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Don’t be lazy – and forget "brand loyalty." Do what is best for your dog!

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One of the most urgent issues facing owners in this country today is the spike in the number of cases of canine dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM), especially in breeds that do not have an inherited higher risk of developing the condition. I have been discussing the issue with board-certified veterinary nutritionists and representatives of pet food companies and will have an update for you soon. In the meantime, I feel compelled to repeat one bit of advice that I give in (I think) every review of foods I have ever written for WDJ:

Don’t feed the same food every month. Don’t feed the same type of food every month! Switch companies!

Forgive the repetition if you are a long-time reader of WDJ; you are aware we’ve been saying this forever. Newer subscribers might not have heard it before.

There is a persistent myth that if you switch your dog’s food too quickly, or too frequently, you will “upset the dog’s stomach.” This myth almost surely originated from pet food companies decades ago; they were no doubt trying to build their consumers’ loyalty to their brand while offering a solution to a problem that they had created – the fact that you can upset a dog’s digestive tract if you feed him the same diet (and nothing else) for months and months and then suddenly give him something very different. What they failed to tell dog owners was that feeding their dogs different foods all the time – switching diets frequently – is more “natural” for dogs; they are perfectly suited to eating a varied diet. Imposing an unnaturally narrow diet on them begs for problems to develop.

If you have a dog with a proven allergy to or intolerance of multiple ingredients, finding a variety of products that don’t aggravate his particular system can be challenging. But the fact remains that variety itself does not hurt your dog. And, importantly, frequently changing the food you buy for your dog – switching among varieties but also among different companies – very likely could have prevented many of the cases of DCM being associated with specific diets.

I’m monitoring many online groups devoted to this topic, and have seen it hundreds of times: “I have been feeding my dog ‘Brand X’ for the past three years, and now he’s been diagnosed with DCM! Brand X is a terrible company!” In many cases, affected dogs are improving with dietary changes, but I would hate to see the owners simply switch undying loyalty to a different company!

The fact is, feeding the same type of products from the same company year in and year out is putting your dog’s health solely in that company’s hands. There isn’t any single company I would trust my entire lifetime of nutrition to; why do we expect this from any pet food company for our dogs?

26 COMMENTS

  1. As much as I LOVE WDJ, you seem to be the only place that says gradual transitioning from one food to another isn’t necessary unless your dog is prone to digestive upset. I’ve scoured the Web–looking at authoritative sources only, and also NOT pet food companies–and I can’t find anyone who concurs with you. Even Dog Food Advisor advises gradual transitioning. I write a monthly column on living with dogs, and would love to address this issue–can you point me in the direction of some veterinary experts who support your advice? Thanks so much!

    • Dog Food Advisor is not a credible source. Like so many things, they are very much not what they claim to be.

    • I’m no nutritionist but I’ve have never had to transition my dog slowly. Is it really that common for people to see issues with it? My dog went from garbage shelter-kibble to Honest Kitchen in one day and there was literally no GI upset whatsoever. I continue to change her diet frequently and have never experienced any digestive issues from doing so.

    • I concur about dog food advisor not being a credible source of information. I also agree with the second comment about transitioning from one diet to another. In all the years I’ve had dogs in my life, only one had any issues with digestive upset. As it turned out, he was gluten intolerant so when I eliminated all grains from his diet, the upset (gas, diarrhea, etc.) were gone. All of my pets are rescues and were fed the least expensive kibble the shelter could afford or it was donated. I began their new food(s) right away and no one suffered any ill effects. I also like to switch up their protein sources to add variety of flavors and textures. I believe it to be healthier than feeding the same formula day in and day out for the life of the dog.

      • I’m not sure if you’ve seen the articles about grain free diet and the possible connection to heart failure or not, but it may be worth your wild to read. Again it is not a yet confirmed connection but a possible one.

    • My dog gets stomach upset when i switch foods but I do this about once every 1.5 months or so, when I finish the bag of kibble. I think it depends on the dog and how often you switch the food.

    • It is a little miscommunication I think.

      Im assuming that she’s trying to say that if necessary do a gradual change … however the more often you change the less it will become necessary.

