Slow and steady wins the transition to a new veterinary diet

Slow and steady wins the transition to a new veterinary diet

When transitioning a pet to a new diet, think like the tortoise, not the hare.
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Mar 14, 2017

Photo: Shutterstock / 279photo StudioSick of the sighs and the eye rolls you get from clients when your veterinarian recommends a diet change? In today’s busy society, we know clients only retain some of what they hear in the appointment. We can often boost compliance with nutritional recommendations by offering written instructions. Make it easier on yourself and the pet owner and offer a written plan. Here are a few guidelines to gradually transition the pet to a new food.  

For dogs

As a general rule of thumb, the transition schedule for some healthy dogs is

> Days 1 and 2: 25% of the recommended diet and 75% of the pet's previous diet

> Days 3 and 4: 50/50 split

> Days 5 to 7: 25% of the pet's previous diet and 75% of the recommended diet

> Days 8 and on: 1 cup of the recommended diet, discontinuing the previous diet  

For cats

When it comes to cats, I recommend making the transition twice as long.

> Days 1 to 4: 25% of the recommended diet and 75% of the pet's previous diet

> Days 5 to 8: 50/50 split

> Days 9 to 11: 25% of the pet's previous diet and 75% of the recommended diet

> Days 12 and on: 1 cup of the recommended diet, discontinuing the previous diet

Special cases

When it comes to some patients—especially cats, finicky dogs and any patient that’s been ill—try a much slower transition. For example, perhaps only a few kibbles of a new dry diet, adding a few more each day. Or if transitioning to a new canned diet, simply using a small amount of the new diet as a top dressing.

Some dogs and cats transition to a new diet easier if it’s not mixed with or even in the same bowl as their normal diet. In these cases, offering a small amount of the new diet in a separate dish from the pet's normal diet may work.

Stop the harmful hurry

Explain that a gradual transition can help avoid gastrointestinal upset, diarrhea, vomiting, food aversions and so on. If your veterinarian has recommended a therapeutic diet because the pet had been diagnosed with a medical condition, clients may think they need to make a change to the new diet quickly. Tell clients they don’t need to rush this process. Patients, for any number of reasons, may require a more gradual transition plan than a healthy dog or cat.

In my practice, I explain the goal of nutritional management to these worried clients. I tell them a long-term approach—whether it’s a few more days or a few more weeks— generally won’t have a major impact on the patients’ health. 

Ed Carlson, CVT, VTS (nutrition), is the technician learning and development manager at InTown Veterinary Group.