Switching Diets—Tips for Successfully Introducing a New Food to Your Pet

The dietary needs of dogs and cats are influenced by stage of life (for example, puppy or kitten, adult, or senior), current activity level and lifestyle (for example, canine athlete, weekend warrior, or couch potato), and the presence of specific health conditions. Therefore, even when you are feeding a high-quality food to your pet, the time may come when you need to change your pet’s food. Here are a few helpful tips to make your dog or cat’s transition to a new food easy and healthful.

Plan Ahead

In most situations, owners are able to anticipate an upcoming diet change for their pet. Certainly the most common change is the switch from puppy or kitten food to an adult pet food. For cats and most dogs, this change can take place at approximately one year of age. However, giant-breed dogs (or mixes) mature more slowly and may take up to 24 months of age to reach their adult body size. Lifestyle and exercise also can dictate diet changes. For example, dog-sport enthusiasts may feed a performance diet to their canine athlete during periods of training and competition and change back to an adult maintenance food during the off season. Senior pets can benefit from foods that are specifically formulated for older pets. Finally, some pets may require a therapeutic diet to manage a health condition. In all of these cases, you should take the time that is needed to research foods, speak with your veterinarian about recommendations, and select a food that is best suited for your pet’s age, lifestyle, and health.

Making the Switch!

When you are ready to change foods, here are a few guidelines:

  • Use a gradual transition: Introduce the new food progressively over a four-day period by mixing it with your pet’s previous food. Begin with a proportion of about 25% new food to 75% previous food. Gradually increase the amount of new food and decrease the amount of previous food until you are feeding only the new diet.
  • Maintain normal feeding patterns: Feed your dog or cat at the same time each day and in the same area. Use the same bowl, and avoid making abrupt changes to feeding routines.
  • Enhance appeal: If your pet tends to be finicky about new foods (this is especially common with some cats), you can boost the appeal of the new food by mixing a little warm water with the food or by initially hand feeding a few pieces (i.e., providing it as a “treat”). If you mix food with water, discard any uneaten portion after 20 minutes to prevent spoilage.
  • Do not worry about a missed meal: Some pets pick out their former diet in the mix, leaving the new diet, while others may pick out the new food! In either case, continue mixing the two diets. Some especially sensitive dogs and cats may initially consume only a portion of their meal or refuse to eat. A healthy dog or cat can miss one or two meals or eat a little less with no ill effects. If more than two meals are refused, consider trying a different food. If you are concerned about your pet’s health, contact your veterinarian.

Monitor Response

Certainly, the best judge of a new food is the pet himself. Once your dog or cat has accepted the new food and is eating it exclusively, feed the food for at least six to eight weeks before evaluating its effect upon your pet’s health and well-being. A food that provides optimal nutrition will support ideal body weight and condition, will promote healthy skin and a lustrous coat, and will result in normal stool volume and consistency. If you have switched to a therapeutic diet to manage a health condition, schedule regular visits with your veterinarian to monitor your pet’s response.

Regardless of the food that you choose, dogs and cats always should be provided with free access to fresh, clean water. It is also important to maintain a consistent feeding schedule and to regularly check your pet’s body weight and condition. Adjust the amount of food that you offer accordingly. And remember, dogs and cats need to visit their veterinarian regularly to keep them happy and healthy!