Once a food has been chosen, what is the best way to transition a pet to the new food?

Answer:

  • For healthy pets: It is important to transition to a new food slowly. Sometimes a pet may have GI upset when switched to a new diet too quickly.
    1. To transition to a new pet food in 7 days, gradually introduce the new food by mixing the new with the previous food. Days 1-2 (75% previous food/25% new food), days 3-4 (50% previous food/50% new food), days 5-6 (25% previous food/75% new food), day 7(100% new food).1
    2. Transitioning over 10 days (or more) may be a better option if the food change will be significant, or the dog or cat has shown low tolerance to food changes in the past.
      • Dogs: Days 1-3 (75% previous food/25% new food), days 4-6 (50% previous food/50% new food), days 7-9 (25% previous food/75% new food), day 10 (100% new food).1
      • Cats: Week 1 (75% previous food/25% new food), week 2 (50% previous food/50% new food), week 3 (25% previous food/75% new food), week 4 (100% new food).1
    3. Another approach is to provide both foods (previous and new) in side-by-side food dishes instead of mixed together.
    4. The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine has excellent tips on transitioning a pet to a new food. Some include:
      • If the pet is fed free choice and refuses the new diet, it may be easier to start by changing the pet’s free choice feeding to scheduled meal feeding. Leave the food out for one hour at each feeding time.2
      • Offer the new food in the pet’s usual feeding bowl, next to the previous diet in another bowl. Or, put the food in similar bowls as this may make the change easier.2
      • If the pet eats the new diet easily, the previous food can be removed over the next day or two.2
      • If the pet doesn’t eat the new diet after an hour, remove it until the next feeding. At the next feeding, repeat the process, always providing fresh new food.2
      • Once the new diet becomes familiar and the pet eats it well, start to decrease the amount of the previous diet by a small amount (about 25%) each day until the change is complete.2
  • Different approaches for cats and dogs: Transitioning a dog or cat to a new diet may require different approaches:
    1. Cats:
      • Feed in a wide flat bowl (i.e. saucer) to prevent the whiskers from rubbing the side of the bowl. This may be especially helpful in the transition from dry to canned food.
      • Cats may require a longer transition period to switch to a new diet. Body weight should be monitored during the transition phase to ensure the cat is not inappropriately losing weight.
      • Since most cats do not like foods served at temperature extremes, food at room temperature may be the best option.
      • Add low-sodium tuna juice, clam juice, or chicken broth (ensure the product does not contain garlic or onion flavoring). Note that even low-sodium products may be too high in sodium for cats with cardiac disease.
      • For multiple-cat households, feeding each cat in a separate area is least stressful.2
    2. Dogs:
      • Add low-sodium chicken broth or beef broth (ensure the product does not contain garlic or onion flavoring). Note that even low-sodium products may be too high in sodium for dogs with cardiac disease.
  • General tips To increase palatability:
    • Add oregano, except with a novel protein diet or hydrolyzed protein diet used for food allergies.2
    • Mix the new dry food with warm water.
    • Warm the food.
    • Some pets will eat food that has been refrigerated and stored in a plastic container versus being stored in the original can.
    • If the pet is reluctant to try a new food, try hand feeding it.
    • Feed the pet in a quiet environment with little to no distractions.
  • For hospitalized patients:
    • If the patient’s medical condition warrants a diet change, introducing the new diet gradually once the patient’s condition has improved is typically recommended.
    • This will avoid creating a “learned aversion,” in which the new diet is associated with a negative experience (i.e. sickness, hospitalization).
    • If the diet will be fed long-term, it should be introduced when the patient is feeling better so it is associated with feeling good.3 Simply put, it is usually recommended not to feed patients new food that they plan to eat for the rest of their lives while hospitalized.
    • Advise the owner to start the transition process during a time when there are few “outside distractions” (e.g. moving, life events, change in school or work schedule) so the pet can be monitored closely.2
The Science Behind our Recommendations
1. Thatcher CD, Hand MS, Remillard RL. Small animal clinical nutrition: an iterative process. In: Hand MS, Thatcher CD, Remillard RL, Roudebush P, Novotny BJ, eds. Small Animal Clinical Nutrition 5th ed. Topeka, KS: Mark Morris Institute; 2010: 12. 2. Food and Feeding Management (2/2010). College of Veterinary Medicine, Veterinary Medical Center, The Ohio State University Web site. http://vet.osu.edu/vmc/food-and-feeding-management-22010. Accessed July 8, 2013. D3. iet Manual. College of Veterinary Medicine, Veterinary Medical Center, The Ohio State University Web site. http://vet.osu.edu/vmc/diet-manual. Accessed July 8, 2013.