Tips For Switching Your New Pet To A Different Dog Food Or Cat Food

Switching to a new dog food or cat food doesn't have to be traumatic for your new pet.

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When switching your pet to a new diet, gradually replace the old food with the new food. humonia/iStock/Thinkstock
When switching your pet to a new diet, gradually replace the old food with the new food. humonia/iStock/Thinkstock
Dr. Jennifer Larsen

Congratulations on your new pet! Adding a family member is always an exciting and happy time, but remember that this might also be a stressful time for your new friend. Stress can lead to stomach upset even without a diet change, so switching the diet at this time can be tricky in some cases.

Of course, when adding a new pet to your family, one of your first stops is to your veterinarian. One thing your veterinarian will do is ensure that your new pet has been vaccinated and de-wormed appropriately, based on their individual needs.

Regardless of whether you are adopting a new puppy or kitten or adding a mature dog or cat to your family, chances are high that you will be switching the diet for your new pet. Some pets have no trouble with diet changes, and can even eat different things at each meal without any problems. However, other pets are a little more sensitive, and may experience vomiting, diarrhea, lack of appetite or other signs of stomach upset when their food is changed.

Most of the time, diarrhea related to food change is probably due to differences in fiber type and amount between the old and new diets. In these cases, it can take some time for your new pet’s digestive system to adapt to the new food. As long as your pet is not also vomiting or otherwise acting sick, mild diarrhea should not be a problem over a few days. However, if your pet also stops eating, is vomiting or is acting ill, a visit to your veterinarian is warranted.

Preventing Problems
You can help avoid problems and minimize any discomfort by gradually switching the diet from the old to the new over at least 7 to 10 days. For puppies and dogs, this often works best if you mix the old and new diets together in increasing proportions.

  • For example, for a puppy eating 2 cups of kibble per day, add 1/4 cup of the new food to replace the same amount of the old food. Keep an eye on stool quality and appetite.
  • The next day, assuming stomach upset hasn’t occurred, increase the amount of the new food while decreasing the old food by another 1/4 cup.
  • Keep gradually replacing the old food with the new food, every day, until the transition is complete.
  • If you see softer stool, slow the transition down and stay at each step a bit longer (two or three days).

Compared to dogs, cats may respond differently to diet changes. Many kittens and adult cats accept new foods best when they are provided side by side in two separate containers, rather than mixed together in the same bowl. Shallow bowls are best, because cats do not like having their sensitive whiskers compressed by the sides of deep and narrow bowls. You can use the same gradual replacement of the volumes of old and new foods, and you can offer the new food first when your cat is hungry in order to encourage acceptance.

Make Eating Time Stress-Free
It might take some time for your new dog or cat to settle into the household routines and feel like a part of the family. If your new pet is stressed and does not want to eat, focus on creating a relaxing, calm environment for dining. Quiet, low activity areas are ideal, so remove noisy children or other pets, and don’t use appliances such as the blender or vacuum during mealtime. Use praise and a low-pressure approach.

Some pets prefer to eat in private (such as the new cat hiding under your bed), while others enjoy some company. However, do not attempt to touch the food or bowl when your pet is eating, especially if you have adopted an adult dog. You need to build a trusting relationship first in order for this to be safe. Increase the palatability of your pet’s meal by adding warm water or a topper, such as small amounts of applesauce, canned food, pet gravy, honey or canned, plain pumpkin.

Adjusting And Troubleshooting
Of course, one of the most important parts of the transition process to a new cat food or dog food is to be flexible. Your new pet is an individual. If one method isn’t working for your specific pet, then don’t be afraid to try another way. Offer the new food in a different type of dish, in another room or at a different time.

If your pet refuses the new dog food or cat food you have chosen, it’s OK to try another formula or brand, but be careful to avoid allowing your pet to train you to offer more and more palatable foods! Consult your veterinarian to make sure this type of behavior is not based on a medical problem before you try “tough love” and let your pet go hungry for too long. For young animals, and for any cat, they must eat every day to remain healthy.

Of course, a gradual transition assumes that you have an adequate supply of the old dog food or cat food, or that you even know what that was! In some cases, you might not have any idea what the old diet was, making an abrupt switch necessary. In this case, monitor your new pet carefully for stomach upset. If your pet acts sick or shows signs of problems, such as vomitingdiarrhea and lack of appetite for more than one day, take your pet to a veterinarian for an assessment.

Sometimes The Same Amount Doesn’t Equal The Same Calories
Keep in mind that different foods can vary widely in the amount of calories they provide. In fact, in some cases, you may inadvertently double your pet’s calorie intake even if you keep the total volume the same! Conversely, you might be providing much less than the previous diet even if the same amount of food is eaten each day. If possible, try to determine the amount of calories in the old and new diets and adjust accordingly in order to maintain the ideal body weight for your individual pet.

If undesired weight gain or loss occurs despite the same amount of calories fed, this might be due to a different activity level or to changes in your pet’s needs. Every pet should be fed as an individual, and your role is to monitor your pet regularly to ensure an ideal body condition, and to feed more or less depending on weight changes. Maintaining a lean weight keeps your pet healthy and helps ensure a long, happy life with your new friend.

Article Categories:
Cats · Dogs · Food and Treats · Food and Treats

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