Q: I’ve been trying to switch our new rescue dog Boo from the lousy food he came with to a higher-quality diet but everything seems to give him an upset stomach. Do you have any recommendations on how to do this?
A: Whatever the reason for switching (quality, life stage, pet food recalls, vet recommendation) it’s important to recognize that dogs can be sensitive to sudden changes in diet. You would be, too, if you’d been eating the same food for weeks and suddenly decided to switch to something else. At the very least, you’d expect anything from gurgles to outright emergencies.
To avoid disasters (or at least temper the effects), a gradual introduction of any new food is recommended. To be safe, it’s typically undertaken as a five-to-seven day adventure in mixing diets. The general idea is this: Mix a quarter of the new in with three-quarters of the old for at least a couple of days. If there are no ill effects (no softening of the stools or other evidence of GI distress), continue on to half and half, then to three-quarters and a quarter.
Here are some extra tips:
▪ Consider offering your dog a probiotic for a couple of weeks, starting a few days before the switch. After all, it’s not the sensitivity of our actual intestines that’s typically the trouble, it’s the sensitivity of our bodies’ bacterial colonies. Make sure you ask your vet for a brand-name recommendation (it matters!).
▪ Maybe offer a prebiotic, too. Probiotics are ingredients that food the good bacteria and thereby support their health and proper function. These typically include digestible fibers like those found in pumpkin and psyllium husk. A plop or two of canned pumpkin truly is a wonderful thing.
▪ Perhaps add something starchy, like boiled rice or plain mashed potatoes, during the change. This’ll help settle the belly while addressing some of the issues associated with pickiness. Most dogs like rice and potatoes!
▪ If you’re switching over to a wet diet and you think your dog might not like the change in texture, consider offering water in his dry food for a few days before offering the wet. This’ll help mitigate the risk of refusal due to the change in texture.
▪ Be patient! It takes time for some dogs’ palates to become acclimated to new foods. But don’t be afraid to back down and try another diet if after a week the new food is getting no love.