How to Transition Your Rescue Dog to a New Diet

“Rescue Me” is a recurring column by Samantha Randall, editor-in-chief at Top Dog Tips.  She provides personal anecdotes and perspective about her life as a pet lover with a passion for cat and dog rescue. Today, she talks about her experience with introducing a rescue dog to a new diet.

 One of the more complicated parts of rescuing a dog is transitioning them to a new regular diet. It’s likely that you won’t want to feed the same diet that your dog was receiving at the shelter. Often, shelters use lower-quality foods, because it’s all that they can afford. They also often use donated dog food, so your dog may not even have a “regular” diet when they come to you.

Canines can form hard-to-break habits, particularly with food. If you attempt to transition your rescue dog to a new diet too abruptly, they may or may not take to it well and could refuse to eat. A gradual transition will ensure that your dog enjoys their new diet and that the new food does not upset their digestive tract.

The first step to transitioning your dog to a new diet is to develop a plan and be patient. It may take a while for your dog to fully adjust to their new food. The transition period is important, because dogs can get sick when their diet is changed too rapidly. Monitoring your dog and being flexible is key.

Before you begin, you should speak with your veterinarian and do some research on high-quality dog food products that will meet your new pet’s nutritional needs. Also, make sure to ask the shelter about the dog’s previous diet.

Don’t be hasty

The first day that you introduce the new food, offer your pet a mix of the old food and new food. Begin with using only 25 percent of the new food and 75 percent of the old food for 1-2 days. After that, go up to a 50/50 split for another 1-2 days.  Gradually continue increasing the percentage of new food by 10-20 percent every other day until you reach 100 percent of the new food formula. By that point, your dog’s digestive system should be clean and his or her taste buds will be adjusted.

If at any point in the transition process your dog becomes sick or refuses to eat, go back to the previous mixing percentage and continue to feed at that level for two more days. If your dog continues to get sick or refuses to eat for more than 48 hours, call your veterinarian.

Be understanding of your rescued pet when introducing them to a new diet. Don’t scold them and do not panic if they refuse to eat the new formula. Set your expectations, because when you first begin this transition, your dog may be difficult. They might be picky, only eat the old food, or not eat at all. Sticking to the plan for the transition period is important, so, don’t give your dog any table scraps or dog treats to make up for not eating. When they are hungry, they will eat. You can also try adding a small amount of dog food mixers and toppers to make the new food more appealing.

Since you don’t know how your dog will react to the new food, monitor them closely during the transition period. Make sure they are drinking a regular amount of water. Pay attention to your dog’s feces. While it may sound weird to look at their stool, it is a good indicator of how your pet is adjusting to their new diet.

If the stool is runny, your pet could have diarrhea or be dehydrated. If you notice anything out of the ordinary, slow down the transitioning process. Give them multiple days before increasing the amount of new food they receive. This should fix any of the problems related to a change in diet.

Be patient and flexible

If your dog is just not adjusting to the new food, regardless of how slow you make the transition, it might be an appropriate time to consider switching back to their old food to give them a break while you look for a new formula. There could be something in the new dog food that their body is having issues with, like allergic reactions to specific ingredients.

When you go back to your dog’s old food, do it as slowly as you did while transitioning to the new food. If you notice that the problems haven’t gone away after switching back to the old food, it’s time to consult a veterinarian for more advice.

If you are transitioning from canned/wet dog food to dry food, the process may take longer. At first, your dog will likely resist the dry food because not only is the taste different but so is the texture. The best way is to either mix a little wet food into their kibble or add some water in the dry food to encourage your new dog to eat it. Keep doing this as you decrease the amount of wet food or water and completely transition them onto dry food.

Consistency is key

Rescues that have been in a shelter for a long time may seem like they have set-in-stone eating habits, but they are still adaptable. There’s a high chance your dog may protest the new diet, thus patience and sticking to the plan is essential. The most important part of transitioning a dog’s diet is consistency. If you give in to their wishes, they will never transition. That said, there are other reasons dogs don’t eat their food, and a consultation with a veterinarian may be necessary.

The information in this blog has been developed with our veterinarian and is designed to help educate pet parents. If you have questions or concerns about your pet's health or nutrition, please talk with your veterinarian.

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