      It took me a year of gradual switches between companies and flavors for my extremely sensitive dog. After putting in the time and work of gradual changes I’ve built up my dog’s system to a point where he’s not sensitive. I can give him anything I want in the same day with no repercussions. Any brand, any flavor, dry, wet, raw, it doesn’t matter to him.

  2. My dog gets bored with the same food. But he’s extremely picky. He only wants chicken and cheese. But I keep throwing in different varieties, if he likes the first taste (which is like pulling teeth) to get him to take, he eats it pretty good. But because of his pickiness I also give vitamins and other nutrients he needs.

  3. I talked about this with my vet during the initial puppy exam and she was against food switching. Her reasoning is that if an allergic reaction occurs, it’s much more difficult to pinpoint the source of the issue if food is regularly being switched.
    Not knowing which food or food combinations are causing the reaction would make it difficult to switch to something to alleviate the issue. You wouldn’t know if you’re giving more of the same.
    Finally she put forth the idea of viewing food as fuel and not as an enrichment activity, and the if we wanted to give him treats, boiled chicken works great!

    • Hi Tom,
      Unfortunately your vet gave you very bad advice. Not switching foods from time to time can actually CAUSE allergies in your pet. Veterinarians at least in the midwest are only given a very small amount of information on nutrition in school and it is typically by a rep from a pet food company hence the “don’t switch your dogs food” mantra. I’ve verified this with our local vet school.

      • Emery, you are so right. I have a friend who is a vet has her own practice and went to The Ohio State school of veterinary medicine. And she said that there is almost nothing taught about nutrition in the scheme of things. Meaning compared with how long they go to school. Nutrition is not a high on the priority list of things being taught.

  4. Alright! Now I know why my dog is so full of appetite in its first month of dog food and then became suddenly very picky after a month. This is a such a good advise for pet owners that is starting in dog’s nature. You give me the idea that i should serve my dog a variety of dog foods for it is to be used of different nutrients. You made me also realised that is not good to rely my dog’s health to just one kind of manufacturing brand with one food type. Thank you.

  5. I feel sorry for every dog owner who has dealt with feeding issues of any kind. I’ve been there! That said, we have to remember that vets (mostly) see dogs with problems, not the many, many dogs who are doing just fine every day. So, of course they want you to limit the number of ingredients your dog is eating, if there’s a chance of a food allergy or sensitivity, or if there’s something vague going on. Figuring out a dog’s allergies is hard work! But, I agree with WDJ, switching up your dogs’ food—regularly!—is an important way to decrease issues with food-related problems. When I am finishing one bag of dog food, I start adding in a new bag, but it doesn’t have to take long. I do it now just so I can be sure that the new bag isn’t going to be completely rejected before I’m out of the old bag—just in case! Also, I have to say that the biggest feeding problem with my current dog is that if he hasn’t been active, hasn’t had enough exercise—physical, mental or both—he just isn’t hungry. I’ve spent a lot of time offering treats, toys, special enticements, trying to get him to eat, when what I really needed to do was make sure he’d done enough during the day to be hungry at meal time. If only I could be the same way, I wouldn’t be fighting to lose these extra 10 pounds!
    Anyway, that’s my two cents’ worth. I’m grateful to my dog for showing me this about himself. Frankly, getting him enough exercise isn’t always easy. He’s a big, healthy, athletic dog, and it takes time to work up his appetite. But, we don’t have to go all out every day, and the mental exercise of trick training or obedience work can stand in for long, off-leash hikes. So there’s that!

    • Another thought…… I have Alaskan Malamutes. As the warmer weather sets in, their appetites seem to slow down. At times, they will not eat their morning meal. They always eat their evening meals. You don’t have to make them eat all the time. If your dog eats once a day, that is ok, as long as they don’t do it over several days. If the poop is flowing, don’t be overly concerned. My Mals, get fed twice a day at 1 cup per meal. I do mix three separate products. They are currently on Orijen 6 fish, Eagle Pack, and Fromm (Salmon Tunalini). I agree with the WDJ as far as recommending a food switch out every few months, but not while you are raising a puppy during the first year. Good luck.

