It’s no secret that transitions can be tough (see also: first day of middle school). When it comes to switching your dog’s food, the difference between a smooth or rough transition is most likely some good information—changing it abruptly or without some pro guidance can result in a serious mess. We sat down with veterinarian Imogen Slome, VMD, to cover the most common questions and concerns regarding diet transitions, so read up before you feed up!
OLLIE: Is there a formula for transitioning from an old diet to a new one?
Dr. Slome: Absolutely! The key is to slowly introduce the new food mixed into the old food, so that your dog’s system will not be distressed. The complete transition should take about a week and there’s a simple formula, with each step lasting two days.
Day 1-2: 25% of the whole portion size of the new food mixed with 75% old food
Day 3-4: 50% new food mixed with 50% old food
Day 5-6: 75% new food mixed with 25% old food
Day 7+: 100% new food
Some dogs may need more time to regulate during the transition, so feel free to add an extra day or two if your dog is showing any signs of distress (abnormal poop or behavior). The most important thing is to do is listen to your dog. If you take it slow, watch his signals and adapt as needed, you’re in for a smooth transition. If your dog suddenly refuses food or has issues with vomiting, contact your vet.
OLLIE: What are the dangers of switching a dog's diet without a transition period?
Dr. Slome: The biggest danger is gastro-intestinal distress, which could be mild to severe depending on the dog and includes symptoms like diarrhea or vomiting, or an even more serious illness caused by a strained digestive system. The most important reason to use a transition period is simply because it’s impossible to predict your dog’s experience. It could be absolutely seamless or it could be difficult and distressing, and since you don't know, a careful transition period that blends an old diet with a new one is best.
OLLIE: Are there ever instances when you should not transition a dog’s diet?
Dr. Slome: Yes, if your dog has been prescribed a special diet by a veterinarian for a disease or a specific allergy, they shouldn't be transitioned. In these circumstances, your vet will give clear instructions.
OLLIE: If there are food allergies, what's the best way to handle a transition?
Dr. Slome: Food allergies are a big topic, but the short answer is that like any diet transition, it should be slow and gradual unless otherwise specified by your veterinarian. If you have specific concerns about a food allergy with your dog, always consult your vet before making any changes to his diet.
OLLIE: What should pet parents look for in their dog's poop during a transition?
Dr. Slome: No news is good news! A smooth transition will result in poop that is familiar in both looks and frequency. If your dog’s #2 starts looking abnormal in any way (diarrhea or constipation), slow down the transition for an extra day or two. His system should regulate on its own. If it doesn’t, contact your vet.
OLLIE: In addition to poop, what are the signs to keep going or to slow down?
Dr. Slome: Normal behavior and energy levels would indicate that the transition is going well. Vomiting, loss of appetite, and decreased energy are signals that the system is distressed. Again, slow the transition for a day or two, and contact your vet if symptoms persist.
OLLIE: Are there any other special circumstances or exceptions to the process?
Dr. Slome: Yes, there are different guidelines for puppies, moms who are pregnant or just gave birth, or dogs with concurrent diseases. For example, if a vet is prescribing a diet for a diabetic dog, they’ll offer a different approach to the transition. Definitely seek your vet’s advice in any such circumstances.
OLLIE: What if the dog loves the new food and therefore eats it too fast?
Dr. Slome: I’d recommend putting the food into a Kong toy or puzzle-type dish that makes it harder to binge. You could also ration the portions to slow him down.