Switching Dog Foods: How to Transition a Dog’s Diet

small dog running in the grass towards the camera

Making a Switch Can be a Delicious Change

Your dog might eagerly eat everything placed in their bowl, but there are plenty of good reasons why you should switch diets slowly. Unless you practice rotational feeding, your dog has probably eaten the same food for months or years. Making a switch to a different manufacturer, formula or food type might be a delicious change for them, but it can significantly disrupt their digestive system. Slow transitions that take a week or more allow your dog’s digestive system to adjust to any changes and reduce the chance of loose stools, gas or intestinal irritation.


Supporting Digestive Health During Diet Switches

Food transitions may be hard on your dog’s digestive system, especially if they already have a delicate stomach. Using prebiotics and digestive enzymes can help your dog make the smoothest possible transition between two foods. Not every dog will need this extra boost, but very few dogs won’t benefit from adding digestive enzymes and prebiotics to their food. Dogs switching to raw, in particular, would benefit from prebiotics and digestive enzymes while making the switch.

To use prebiotics, start mixing the supplement into your dog’s food a week before any planned food transition, during the entire transition process, and a week after the transition process is complete. Unlike probiotics, which add bacteria to your dog’s intestines, prebiotics feed the bacteria already inside your dog’s gut. Therefore, all the good, native bacteria in your dog’s digestive tract multiplies and is ready for different food forms.

Mix digestive enzymes into your dog’s new food when they start the transition. If you want, you can wait five to 10 minutes to allow the digestive enzymes to partially break down the food. Helpful digestive enzymes will contain protease, amylase, cellulase, or lipase. You can give your dog digestive enzymes during the transition and for approximately a week after the transition. Go ahead and finish the bottle if you have any left–your dog can benefit from these enzymes any time during their life.

If you feed your dog kibble, you may want to mix the digestive enzymes into a wet food or topper. Most powdered digestive enzymes will also coat kibble, so you can just sprinkle the powder on top. You can also find the digestive enzymes in pill form if you prefer to feed them to your dog in this form.


Comparing Apples to Apples: Dog Food Dry Matter Analysis

Comparing dog food nutrients isn’t as easy as contrasting the guaranteed analysis labels. Various food forms have widely different moisture contents, and even various kibble or wet food formulas may have different moisture amounts. Differences in moisture obscure the actual amounts of protein, fat and other nutrients in the foods you’re comparing.

When switching dog foods, it’s essential to know the amount of fat in each food. Foods that have 3% more fat require a transition time that is double the recommended number of days. So, to accurately compare fats or other nutrients, people use dry matter analysis.

To complete this simple calculation, subtract the moisture percentage from 100 percent. The resulting number represents the amount of dry matter in the food. Then divide the food nutrient you are comparing by the dry matter. Multiply the resulting decimal by 100 to get the dry matter percentage of that nutrient. Compare the dry matter percentages to get an accurate understanding of the foods’ nutritional contents.


Deciding How Much to Feed Your Dog

Two cups of kibble from different manufacturers. Two different calorie counts. Every dog food has a slight difference in calories per cup. These calorie counts can vary by 10 to 60 calories or more depending on the formula. So, when you switch between two of the same food forms, don’t overlook the calorie count when deciding how much to feed.

Even if the calorie count of foods is exactly the same, you may find your dog losing or gaining weight on a new food. This happens when the bioavailability of the nutrients changes. Simply put, your dog can digest more or less of the new food. In these cases, let your dog’s overall body condition be your guide, and slowly increase or decrease their food intake as necessary. A monthly weigh-in can also help you quickly identify any changes

two stainless steel measuring cups

Transitioning Between Food Forms

pile of dog kibble

Whether you’ve decided to switch between two types of kibbles, wet or raw foods, shifting between the same food type is one of the easier transitions. Plan on a slow switch that takes a full seven days but try to otherwise keep your feeding routine the same.

