Tips for Introducing New Food to Your Dog
Lately I've had a number of amazing conversations with pet parents who are ready to embrace the enjoyment and health benefits of feeding fresh food to their dogs.*
I admit that feeding fresh food is a different process if you've been used to kibble feeding - open bag, scoop, repeat. With raw feeding there are a few more steps and more components of the meal, but feeding fresh food is so much fun! I love preparing bowls of food for my dogs and I still look at their meals and marvel at the healthy, whole food ingredients and the rainbow of colours from the vegetables and fruit.
One thing I've noticed is that people who are new to feeding fresh food sometimes get excited by all the food choices - to the point that they overdo things a little bit - or a lot. It's like there's a big flashing neon 'Buffet for Dogs' sign, and people can't wait to let their dog sample everything.
This is the point where I jump in and say "Woah... let's not get ahead of ourselves".
Let me explain... let's suppose you bring home a new dog or puppy, or decide to start adding fresh food to your current dog's meals - and they have rarely, if ever, eaten fresh food before. In the first week or two you give your dog steamed broccoli, spinach, sweet potato, blueberries, green beans, pomegranate, red pepper, watermelon, banana, and packaged training treats... and your dog develops a reaction (diarrhea, sloppy stools, or itching paws, for example). How will you ever know if it was one particular food, too much new food in a short space of time, or the amount of a certain food that caused the reaction? Or perhaps it wasn't the food that caused the problem, but something else entirely. These are healthy foods (well, except perhaps for the packaged training treats), but when they are fed to a dog who has never had fresh food, or in amounts or combinations that are too much for a tummy to handle in a short period of time, there can definitely be a reaction. If you only ever ate Taco Bell and McDonald's french fries and chicken nuggets and nothing fresh, and then ate a big salad - you might have a problem too!
If you have a dog who is new to you, or new to fresh food, you need to follow a slow and methodical approach to introducing new food.
Tips for Introducing New Foods to Your Dog
These tips are primarily for pet parents who have a new puppy or a new dog, or are in the process of either changing diets or adding new foods to their dog's current diet. These tips especially apply to breeds who have a predisposition to allergies or food intolerance (I'm looking at you, French Bulldogs and German Shepherds!)
Once you have a good understanding of how well your dog tolerates new food, and in what amounts, you can push the envelope a bit more; but I'd rather you start slowly, be successful, keep your dog feeling well, and also save yourself from having to do detective work in retrospect.
1) One at a Time
Introduce one new food at a time. Continue to 'test for tolerance' for a few days (or longer, depending on your dog), while watching for any adverse reactions. Pay attention to the quantity of each new food you offer your dog. A small amount of loose poop doesn't necessarily mean that the new food is not a fit - it may mean that too much of the new food was given. You may need to feed a smaller amount of the new food the next day. A bit of loose stool could be related to something else; however, if your dog's stool does not improve quickly, discontinue the new food and evaluate.
Try to give 'rest periods' so that you aren't offering new food every day - this is especially helpful advice for dogs who are slow to adjust to new food.
2) Low and Slow
Whether it's vegetables, fruit, a new protein, treats or supplements, think low and slow. Introduce one new food or supplement at a time, and start with a small amount. Figure out the 'recommended amount', and then try 1/4 to 1/2 of that amount - depending on your dog. Monitor your dog's reaction to the new food, and then increase the amount slowly if all goes well. This is a marathon, not a sprint. (This advice does not apply to medication or supplements prescribed by your veterinarian, in which case, follow their advice.)
3) Correlation is Not Causation
Be aware of other factors that contribute to what you think might be a food reaction. Diarrhea can be caused by many things: stress, parasites, new water source, side effect of certain medications including flea and tick medications, side effect of vaccines, too much of a new food or treat, or too many treats. Diarrhea is not always food related. Similarly, itching, watery nose and eyes, and ear infections are symptoms of many things, and are not necessarily food related.
If possible, try to introduce new foods or supplements separately from other events or medications that might also contribute to loose stools or 'allergic' reactions - particularly if your dog is prone to diarrhea or allergies. I also recommend that you try not to feed new types of food to your dog in the first few days or so that he joins your home. Those early days in a new home can be very stressful and that alone can contribute to loose stools.
Here are a few scenarios to consider ...
A) You offer your new puppy a small amount of steamed broccoli, and the next morning he has a bit of messy stool. Your first reaction is to blame the broccoli. Later, you remember that your dog was recently vaccinated. In this case we really don't know if the broccoli caused the loose poop, if the vaccine caused the messy poop, or if it was something else.
B) It's July 1st and in Canada, that means a fireworks display at night to celebrate our country's birthday. Your new puppy hasn't had a lot of socialization due to the pandemic, and you notice that he startles at loud noises. That night you offer him a few blueberries for the first time. Fireworks happen and your puppy is clearly stressed. You find yourself having to take him out to potty a couple of times in the middle of the night. Was it the blueberries, the stress from the fireworks, or something else that caused, or contributed to, the loose stools?
C) It's late April, daffodils are blooming, the grass is green and there is a slight tinge of green on the trees. Spring has sprung! You have just started to feed your newly adopted 3 year old Yorkiepoo some sweet potato and one morning you notice his eyes are a bit weepy. Is it the sweet potato causing the weepy eyes? Or, is it seasonal allergies, an eye infection, or something else?
It's important to consider all possibilities when getting to the root cause of your dog's symptoms and not jump to conclusions.
Click here for my Food & Symptom Tracking sheet!
Is this Forever?
Once you're comfortable, and you know your dog's digestion, tolerance for new food, and his general health and constitution, you can relax and offer new foods much more freely. In the early days though, a slow and steady approach is best.
* I tend to use fresh food and raw interchangeably.
This article is for information purposes only. Every dog is different and has a different tolerance level for new foods. Please consult your veterinarian if you have concerns about your dog's health.
Always do your own research when making health decisions for your dog. You are your dog's best health care advocate.