Switching Dog Food Brands – The Rotation Diet

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Switching Dog Food Brands – How? and How Important?

Me at Petsmart picking out dog food

Me at Petsmart picking out dog food

Once you have selected a good quality dog food, that’s all you need to feed, right?

Not really.

“There is no one “perfect” food or perfect food combination that provides everything a human or animal needs to create optimum health over long periods.

Rotating protein sources not only ensures your pet will benefit from a varied amino acid and nutrient profile, it also reduces the risk he will form an intolerance to any specific animal protein source over time.”

– W. Jean Dodds, DVM

Food rotation: the secret to optimum nutrition and gut health!

What is Rotation Feeding?

The Rotation Diet is really all about variety. It’s a holistic and nutritional philosophy that offers your pet a dietary alternative — varying both food proteins (chicken, beef, lamb, fish even kangaroo etc.) and food forms (raw, frozen, wet, dry, etc.). This way your dog or cat is able to enjoy and experience different flavors and textures.

There are many good reasons for a rotation diet:

Dogs (actually all mammals) are designed to consume a range of different foods, and to obtain differing vitamins and minerals from each. They are not designed to eat “only chicken” or “only lamb” or any other food item for eternity. Changing foods, importantly the contents of those foods, every so often helps to give them the variety their bodies were designed to thrive on.

There is no one dog food in existence that “has it all”. And remember, the feeding trials that foods go through only last for six months (and not all foods are even trialed). Changing foods periodically helps to ensure that no dietary deficiencies or excesses build up over time.

Variety is the spice of life. Who wants to eat the same food day in and day out? Could you do it? For months or years? Feeding your dog something different helps to ensure that he does not become bored and frustrated with his food. This will not make your dog picky – we are talking about periodic changes here, not serving up something different or adding goodies to tempt him every time he doesn’t like his dinner.

It helps to avoid the development of allergies. In a few extreme cases, you (or your dog) may be instantly and violently allergic to something. But that is a few extreme cases only – the vast majority of allergies are things that build up over time and with constant exposure. The surest way to develop an allergy to chicken, for example, is to consume it daily for an extended period. It is no coincidence that the most common allergens are things that have commonly been used in dog foods for many years. The (modern) advice given by nutritionists is that feeding a wide variety of different foods, preferably from a young age, can help to avoid the development of allergies in the first place (that’s the advice given for humans too).

Dogs with a food allergy will commonly have itchy skin, chronic ear infections or sometimes gastrointestinal problems like diarrhea and vomiting

yeastpaws1-213x214Common signs of allergies are itchy skin, red itchy paws, chewing paws, yeast infections, ear infections, and skin infections that may respond to antibiotics but reappear as soon as the antibiotics are discontinued.

That all adds up to changing the food you feed every once in a while. That means changing to a food with different main ingredients. There is very little benefit to switching from one chicken/rice food to another, for example. If you have been feeding a food with chicken as the main ingredient, then it is far better that the next food is based on lamb, or turkey, or fish, or beef, etc and that the other main ingredients are also varied.

What are the most common causes of dog food allergies?

Dog food ingredients most likely to provoke an allergic reaction include…

  • Beef
  • Dairy
  • Chicken
  • Lamb
  • Fish
  • Corn
  • Wheat
  • Soy
  • Yeast

If you’re concerned that your dog might harbor a food sensitivity try the elimination diet. Understanding Canine Allergies

Do I have to change brands every time I change food?

No, not necessarily. Look at the ingredients in the different formulas made by your brand. What is different? If it is only the main meat ingredient, then you should change to a different brand when you change foods. If many of the ingredients, including the main meat, are different then there is no need to change brands if you don’t want to. The point here is to ensure that your dog gets a good variety of different food items in his diet. Not brand loyalty.

How often should I rotate foods?

