Get rates for your pet:

See My Rates »
Retrieve a Saved Quote

Should I Change My Pet’s Food?

By Cathy Barnette, DVM
February 28, 2022 • 4 min. read
Little cute maltipoo puppy

Key Takeaways

  • Rotating your pet’s food may or may not have benefits, but definitely presents risks.
  • Grain-free dog foods follow a human fad and may actually pose negative consequences.
  • Canned foods may provide more health benefits to cats over dry food.
  • Changing foods should be done gradually to prevent gastrointestinal upset.
There are many reasons you might consider changing your pet’s food. Maybe you saw an enticing ad for a new brand of dog food, or you’re worried your cat is becoming bored with her current diet. Maybe your pet has a newly-diagnosed medical condition, like food allergies or diabetes, and your veterinarian has recommended a prescription diet. Regardless of the reason, it can be difficult to determine when and how to make a diet change. In this article, we’ll address some common pet parent questions and provide tips to help you through diet changes.

Rotating Diets: Good Idea or Bad Idea?

Many pet owners assume that rotating foods is a good idea. After all, we don’t eat the same thing every day, so why should our pets? Unfortunately, there are some fallacies in that logic. We don’t know if our pets grow bored with foods like we do. Also, while we need to incorporate a variety of foods to meet our nutritional needs, our pets are already eating a complete and balanced diet that contains all of the vitamins, minerals, and nutrients they need. While the benefits of frequent food changes are questionable, there are definitely risks. Sudden food changes can cause stomach upset and diarrhea for many pets. Food changes also increase the number of potential allergen exposures for your pet, which can prove problematic in the case of food allergies. While there are situations in which a food change is beneficial, or even necessary, regularly rotating foods is unlikely to help and may even have negative impacts. It’s best to choose one high-quality food for your pet and stick with it, as long as the diet is working well for your pet.

Selecting a High-Quality Pet Food

Pet Food Myths DebunkedWhen you look at a pet food label, the first things you notice will be little more than meaningless marketing jargon. Phrases like “all natural” and “no byproducts” might sound appealing, but they give you little information about the food’s true nutritional content. In order to assess a diet’s quality, you will need to do a bit more research. On the back of the bag or can, look for the Information Panel. The Information Panel outlines the food’s ingredients, guaranteed analysis, and feeding instructions. It also tells you who manufactures the food. Look for a reputable manufacturer, with a research and development department and on-staff veterinary nutritionists. Perhaps the most important statement on the Information Panel is the Nutritional Adequacy Statement. This statement will likely say one of the following:
  • This product is intended for intermittent and supplemental feeding only.
  • Animal feeding tests using AAFCO procedures substantiate that ______ provides complete and balanced nutrition for [species, life stage].
  • ______ is formulated to meet AAFCO nutrient profiles for [species, life stage].
There are two things to consider when reading a Nutritional Adequacy Statement. First, does the food provide complete and balanced nutrition for your pet’s life stage? Diets intended for intermittent or supplemental feeding don’t meet the nutritional needs of any animal, and a food formulated for adult cats will not meet the needs of a kitten. Next, is this claim substantiated through feeding trials, or was the diet’s recipe calculated to meet pre-determined standards? Feeding trials are a better option, because they provide you with some assurance that nutrients are present in a form that your pet will be able to absorb. If you have questions about the best diet for your pet, or how to read food labels, talk to your veterinarian.

A Note on Canine Diets

In recent years, an increasing number of pet food companies have introduced grain-free diets for dogs. Seeing their marketing may lead you to believe that grain-free dog food is a healthier option, but there is no evidence to support this claim. Companies creating grain-free foods are capitalizing on human nutrition fads, not responding to a significant nutritional need. (While grain allergies can occur in dogs, they are very rare.) Unfortunately, there may be health risks associated with grain-free foods in dogs. Although this topic is still not fully understood, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has found a possible link between grain-free diets and dilated cardiomyopathy (heart disease) in dogs. This link may be coincidental and there may be other factors at play, but most veterinarians currently recommend steering clear of grain-free diets in dogs.

Special Considerations for Cats

cat foodWhile both dry and canned foods can provide adequate nutrition for cats, there may be significant benefits to feeding cats a canned diet. Canned diets are high in moisture, supporting kidney function and potentially decreasing the risk of lower urinary tract disease. Additionally, canned foods are higher in protein and lower in carbohydrates than dry food, aiding in the prevention of obesity and diabetes. Talk to your veterinarian to determine whether a canned food is the best option for your cat. Cats also require careful monitoring when making a diet change. Overweight or obese cats, in particular, are prone to hepatic lipidosis (liver disease) with any sudden decrease in calorie intake. If you attempt to change your cat’s diet and they don’t like the new food, hepatic lipidosis can occur. Monitor your cat’s food intake carefully when changing diets, to ensure they eat the new food readily and don’t miss any meals.

How to Change Your Pet’s Diet

Sudden food changes can lead to diarrhea in both dogs and cats. In order to avoid that issue, it’s important to make diet changes slowly and gradually. Unless instructed otherwise by your veterinarian, food transitions should be made gradually over a period of one week. On the first day of your transition, feed your pet mostly their original diet, with just a few bites of the new food mixed in. Each day, remove a bit of the old diet and add a bit of the new diet. By midweek, you should be feeding an equal mixture of the two foods. Continue this gradual transition in the following days, feeding entirely the new food on day seven.

Summary

While there is little benefit to frequently rotating your pet’s food, there are situations in which a food change may be warranted. A diet change may be medically indicated, or you may want to switch your pet from a lower-quality food to a higher-quality food. When making any diet changes, it’s best to make food changes gradually, to minimize gastrointestinal effects. Talk to your veterinarian if you have questions about the best food for your pet, or how to make a diet change.
cathy barnette
By Cathy Barnette, DVM

Cathy Barnette, DVM is a veterinarian and freelance writer based in Punta Gorda, FL. She graduated from the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine, then headed to North Carolina, where she spent fifteen years working in small animal general practice. Cathy recently returned to her home state of Florida and now dedicates her working hours to creating educational content for pet owners and veterinary team members. Cathy is passionate about making complex medical information accessible to pet owners, allowing them to partner with their veterinarians to make informed decisions about their pets' health.  Cathy is a member of both the American Veterinary Medical Association and the American Medical Writers Association. In addition to her human family members, she shares her home with one dog, two cats, and a dove. Cathy Barnette on LinkedIn

Show more