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How to Transition Your Pets to a New Food


April 26, 2021

Introducing new food into your pet’s regular diet is always tricky. Maintaining the right proportion of nutritional needs ensures your dog or cat stays healthy and happy throughout their life. However, pet owners must transition to the new dog or cat diet gradually.

If you want to transition your pets to a new food, there are a few guidelines to follow to avoid upsetting your pet’s digestive system. Whether you are bringing a new pet home or switching up your current pet’s diet, our pet food guide can help you make a seamless switch.

Reasons to Transition Your Pet to a New Food

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Switching from one type of food to another is easy, as long as you go slow and watch out for any negative reactions from your pet. With so much room for error, why would pet owners risk switching to a new type of pet food?

There are many reasons why pet parents may want to transition their pet to a new food. From weight issues to gastrointestinal problems to old age, a completely new diet can help relieve many existing issues and give your pets that extra pep in their step.

New Pet

Welcoming a new pet into your home can be exciting and rewarding. However, do not overlook the type of food you will be feeding your new family member.

Before bringing them home, find out what food they have been eating to create a gradual cat or dog food transition and avoid the stress of a new diet.

You want to wait to switch into a new dog or cat food until your first veterinarian visit for a complete pet physical and to assess any health condition.

Food Sensitivity/Allergy

Just like humans, pets can have food sensitivities to certain ingredients including dairy, wheat, beef, and chicken.

Ideally, you should consult a veterinary allergist to confirm any possible negative interactions such as itchy skin or an upset stomach before transitioning to a new product.

An elimination diet can help you determine which particular allergens are to blame. Grain-free products are an increasingly common option at pet stores.

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Age

As your dog or cat moves from one life stage to another, their nutritional needs may change with old age. They may not need as many calories, protein, or fat than before. In their younger years, they need all of this to aid in their development.

Knowing when to switch from a kitten or puppy food to an adult formula depends on the breed, sex, life stage, and size of the pet.

So, when do you make the switch to adult dog food or adult cat food? It depends.

Puppies can transition from puppy food to adult dog food at around 12 months (varies by size and breed). Smaller-breed puppies may need to switch dog food sooner than larger breed dogs.

  • Small-size dogs can make the switch at around 8 months.
  • Medium-breed dogs can transition at around 12 months.
  • Large-breed dogs can switch at around 18 months.
  • Giant-breed dogs can switch at around 24 months of age

Dogs can require mature adult or senior dog food starting from the ages between 6 and 10 years old. Generally, large dog breeds can require senior dog food more quickly than smaller ones. Giant dog breeds can reach seniority at six years of age.

  • Kittens can switch to adult cat food at around 12 months of age.
  • Large-breed cats can make the switch to adult cat food at around 18 months to 2 years.

On average, cats can become mature adults between the ages of 7 and 10. They can become seniors at age 11 and reach geriatric phase at the age of 15.

Weight Management

When weight gain or weight loss is not able to be helped with exercise alone, switching to a new weight-friendly formula can help your pets maintain a healthy weight at any age.

For instance, older pets or pets that are not as active can struggle keeping the weight down. Spayed or neutered pets may also have a harder time keeping off the weight due to inactivity.

Veterinarian Recommendation

If your pet has a specific health condition that requires a prescription diet, a more optimized nutritional plan may be needed.  A veterinarian may recommend that you switch up your cat or dog food based on your pet’s health concerns.

Apart from allergies and sensitivities, a veterinarian can do a complete physical check-up of your furry friend and determine if a change is needed.

For cats that have issues with hairballs, new cat food can help. In addition, diet recommendations may vary based on breeds or sizes.

Any joints, skin, stomach, or oral issues may be alleviated with new cat or dog food. Always go with the products your veterinarian has recommended for best results.

For Fun

Who does not love to eat a variety of foods? Just like humans, if pets eat the same food day in and day out, they can get bored of it easily. If you notice your dog or cat start to become a picky eater, you can try switching things up.

