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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?

11 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.

  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.

  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.

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