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Changing dog food isn't something you should rush into, especially when bringing home a new dog. Seeing canines chow down on the contents of an overturned trash can you might be tempted to think they have iron stomachs. The reality, however, is that dogs have surprisingly sensitive tummies, and abrupt changes to their food can upset them. To help make a dog food transition go smoothly for your new housemate, follow these steps:
Start with What They Know
Find out as much information from the shelter or previous owner about your dog’s feeding plan as possible: what food they were being fed before you adoption, how much, how frequently, etc. Ideally, the shelter should be able to provide you with enough food for your dog’s first week. If they can’t, pick up a small bag of that food before bringing them home.
Switch Food Gradually
A lot of pet shelters have budgetary constraints that keep them from feeding premium foods to their animals, so you might be tempted to change dog foods right away. Although your intentions are good, you should resist this urge. Abrupt changes to your dog's diet could result in gastrointestinal disturbances that lead to vomiting and/or diarrhea—and the last thing you want to do is condition them to associate his new home or food with discomfort.
How gradually should you switch? Hill's recommends taking about seven days to transition, adding a little more of the new food and reducing the old each day. The following ration are recommended:
- Days 1-2: Mix 25 percent of the new food with 75 percent of the old.
- Days 3-4: Mix 50 percent of the new food with 50 percent of the old.
- Days 5-6: Mix 75 percent of the new food with 25 percent of the old.
- Day 7: Feed your dog 100 percent of his new food.
Watch & Learn Your Dog's Reaction
Keep an eye on your dog's reaction to the new food. In addition to signs of stomach upset, you should also keep an eye on your dog's stool. If it appears runny or abnormally soft, or if your dog shows other signs of an upset stomach, slow down this process and give them more time to adjust.
Identify When They're Not Ready
Your dog may not seem to tolerate the new food, no matter how slowly you go, and that's OK too. Slowly shift them back to the old food and start again with something else after giving his tummy a break. It could be that the new dog food contains ingredients to which your dog has an intolerance or allergy. If you continue to have trouble changing dog food, or if his stools contain blood or an unusual color, you should consult a veterinarian.
Keeping Your Dog Hydrated
Give your dog plenty of water, especially now, as they'll need to stay hydrated during the transition. If they stop drinking, however, or seems to be drinking an excessive amount, this might be a sign of a more complicated digestion issue with the new food. Again, see your vet to ensure they're taking to it healthily.
How to Change Dog Food Quickly
You might be in a situation where your new dog's previous food is unknown to you, or his old food simply isn't something you can get your hands on. In this case, consider introducing your dog to his new food slowly by feeding them small meals every few hours, keeping an eye out for signs of trouble in between meals. If necessary, choose an easily digestible formula to start off with. Once they're used to it, gradually switch them to your preferred brand or formula.
The potential stomach ache (and mess) should be enough of a reason to go slow when transitioning dog food, but above all, consider the numerous changes your new dog is already dealing with as he settles into his new life. Like people, dogs take comfort in the familiar. Being served the food he knows during his first few days with you will help them feel more at home in his new digs—which is just as good for his emotional health as it is for his digestion.
Jean Marie Bauhaus
Jean Marie Bauhaus is fiction author and freelance writer and editor living in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She writes frequently about pets and pet health in her home office, where she is assisted by a lapful of furbabies.