Pet Peeves: Changing Up the Puppy Chow

Lynsey Kitching

Dogs need to eat…it’s true! And as pet owners it’s our responsibility to feed them, aside from the scrapes they seem to devour like a vacuum off the floor. Those spaghetti strands are slippery!

So, we walk into the pet store, head down the dog food isle and then BAM!

Choice, upon choices, upon choices and every vet, pet store worker, online dog guru and trainer will tell you a different reason why a different diet is necessary for the ultimate health of your dog.

So, how do you make that choice and more importantly what do you do when you need to change foods? The only common denominator I have found with any dog food advice is that you should make the change gradual. But what does that mean?

Dr. Dana Bergen, who owns the Chetwynd Veterinary Hospital with her husband, thinks it depends on the breed of dog, and how much time you have to devote to their diet. “For any type of food we do recommend a gradual transition over to that food. It depends on the dog. Some have really sensitive stomachs and other dogs are not very sensitive at all. We recommend at least a week for transition if at all possible, though some dogs can go cold turkey from one to the other, they seem to have cast iron stomachs, but to be safe we do recommend a week.”

Bergen suggests mixing the food at the start when making the change. To start, add ten percent of the new food to the old food at eating time. Then boost up to 20, 30 percent over the course of a week to ten days.

However she cautions, “You may need, if a dog is really sensitive, to back off and transition even slower.”

Traditionally, professionals have warned that if you change your dog’s food too often, they may become picky eaters or develop digestive problems. However, more recently people are starting to think that maybe switching up your dog’s diet every once in a while could be beneficial to them and make their feeding time more enjoyable.

Bergen says, “I don’t see any huge benefits to doing that. If you have a dog food that your dog seems to be doing quite well on, their fur is looking wonderful and they feel great, I don’t really see the need to switch it up. We’ve had our pets on the same food for years; mind you, one is getting older and had to have diet changes due to kidney disease. I think the main reason some people might suggest constantly using different foods is if they need to change for health reasons at some point the pet may be less picky and easier to transition. Until someone convinces me otherwise I don’t see a problem keeping your dog on the same food.”

So how do you pick the right food? Well, unfortunately there isn’t one right answer.

Dr. Bergen says, “I have heard of a lot of people switching over to the homemade or raw diets. I do like a good homemade diet, but it’s really hard for an owner to make a good one. It has to be fresh, unprocessed and balanced for a dog and that can be very hard to do as well, most owners don’t have time to do it. Unless we sit down and have a consult with the owner or we can refer them to a dietician. We don’t recommend doing it on your own. There is too big of a chance with contamination of pathogens like E. coli. Not only for your dog, but also for yourself because you’re exposed to your dog and they might not be showing any clinical signs of issues, but they can transfer bacteria over to you or someone else.”

Dr. Berger says she doesn’t recommend raw diets.

Even if your dog is super happy with his chow, there is one change that can’t be avoided, the switch from puppy to adult food. Dr. Bergen says this should also be done by about a week of gradually incorporating more of the adult food in with the puppy food until the sneaky switch is complete. But at what age and physical maturity should you do this?

Dr. Bergen says, “The time when you do transition depends on the breeding, the size of the dog and the puppy food you have them on. We usually keep large breed dogs on puppy food for longer and we like to keep them on a large breed puppy food. You have to pay attention to the size of your dog for when the ideal time is to transition them,” she continues, “There are all sorts of foods out there, most of the better ones will be designed for a large or regular breed dog and those will also on the label, give you a little bit of an idea of when you should transition. Some are more detailed than others; they’ll have a weight and age charts.”

According to the ever-famous Cesar Milan, the rule of thumb for switching up the food is when your dog has reached its adult height. He also says, “Should you follow the vet’s, the pet store owner, or the dog food company’s guidelines? The best guideline to follow is your puppy’s! A rule of thumb to remember is that smaller breeds tend to mature faster than large breeds. Small breed dogs up to 30 pounds mature around 10 to 12 months of age keeping in mind that some toy breeds can mature even earlier. Medium breed dogs up to 80 pounds mature between 12 to 16 months and large and giant breed dogs weighing more than 80 pounds can take up to two years to reach full maturity.”

Though there is no exact science for when to switch a dogs diet, the best way to do it is to do a gradual switch. If you’re dog is reacting fine to the change, than great! If not, perhaps make a visit to the vet to discuss dietary options for your pup.

Check back next week when we’ll investigate what is going on with dog and cat treats lately.