  6. I switch my dog’s food regularly, rarely graduating from one food to another. No problems and there are five of them.

  7. How do you explain all the dogs diagnosed that were rotated between brands? And having a dog diagnosed with a serious illness linked to that brand while the brand does nothing seems like a pretty good reason to ditch it

  8. I completely agree with is. I don’t switch every month, but every few months. I do have a few brands/type I rotate and occasionally will look into changing one out. The only issue my dog has is seasonal allergies, so I am trying to find the one that helps best for her skin and intend to feed it primarily in the spring. It’s important to look for what grains/peas/corn is added to the food, and not just what meat source. Too many times the starch component is the real issue, but it is overlooked since it isn’t mentioned on the front of the bag.

  9. How in the world are we suppose to make heads or tails out of all the information and who to believe? Everyone seems to be the authority and the pet owner just wants to do their best for their loved pet and keep them alive and healthy for as long as possible.

    • It’s extremely confusing and frustrating. I don’t trust the vets, I don’t trust the companies, I don’t trust the FDA, and I don’t trust the websites. So what are we supposed to do?

  10. A long rambling post about my experience with dog food.

    I work at a vet hospital but I’m also a trainer. The vets all push Hills and Purina, but their nutrition classes are sponsored by them! Conflict of interest anyone? I can’t wrap my head around how they all seem so unconcerned and blasé about it. There doesn’t seem to be much interest in pushing their education beyond what they are fed by the big companies. It’s really upsetting.

    From the trainer side I have monitored my own dog as I’ve switched her foods. Interestingly enough there have been both physical and behavioral changes. On a grain-free diet her fur has gotten significantly softer. When I switched back to a grain diet, even though it was Fromm, her fur got much coarser again. Currently she’s eating a combination of grain-free and grain, just to give her some variety. However the most noticeable changes came not from any of the food (grain or grain-free), but from something totally different. Recently I’ve started adding raw goat milk to her meals and besides her fur now being RIDICULOUSLY soft, she has actually changed behaviorally. Previously she was significantly more reactive to people walking outside our building, but she since adding goat’s milk she has nearly stopped barking entirely at people outside. This is despite me not working on it with her and there being no other environmental changes. Trust me, I literally study my dog for a living and there is no explanation for this, it was a very sudden drop in barking. Sounds unusual, I know, but I’ve been looking into some very compelling cases of raw diets reducing anxiety. Seeing as how we’re only just now really starting to look into how the human gut is a “second brain”, I don’t see why that wouldn’t be true for dogs as well. Again, I’m no nutritionist and I can only report what I’m witnessing, but it’s fascinating stuff. Next I will be adding dehydrated raw Primal to her diet to see if there are additional changes (It is a recipe without any legumes/peas). We’ll see what happens.

    • Wow, Kay. I have read a lot of things, never goats milk. Neighbors have about 10 of them. I am going to see if they have some for sale. Thanks, that is very interesting.

      • At the suggestion of the person from whom we buy our dog’s fresh diet, we give our dog goats milk or goats milk kefir (when goats milk is unavailable) every day. He loves it, and it may have contributed to healing his dry skin condition.

  11. Can u recommend dog food for Doxie. Currently eat grain free. Vet recommended pro plan (purina) and some others. I forgot names. Vet is currently on vaction

  12. Sport Dog food doesn’t have legumes/peas either. I recently have purchased the 4lb bags to test on my 2 picky eaters, one that was tested and allergic to chicken and grains. However, be aware that it comes in a box so you need a storage container. I also try to mix it up with different brands when I am about of food and it doesn’t seem to create any stomach issues.

  13. We have an 8 month old Lab-Terrier mix who has had stomach issues since adopting him from a rescue at 12 weeks of age.
    He has done well with Purina Pro Plan Veterinary diet, EN mixed with Pro Plan probiotics. I read online that Pro Plan manufactures 90% of the dog food in Purina’s plant here in the U.S. The puppy has stopped wanting to eat his Purina Pro Plan diet. Is Hill’s sensitive stomach dry dog food reputable? Or is it one of the dog foods known to cause cardiomyopathy?
    I have been very careful with this puppy’s heath after losing my wonderful Labrador last year to
    Splenic Hemoangioma Sarcoma.

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