Making a Change in Diet

Categories: Dog Food & Nutrition
By Jennifer Lueck

Where to begin: The best place to start is by assessing your dog’s current health and by taking a close look at the ingredients in the food you are feeding him. If your dog is being fed a low-quality diet or has any of the problems associated with low-quality diets (see the list below), it might be time for a change of food (and maybe even a visit to the vet). There are many health problems that can be attributed to a low-quality diet and they can appear at any time during a dog’s lifetime. They may not be as apparent in younger dogs, but low quality food can really take a toll on a dog’s body over a period of several years. Some problems are so common in dogs nowadays they are considered the norm. For example, I didn’t realize there was anything wrong with Gabe’s coat until we switched foods. What we always assumed was just normal for Gabe was actually a symptom of a deficiency in his diet. His coat is now softer, shinier and stays cleaner longer.

Price: Expect to pay more for high-quality dog food, but don’t let a high price fool you. A food that is expensive is not necessarily high quality. Try to buy the best food you can afford. A healthy dog will need fewer trips to the vet, which will save you money in the long run! Plus, high-quality foods are more digestible, which means more of the food is being utilized and less ends up as waste in the backyard.

Variety is the key: Many experts now recommend switching foods every 3 to 4 months to avoid vitamin and mineral deficiencies, allergies and fussiness. You’ve probably heard just the opposite: don’t change your dog’s food because he’ll get an upset stomach. The truth is, a well-balanced, varied diet is as critical for dogs as it is for humans. Nancy Kerns, in her Whole Dog Journal article “Choosing Good Foods” states it perfectly:

“Say your dog eats one food, day after day, year after year. And say that food contains a little more of this mineral than is ideal, or not quite enough of that vitamin, or an unhealthy ratio of this nutrient to that one… Over time, lacking any other foods to help correct the excesses, insufficiencies, or the imbalances, these problems can contribute to the development of disease.”

Many experts also recommend rotating protein and grain sources. For example, if you’re currently feeding chicken and oatmeal, switch to lamb and rice next, then turkey and barley, then duck and potato.
Transitioning: When you do change foods, be sure to plan ahead so you can transition your dog to the new food over a period of four to eight days. A young dog or a dog that changes foods frequently will need less time to transition to the new food. For the first two weeks on the new food, monitor your dog to make sure the new food is right for him. And always keep the bag of the old food for a couple of weeks in case your dog develops problems or if you need to contact the company for any reason.

Signs of a healthy dog
  • Healthy Coat that is soft and shiny and doesn’t mat easily
  • Little or no “doggie smell”
  • Plenty of energy
  • Strong immune system
  • Bright, healthy eyes
  • Well-muscled body
  • Well-formed stool that is not voluminous and is easily produced with no straining
Problems associated with low-quality diets
  • Skin odor
  • Dully, greasy coat, usually accompanied by dandruff
  • Susceptibility to infections, such as ear infections
  • Chronically goopy eyes
  • Thin, undernourished appearance
  • Low energy level
  • Voluminous stool
Better Food For Dogs, David Bastin, Jennifer Ashton and Dr. Grant Nixon, D.V.M.
“Choosing Good Foods”, The Whole Dog Journal,February, 2009, Nancy Kerns, P 3-9.
“Variety is the Spice of Life”, The Whole Dog Journal Handbook of Dog & Puppy Care and Training, Nancy Kerns, P. 179-181
Pet Food Nation by Joan Weiskopf, P. 69.