Natural Dog Food: Ensuring a Smooth Transition

Switching from conventional kibble to natural dog food is never a bad idea. But the manner in which you switch foods can become an issue if you don't follow certain steps. Any abrupt change in your dog's diet can lead to everything from an stomach upset and diarrhea to allergies and constipation. Before changing your dog's diet, there a few things you should know:

Should I change my dog's diet from regular to natural dog food?

When it comes to changing your dog's diet, chances are, special circumstances are involved. Your dog may be overweight or sluggish, or he may have recurring skin and ear infections, digestive problems, and/or medical conditions such as kidney disease or diabetes. Most older dogs, especially larger breeds, typically switch from their regular diet to a senior diet at a certain age. If your dog has any of the conditions listed above, your dog may need a diet switch. Depending on the dog's breed, age, and special needs your vet may recommend a natural and/or organic diet, a moist food diet, or any other number of diets that he thinks may be effective.

How to Ensure a Smooth Transition

When changing your dog's diet, you should start by introducing new food gradually. Try a mixture of 25% new food and 75% old food, changing the proportion of new to old over 3-5 days. Once the weaning process is over, your dog will eating 100% new food and without little to no disruption in his digestive process. If your dog picks over his food, choosing to eat only the old and not the new, stick with it. He will get used to it eventually.

Another way to ensure a smooth transition when changing your dog's diet is to use positive reinforcement. Your dog will respond better if you use a pleasant tone and gentle encouragement. Rewarding your dog with a "good boy," a hug, or a pat on the back goes a long way. You should also:
  • Avoid feeding your dog other foods such as table scraps and treats.
  • Avoid large portions.
  • Feed your dog at the same time each day. This will establish a comfortable eating pattern.
  • Always have fresh water available. Place water several feet away from food bowl to avoid gulping.

What exactly is "natural" dog food?

It depends on where you live. Each state has its own definitions, loosely based on the USDA definition. This means, a "natural" label in one state may be not "natural" in others. More importantly, the official USDA definition of "natural" only applies to meat and poultry: those products carrying the "natural" claim must not contain any artificial flavoring, color ingredients, chemical preservatives, or artificial or synthetic ingredients, and are only "minimally processed." This doesn't mean that products using the term "natural" do not contain harmful ingredients. In fact, the USDA allows dog food manufacturers to use disclaimers. It's best to read the ingredient list and look for the right kinds of ingredients -- healthy simple things that you can pronounce. Keep an eye out for disclaimers that give the green light to using synthetic additives such as butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) and butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT), propyl gallate, propylene glycol (also used as a less-toxic version of automotive antifreeze), and ethoxyquin. These products can cause everything from digestive disorders to neurological conditions.