There are tons of food options out there including dry, wet, fresh, and raw foods, each able to provide your pet with the right nutrition to meet their special needs. Just make sure you always feed your loved one a complete and balanced diet of protein, carbs, fats, vitamins, and minerals.

To keep things fun and exciting, you can mix wet and dry food as long as you maintain a complete and balanced diet.

For instance you can mix two parts of dry food with one part of wet food. You can also try adding broths and gravy to dry food to spice things up.

To add variety in their diet, switch out protein such as beef and chicken as long as you keep feeding them the same brand of food.

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How to Transition a Pet to New Cat Food or Dog Food

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If you want your pet to have a smooth transition from their old food to their new food, there is an easy way to gradually make the switch. Most importantly, avoid completely replacing the food overnight. since it can shock a pet’s system and cause a host of gastrointestinal issues.

In some cases, quitting the old food cold turkey can cause your pet to refuse the new food because who likes change, anyway?

A good food transition happens slowly. At the earliest, it could take between 3 to 5 days to completely switch the old food to the new one. This transition schedule is shooting for the stars but may be possible in certain cases.

A longer transition schedule can take anywhere from 7 to 11 days (or longer) and allows your pet to gradually acclimate to its new cat or dog food without any hiccups.

Generally, the best way to make the switch from the current food is to mix the current food with the new formula. Over a period of a few days or even a couple of weeks, you can slowly add more of the new food to the old food.

Keep in mind, you are not increasing the amount of food you give to your cat or dog. Throughout the food transition, maintain the same amount of food to reduce the variables that can negatively affect your pet’s gastrointestinal health.

Let us propose a scenario to show you how easy it is to transition to new cat or dog food. If you were feeding your pet one cup of food, here is how you would go about transitioning your dog or cat to new cuisine.

Short transition

  • Day 1: Feed one-quarter cup of new food with three-quarters of a cup of the current food
  • Day 2: Feed one-half cup of the new food and one-half cup of the current food
  • Day 3: Feed three-quarters of a cup of new food and one-quarter cup of current food
  • Day 4: Feed a full cup of new food

Long transition

For a slightly longer transition, you can extend the days (time window) between the build up to a full cup of new food. For example, you may feed one quarter of the new food and three-quarters of a cup of the current food for 1 to 3 days and continue building up by quarters for about three days during each stage until you have completely replaced the old food.

In addition, you can transition to a new food at a more incremental level. For instance, you can start building up to completely new food in one-eighth of a cup increments.

Switching Dog and Cat Food Without Mixing

In some cases, mixing the old food with the new food is not possible or recommended. If the old food is not available or if it is the reason for digestive issues, then it may not be possible or smart to keep using that product.

In addition, switching from a grain-based diet to a grain-free or raw diet can be taxing on the digestive system. Grains are slower to digest than non-grain foods. The different rates of digestion can lead to an upset stomach.

If you absolutely cannot mix food products for any reason, try these methods to transition your dog or cat to a new diet:

  • Fasting: Try skipping a meal to fully flush the old food from the pet’s system. That way they can start fresh and are hungry enough to eat the new food. However, do not skip more than a single meal, especially with cats since they can be especially prone to sickness after not eating for half a day.
  • Reduced intake: During the first feeding of the new food, you can feed your pet about half of the recommended amount so it will not be a complete shock to the system. Introducing any more food than half a cup can be too stressful on their stomach.

An Alternative Approach to Switching Food for Cats and Dogs

Of course, there will be minor differences between the way cat and dog owners transition to new cat or dog food. Here are some general tips that can increase the palatability of the new food for either cats or dogs and avoid any tummy issues:

  • Warm the food to room-temperature
  • Mix dry food with warm water
  • If the pet is not keen on eating it, try hand-feeding it to them
  • Create a quiet and distraction-free environment where they can explore the new food

Dogs

To change your dog’s diet, low-sodium chicken or beef broth without garlic or onion flavoring can make a new food much more appetizing. Make sure to double check low-sodium levels on these products since they may still have high sodium levels for dogs with cardiac disease.

