7 Surefire Steps for How to Switch Dog Food (that work for cats too!)
You want to switch dog food or change your cats diet. But how can you make sure they will eat it? How much should you feed your pet? What if your cat or dog is really fussy? Is it even possible to get them to eat something different when you've tried to change their food in the past?
Follow these tips and your pet should happily accept the switch and eat whatever you want to feed them!
1 - Why are you switching food?
There are many reasons why you might want to switch your dog or cats food. They may need a different age-appropriate diet such as changing from an adult to a senior formulation. They may need to loose weight and so you plan on switching them to a light or special weight loss diet. They may have developed a condition that would benefit from a prescription diet such as kidney disease or cystitis in cats. You may just fancy changing them onto a "better quality" diet.
Whatever the reason, the last thing you want to do is battle with your pet and end up having to throw a big bag or tray of food away because your dog or cat refuses to eat it.
2 - How much should you feed your dogs or cat?
Our first step with any new diet should be to work out how much you should be feeding your dog or cat. The obvious place to start looking is on the packaging itself where you will normally find a table that gives a range of amounts to feed depending on the weight of your pet. Now this is a start but I personally feel that in many instances the amount given is too much or the range too broad to be as accurate as we can be.
The amount we need to feed depends on many things such as is your pet neutered or entire and are they a healthy weight or overweight. Activity levels also clearly influence the requirements of an individual as well as their metabolic rate and any conditions they may suffer from.
Your vet should be able to advise you more accurately as to how much to feed your pet specifically. Another option is to download my weight and diet calculator to help you work out what your pets ideal weight should be, as well as how much you should be feeding them.
3 - Gradually transition to your pets new diet
Our next step is to gradually transition onto this new diet. Some pets will love this their new food straight away and will eat it readily from day 1. If you change it suddenly you may find they get some loose motions but these should quickly return to normal. For most pets though it is a good idea to gradually increase the proportion of the new diet while reducing the proportion of the old diet. 7 days would be a pretty normal transition period but for those individuals who are less willing to accept the change, a longer period of 2-3 weeks (or even 4 weeks) may be better.
For the first couple of days 1/4 of each meal should be made up of the new diet. This should then be increased to half and then 3/4 after another couple of days. A week after starting each meal should just be the new diet and they will hopefully be eating it well.
4 - Use the new diet as treats
If you are not changing your pets diet for any medical reason and it is something you are planning a long time in advance then this next tip might help. You could start using the new food as treats during play or when out on walks. Of course this will only really work if you plan on feeding kibble.
Keep a handful in your pocket and give a little at every opportunity where reward is deserved. This way your pet will hopefully get a taste for it in small bursts as well as associate it with something fun.
5 - Try alternative pet foods
While most dogs and cats should accept most foods there will always be exceptions. If your pet is one of them and is not eating their new diet after a few weeks then it might be time to try an alternative diet. In pretty much all cases there will be a very similar diet produced either by the same company or one of their competitors with a different flavor that should hopefully then be accepted by your pet if you go through the same process as I've just described.
6 - What to avoid when switching cat and dog food
While this gives us an easy process to follow that should get your pet eating their new food, there are also a couple of things to avoid doing. The first of these is leaving uneaten food down for too long. Any food left down too long will start to spoil with the flavor changing, becoming unpalatable. This will happen faster in warm climates and if wet food is being fed.
I do not recommend having food down for long periods of time anyway. It does tend to result in overeating and obesity, a rapidly developing issue in our cats and dogs. Ad-lib feeding (where food is constantly left out) is especially bad for this. Instead, allow your pet access to their food at meal times for 20 - 30 minutes and then take up anything that remains uneaten.
Something else to avoid is replacing they food straight away with something tasy if they refuse to eat their meal. All this tells your pet is that if they turn their nose up at something they will be rewarded. Guess what happens next? They start to refuse to eat anything you want them to as they know you will replace it with something different. If your pet is really not eating anything and you are concerned then leave them without food for an hour or two before giving them something else that you know they like.
7 - A hungry dog will eat (but a cat might not!)
Having said all that, something else to avoid is giving up too early. Hunger is your friend in the introduction of a new diet. A missed meal is not going to harm your pet and if they are always feeling full then they are unlikely to eat something they are not super keen on regardless of what it is. It's the same with us, if we aren't hungry we won't eat a full meal. We might snack on something unhealthy though, there's always room for cake or sweets!
While a little hunger is harmless, the final thing we need to avoid is starving our pet completely. This is especially important if you have an overweight cat where there are reports of them developing the potentially fatal condition of hepatic lipidosis or fatty liver as a result of starving themselves during a diet change. Missing a couple of meals is unlikely to be a problem but if they haven't eaten in 18 - 24 hours then feeding them something you know they like is a good idea. Just don't do this immediately after offering them their new diet.
It is also a good idea to consult your vet before any diet change, especially if your pet is obese.
If you need some more tips to help get your fussy and picky pet eating then make sure you read my article: How to Get Your Fussy Dog to Eat
If you've changed your pets diet and have some useful tips to share I would love to hear them in the comments below.
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