickly? I’d especially love links to/comments by nutritionists.

17 thoughts on “Friday Focus: Switching your dog’s diet”

  1. I think it depends on the dog. Actually, I know it does. I have two dogs.

    Spirit, a black lab/siberian husky cross who loves fruit and vegetables and who thrives on a varied diet (I like to indulge her, too, because studies have shown that dogs fed a varied-but-healthy diet that includes fresh fruits and veggies tend to stay healthier into their old age with fewer cognitive difficulties).

    Calvin, a purebred siberian husky, vomits and has diarrhea if he eats anything in addition to his Iams Healthy Naturals, the ONLY dog food we’ve found that doesn’t result in a digestive mess. Its just how his system is.

    I think if you know your dog well enough, you should be able to determine for yourself if you think your dog needs a gradual change or if your dog will be okay with a more abrupt change.

  2. This is a very good question. It was told to me also when changing diets for Viva and later also Kenzo. I did ask but let the answer, not to upset their digestion, burn me off. Thats not explaining it, I want to know why too!

  3. Why should a dog’s diet switch be different than a human’s?
    I’ve always been more successful if with any diet ( or other change) is gradual.
    Dogs are the same…..I think.

  4. Defintely depends on the dog. The simple fact is…some are more sensitive than others. My parents have farm dogs that can eat anything, and I mean everything without consequence. My man was originally on raw & I changed him to air dried for a 12 day road trip. About 2 weeks after we got to our destination, I tried to change him back and it was disasterous. Being sick at 3am and all that comes with it.

    If you think your dog can handle an immediate switch…great! Makes life simplier, but now I know that is not the case for me. My parents on the other hand, they can 🙂

    Maybe not a definitive answer but I hope it helps 🙂

  5. I will acknowledge that stress can also play a factor in what I am about to say, but at our shelter, many of the dogs would develop diarrhea when they first got there because the food was usually not what they ate at home. But, I do think it depends on the dog, because not all dogs got sick with the change in foods. It’s definitely an interesting question. I wonder what Lori Huston or Finch would say?

  6. In my opinion the notion that dogs should eat the same food forever is entirely a creation of pet food companies and their marketing department. I am very suspect of the idea. It is a relatively new concept that has gained popularity with the rise in popularity of massed produced commercial pet food. There is no data whatsoever to support the “rule of thumb”. The only thing that supports the idea is pet food marketing and anecdotal statements by pet owners that had trouble switching food. I am not saying dogs do not have trouble switching. I am saying dogs have trouble switching because they do not change foods on a regular basis. So I would argue that the trouble pet owners experience is essentially a self fulfilling prophesy. In my experience the more variety a dog gets the easier it is to move from food to food. If a dog has eaten the same food for an extended period of time then the transition will be more difficult and take more time. Also if the transition is from a lower quality food with lots of fillers to a food that is much higher in meat content this can and does slow the initial transition. So the more you change the easier it is to change.

    I think in general dogs should get a varied diet. I am a big believer in rotation and variety. I am not talking about just changing a formulation of the same brand. I am talking about changing everything, protein, carbs, and manufacturers on a regular basis.

    1. I pretty much agree with Anythony’s statements. However, I think the debate is an academic one. I see different positions from people I know and respect – I doubt there will be an agreement on this even among the cognesceti.

      Further, I don’t think the average dog owner is interested, can afford, and/or will take the time to rotate foods on the regular basis needed to prevent ill effects. WHY, because the pet food companies and their marketing depts have been very successful in selling their message to John Q Public.

  7. This is a very interesting question, isn’t it? All ‘educated’ owners know that they should rotate food from time to time and that they should transition the change.

    The reason for the rotation being to avoid over time developed food allergies and the reason for the gradual transition digestive upsets such change can cause.

    I am not going to get into a debate on the first part of the point here, I think that’d be a topic all by itself.

    I’ll stick with the part of why such change needs to be gradual.

    I totally agree with Anthony, that the processed food itself, and the long term monotonous diet are the reasons in themselves. I love the self-fulfilling prophesy note.

    I have seen dogs get digestive upsets and diarrhea when switched from one food to another too quickly (commercial kibble that is).

    I have also seen dogs having no problems whatsoever when switching ingredients in home-cooked diet. I can give Jasmine beef and potato one day and turkey and rice next day and it won’t bother her at all. And she does have an extremely sensitive digestive system.

    I feel that commercial kibble (the only type of food I’ve seen problems with transition) resembles food so little, that the digestive track needs some time to figure it out. Then it does figure out what to do with it, gets used to it and anything different will just upset it again. Like a Halloween party when you guests switch their costumes mid-party.

  8. As long as it’s not kibble which I never feed due to digestive problems, Tashi seems just fine with switching base proteins from week to week, changing oils, dehydrated vegetables and fruit, sometimes a mix of oatmeal, vegetables or small amt of brown rice for variety. I could not do this at all for years; any switch or addition to chicken or hamburger with a couple of eggs each week and rice was too much and diarrhea resulted. I had to be very careful of adding oil and only every other day. Often I would have to stop the oil all together. He would throw up and have diarrhea if I fed him more than two or three green beans – who would ever believe that! It was scary.

    I think a lot of people don’t know any better, feel that nutrition is scary, too hard to figure out (just look at that label of ingredients!), and if they can feed the dog everything he or she needs to be healthy out of one bag they can pick up while shopping for their own groceries, well, that’s good enough.

  9. I tackled this a little over on the Dog Food Dish Blog a couple weeks ago. Interesting discussion from both sides in the comments.


    In the last couple of weeks, I’ve switched both Lilly and Ginko to a new food. And, yes, I did it gradually since I’m not a fan of vomit or diarrhea. I’m not saying it’s a given that would happen, but I didn’t want to deal with it, just in case. Both are doing fine so far.

    1. Sorry it’s taken so long for this to come up. My rude comments system decided it — and various other real comments — were spam. Luckily I decide to second guess it occasionally….

  10. I’m enjoying the discussion enormously. Whereas I love dogs and have owned several in my life, I am currently a “cat person.” What’s amusing is that I hear exactly the same advice about cats. You must switch food slowly and carefully, they say. I’ve always wondered why. I mean, my cats eat lizards, fer cryin’ out loud!

  11. Funny you should mention this topic. Lily greyhound stopped eating recently. She was eating Innova kibble for seniors. And she just stopped. She cannot lose any more weight. I bought Natural Balance sweet potatoes and fish kibble. I tried to start with one-fourth cup mixed in with her Innova kibble but she just picked out the Natural Balance. So rather than gradually making the change, I gave it to her full on. She did just fine. That never would’ve worked with Painter greyhound as he had a far more sensitive stomach. I frequently change her wet food as it varies between brands and homemade food and she eats poop. Plus she’s eaten a whole lot of other stuff you don’t want to hear about.

    FYI: Innova is now owned by Proctor & Gamble so I was going to make the change anyway.

  12. My experience with Archie comports entirely with Karen and Lily’s (except for the poop-eating part). And I agree entirely with Anthony. I regret that I have no piercing science or comprehensive websites to offer, but I figure that if a dog lived off garbage for year before coming to me, any nutritious, delicious food I could offer, that didn’t entirely gross me out, would be fine. Well, except for that recent escapade with the Coney Island hot dog (urgh, fails the nutritious test, and failed the digestible test too).

  13. Pingback: `Iams/Eukanuba Pet Food Recall, Changing a Dog’s Diet and the Pet Lover’s Blog Hop » The Pet Health Care Gazette`

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