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Cats

For cats, start by feeding them in a wide flat bowl/saucer to keep their whiskers from being cramped inside of a smaller dish.

Cats may take a longer time to transition from one diet to the next. Make sure to monitor their body weight during the transition to ensure they do not experience any severe issues.

Since they can be picky, ensure your cat’s food is at room temperature. They may not even touch very hot or cold food.

Low-sodium clam or tuna juice or even chicken broth without garlic or onion flavoring can also work for cats. Just keep an eye on the sodium levels since even low sodium can be too high for cats with cardiac disease.

Cats, in particular, are notorious for disliking new diets. If this is the case for you, try out different foods and textures for your cat. It may turn out that they have a specific preference of dryness versus wetness, or shapes, flavors, and other characteristics of the food.

One way you could help transition your cat to new food is to leave the new food out for about 30 minutes or one hour only instead of allowing your cat to freely munch when they want. If they do not eat during the scheduled meal feeding, you can revert back to the open feeding schedule to keep them well fed.

All the while, ensure your pet is eating normally. During the stressful switch, they may not want to touch the food and may even go hungry. Cats, in particular, are vulnerable to liver damage after just a couple of days of fasting.

Handling Negative Reactions

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Switching cat and dog foods all at once or too soon is a recipe for disaster. A quick switch can cause gastrointestinal issues in any pet. Common negative reactions include the following:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Soft stool
  • Flatulence
  • Loss of appetite

Closely monitor your pets for any of these symptoms as you complete your transition. If any of these reactions develop, do not keep adding more of the new food. In fact, scale back the ratio or go back one day in your transition schedule.

Adding a digestive supplement into your cat or dog’s diet can help reduce tummy issues.

  • Digestive enzymes help break down food into easy-to-absorb nutrients for your pet’s digestive system. Digestive enzymes can come in tasteless powders that can be sprinkled over a bowl of food.
  • Probiotics are an essential supplement to improve gut health and maintain a balance of good bacteria during the transition. Prebiotics are also recommended which help feed the good bacteria in your pets and help them multiply.

It is up to you to pay special attention to any changes in your pet since your cats and dogs cannot tell you how they feel. As you continue with the schedule, if the same issue keeps happening, start over again and give your pets only the old food for about a week straight.

After one week without any problems, you can start the switch back up again, but this time, go at a slower pace. If you started off by incorporating one-quarter of a cup, this time start with one-eight of a cup or any even smaller ratio if that does not work.

If the problems persist once you start back up again, then the issue might be an ingredient in the formula that your pet is sensitive to. If this is the case, you must consult with your vet to determine the allergy or problem.

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What Is the Best Pet Food for Your Pet?

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Now that you know how to transition your cats and dogs to a new food product, it is time to find the right food that can satisfy their taste buds and maintain their perfect health. Here is where it gets tricky. Nowadays, there is a dizzying selection of dog and cat food products.

Ideally, you will want to consult with your vet to determine your pet’s specific nutrient requirements.

Among the variety of cat and dog food brands on the shelves, the most obvious difference between brands can be the price. When it comes to cat and dog food, slightly higher prices may be indicative of premium ingredients, as well as less of the processed stuff.

Think preservatives, fillers, artificial flavors and colors, antibiotics, and growth hormones.

As pet parents, you want to ensure your pet receives the right nutrient levels from food with the most premium ingredients available. Ingredients that have been highly processed tend to have less nutritional value than those with minimal processing. Ask your vet for cat and dog food recommendations.

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Find Quality Pet Food at Wilco Stores

Transitioning your cat or dog to new food does not have to be a chore.  Following our guide to making the diet switch can ensure your dog or cat’s tummy avoids any issues and your pets remain lively and happy for years to come.

Stop by Wilco stores to explore a wide range of high-quality, vet-approved cat and dog food products made by the world’s most trusted brands.

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