It is not necessary to change your dog’s food on a daily or even weekly basis, although it is recommended that you rotate your dog’s food every three months or fewer. The new food can be the same brand and a different flavor or you can elect to choose a whole new brand. To rotate to the new food, transition your dog slowly over the course of a week. With each meal, feed him increasing amounts of the new food, and decreased amounts of the old food, until you have completely switched to the new food.

If your dog does not suffer from digestive upsets  when his food is changed, then you might even consider changing foods every time the bag runs out. (If your dog has GI Disease or problems then diet changes should be discussed and monitored by and with your Vet.)

How many different foods do I need? Can I use a food again?

At least three or four different foods (different main meat source and different main ingredients). More is better. You can certainly reuse a good food, especially if your dog does particularly well on it. You could choose, for example, to feed Food #1 for one bag then change to Food #2 – go back to Food #1 and then to Food #3 and so on. This satisfies the criteria of avoiding constant or prolonged exposure to a particular set of ingredients.

What about just mixing foods together?

Mixing foods together can certainly help to ensure nutritional adequacy for the long term. But it does nothing to provide your dog with variety (something different to eat!) and it does not satisfy the criteria of avoiding constant or prolonged exposure to a particular set of ingredients. So this practice will do nothing to help avoid the development of food allergies – it just means that there are a greater number of things the dog is being exposed to on a constant basis. It also means that there is a wider range of possible culprits should a food allergy develop. You can mix foods if you choose, but you should vary the foods that you mix together, just as if you were feeding a single food.

Isn’t changing dog foods dangerous for the animal?

Although some pets can’t tolerate menu changes, I’ve never been able to find a single scientific study proving diet rotation to be unhealthy or detrimental to a dog.

When Should I Start My Pet on Rotation Feeding?

It’s much easier to start rotation feeding while he or she is still a puppy or kitten (assuming they are already eating solid food), but that’s not to say an older dog or cat can’t benefit from rotation feeding too. It just may take a little bit more patience. Often, it’s recommended that small amounts of the new food be blended into the regular diet, so that your pet may become accustomed to the taste and texture of the food slowly, especially if you are switching between brands with different formulations.This may be an issue for some pets.

The most important part is that you consult a veterinarian or a veterinary nutritionist before beginning rotation feeding. They can assist you in choosing which foods are best for the rotation and ensure that you continue to provide your dog a balanced diet. Also, keep a feeding diary. Nothing fancy, but keeping track of what you are feeding your dog will help immensely should he or she have difficulty processing a new pet food. – PetMD

To minimize the risk that your dog will have a bad reaction to the rapid diet change, there are some important steps you must take.

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Changing Dog Food Brands – Schedule

When switching dog food you should do it gradually, mix in small amounts of the new brand with the old brand.

Probiotic supplements can also reduce the chance that your dog will develop diarrhea when its diet suddenly changes. (Yogurt on top of the new food can help)

Here is the transition process to use when changing your dog’s food:

  • Day 1:  75% old brand dog food, 25% of the new food to start the adjustment period for clean digestion.
  • Day 2:  60% old brand dog food, 40% new brand dog food
  • Day 3:  50% – 50% old and new split
  • Day 4:  40% old brand, 60% new brand
  • Day 5:  25% old and 75% new
  • Day 6:  Feed 90-100% of the new food as you should be very close to a clean digestive transition period.

Always switch gradually and if you’re forced to switch to a new brand rapidly because you’re old brand is no longer available then transition them with a chicken/rice mixture instead of the old food over a longer period of time. keep an eye on them and if at any time your dog does develop diarrhea, take them off all food entirely for 12 hours to allow the stomach to calm down and then feed them small meals of boiled white rice and boiled white chicken meat for a few days.

Is it better to feed your dog the same food each meal? Or is it safer to change menus on a regular basis?

Resources:

For the surprising answer to these and other questions about dog food allergies, be sure to visit this video by Dr. Karen Becker.

For more information on Food Rotation Diets:

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