Regular Transition

Days 1-2Days 3-4Days 5-6Day 7
Current Food75%50%25%
New Food25%50%75%100%

Sensitive Stomach or High Fat

Days 1-4Days 5-9Days 10-13Day 14
Kibble75%50%25%
Wet Food25%50%75%100%

A seven-day switch also works for kibble to wet food but watch carefully for signs of gastric upset. If your dog has loose stool or other problems, consider doubling the transition period. There’s no need to mix wet and kibble—just place them in different bowls beside one another. If your dog doesn’t want to eat the new wet food, you may want to try mixing them together.

Regular Transition

Days 1-2Days 3-4Days 5-6Day 7
Kibble75%50%25%
Wet Food 25%50%75%100%

Sensitive Stomach or High Fat

Days 1-4Days 5-9Days 10-13Day 14
Kibble75%50%25%
Wet Food25%59%75%100%

Regular Transition

Days 1-4Days 5-9Days 10-13Day 14
Kibble75%50%25%
Raw25%50%75%100%

Sensitive Stomach Transition

Days 1-9Days 10-19Days 20-27Day 28
Kibble75%50%25%
Raw25%50%75%100%

Regular Transition

Days 1-4Days 5-9Days 10-13Day 14
Wet Food75%50%25%
Raw25%50%75%100%

Sensitive Stomach Transition

Days 1-9Days 10-19Days 20-27Day 28
Wet Food75%50%25%
Raw25%50%75%100%


Food Transitioning for the Selective Dog

Whether you think your dog is selective, discerning or just plain picky, they may need a bit of extra encouragement to switch foods. Dogs may have a reputation for eating anything, but many individual dogs have preferences regarding food temperature, texture and taste.

As a living creature, your dog probably has opinions about what they love to eat. Tweaking a healthy diet to appeal to them is worth the extra effort. Your dog may prefer slightly warmed food, which makes the food more aromatic. Or they might prefer chunks in gravy over pate dog food due to the differences in texture.

Varying the amount of water added to dehydrated and freeze-dried raw food can entice your dog to give their meal another try. Mixing their old and new foods together, or finding a great food topper to add to new food, are also possibilities that might work for them.

Boston Terrier dog eating a carrot

Doing an Immediate Dog Food Transition

Some medical conditions may require an immediate switch between two foods. In these cases, it’s very important to follow your veterinarian’s advice. Most of these switches happen when your dog must start eating a prescription diet to treat a diagnosed health condition. When your veterinarian makes the recommendation to make an immediate switch, they’ve already weighed the possibility of gastric upset against the risk of delaying diet-based treatment. So, follow their advice. But don’t be afraid to contact your veterinarian’s office if you perceive a change in your dog’s behavior or health. Your veterinarian will know the right treatment for the problem you’ve noticed.


Funny laughing dog with big tongue and nose

Troubleshooting Transition Problems

Making a gradual transition should eliminate most transition problems, but occasionally your dog may get excess gas, constipation, diarrhea or start vomiting after changing a food. Once you notice any of these symptoms, stop feeding them and institute a 24 hour fast to give their digestive system a rest. Make sure that water is always available and encourage them to keep drinking during this time. After 24-hours, feed them small meals of their original food. If everything seems okay, start the transition again, but double the transition time by halving the amount of new food you’ll give them every meal.

If your dog continues to vomit after 24 hours of stopping the new food or stops eating for 48 hours, it’s time to call your vet. These symptoms indicate serious problems that may require some medical help.

Transitioning your dog’s food may seem complicated, but it’s actually a fairly simple process: Be prepared to introduce new foods slowly, watch your dog to see how they’re adjusting and get help from your veterinarian if something serious occurs. Of course, if you’ve encountered an unusual problem, you can visit Mud Bay to talk to one of our staff members. Whether you want to talk about dry matter analysis, food transitions or diet recommendations, every Muddy is prepared to troubleshoot or just chat about what’s happening with your dog.


When to Visit A Vet Before a Diet Change

Dogs with any type of health problems should always see their veterinarian before a diet change. When your dog is diabetic, for example, their insulin dosage is tied to their diet. Change their diet without changing their insulin dosage, and there could be life-threatening complications. Dogs with urinary tract disease and other medical issues can also be affected by diet changes. Even when your dog is otherwise healthy, you might want to discuss the change with a veterinarian.

blue coiled nylon leash and collar