Your dog’s food plays a huge part in his health, mood and vitality. Not to mention it affects his life expectations, the condition of his skin, fur and bones not to mention the condition of your house. I have recently come across the fact that feeding the wrong dog food can cause bigger harm than I ever thought. I have always been a firm believer in raw feeding and against using kibble. However, sometimes you don’t have a choice, but to go for the safe option. My pup has food allergies. I use allergy in plural as we don’t yet know what he is allergic to. If you ever had the same problem, you know that you and your pet will face a long period of testing, switching food and some general going back and forth before he gets better.
I will cover dog’s food allergies in another article, for now I would like to talk about changing your dog’s food. In particular about how to change what you feed him. It sounds incredibly simple, and some of you may think it’s pointless talking about something as straight forward as this. Well, unlike us, our four legged friends will often stick to the same diet for years. This means that changing their food all of a sudden will cause digestive issues, upset stomach, diarrhea and vomiting. If you are not prepared to put your pup and yourself through this, then read up.
What to feed
Most people feed their dog dry dog food simply because it is more convenient and widely available. As much as I’m not a huge fan of this, there are undoubtably benefits to it. (I am all about raw feeding, or home cooked feeding, so if you're interested click to read more) Most dry food comes with a carefully thought out recipe to ensure your pet gets all the nutrients and vitamins they need. Some of the biggest brands even offer, holistic, organic, breed specific, age specific etc. dog food to cover all needs. The mark of a good quality dog food lies not in the analytical, but he actual ingredients. When checking for these, make sure they list a high meat content, as well as all the necessary minerals, vitamins, herbs and vegetable fibers appropriate for your pup’s age, size and health condition. I know most of this stuff is guess work and you will have to go and test different types to see what fits the best. Whatever you shop for, try to ensure it is high quality, even if you have a low budget. A dog’s food often works as a preventative of future health problems, and I’m sure prevention is cheaper than treatment.
Now the key part is testing. It is often challenging to find the best fit. Remember, you need to be patient with the process. I recommend you try and find a brand that offers different products in your price range. What I mean is they offer their food with different ingredients. Lamb, salmon or venison are usually good. These are less common allergens, than eg chicken. If you have it, get the smallest bag of 3 or 4 different flavors, and try feeding them each for a couple of days. If your pup has a bad reaction to either, then switch or try mixing it with rice. Some dog food companies offer Hypoallergenic dog food. It means that they don’t contain any chicken or poultry protein. Chicken is the most common allergenic for pets. So once you’ve done your testing, you will probably have 2-3 different flavors from a good and affordable pet food range. Unless, your pet has an underlying stomach, digestive or intestinal problem, like mine. These will be your go to dry dog foods, that you can alternate – not too frequently though – for a bit of variety.
Frequency is key
The less frequent, the better. I would not recommend switching your pup’s food every time there is something new on sale. A general rule of thumb is to switch no more than 4 times a year. Feeding them differently each season could make a big impact on their health. And this is simply because they need different vitamins and nutrients with the season and weather changing. You might want to gear them up for autumn or spring coming with. Or perhaps you want to feed them a bit more in the winter, or switch to food that has higher nutrient levels. So changing anywhere between 2-4 times a year is recommended, but each dog will react differently.
Ultimately you should be able to stick to one particular food for an extended period of time. The way modern dog’s food is developed, is that it contains all that your pup might need. So you shouldn’t worry about switching around just so they get different nutrients. If your pup is used to a varied diet, it is much easier. But even in this case I would keep the base of their diet that same, and only change one ingredient at a time. For example if you feed your pup with a mix of rice, beef, carrots, broccoli and eggs and liver, then swapping the eggs to chicken legs should be safe. Equally, swapping beef to lamb should be ok too, unless your pup has allergy to any of these ingredients. Even in this case, I wouldn’t recommend more frequent swaps than once every months. If you feed your pup a raw or cooked diet, be sure to check with your vet to ensure you add all the right ingredients for a balanced meal.
Introduce new food gradually
If you are switching from dry to wet, raw to cooked or a variation of any of these, remember switching gradually is key. Try to introduce the food in small proportions over a length of time. As a guideline try following the below feeding regimen:
- 1-3 days: 25% new food mixed with 75% old food
- 4-6 days: 50% new food mixed with 50% old food
- 7-10 days: 75% new food mixed with 25% old food
- day 11: 100% old food
Monitor your pet’s reaction during the feeding process and adjust the proportions accordingly. Your pup might adjust better, still try stick to the the 10 day period. If your pup has difficulties with this speed, slow down a bit and extend the switching period over two weeks. It is very similar to transitioning into a vegan from a vegetarian. It goes a lot easier on your body if you don’t pull drastic changes. While on the transitioning period, be extra careful with table scraps and treats. Remember, switching dog food is the benefit of your pup, so you have to be consistent. If during the process your pup has loose stool for more than a day or two, shows any other signs of gastro-intestinal distress, it is best to consult your veterinarian.
A few more things
- Puppies reach their full size by the age of 1. This means they are fully developed and can transition onto adult food to ensure they get all the proper nutrients they need.
- In order to keep your pup at their optimum health, always try to choose the right food for their size, age and perhaps breed. Working or hunting breeds need a higher concentration of nutrients, and more protein as they move around all they burning more energy than regular pups. Each breed has breed specific requirements and it is wise to keep that in mind.
- Switch your small or medium size dog to mature or senior food at around 7, and large dogs when they reach 5. It will support their needs better, giving them better changes of aging well.
- If you feed homemade meals to your pups, the same age suggestion applies. Seniors should go on food, that is appropriate for their age. Bone broth is a very healthy and nutrient free addition. Introducing vegetables like pumpkin or sweet potato can aid their digestion and speed up their metabolism a little.
- Nursing and pregnant dogs should be transitioned to puppy food, as they need energy-dense food with higher calcium content in this period.