By Kate Dutra
Change – not a word that many pet food manufacturers wanted to hear, but definite music to our dogs’ ears and overall heath. The change that we are referring to is dietary rotation. When we first began discussing dietary rotation several years ago, many of our pet food manufacturers were livid! Today however, largely to meet consumer demand, many pet food manufacturers now are producing diets within their food lines that are designed for convenient rotation.
For years, the pet food companies have been successfully convincing many of us that changing our pet’s diet will result in digestive upset. And if you ever did try to switch foods, they were quite often proven correct and you would never make that mistake again! But when you step back and think about it from a canine evolutionary standpoint, does it even make sense? Dogs are scavengers. In its feral state a dog’s gastrointestinal tracts should be equipped to handle a variety of different foods in rapid succession – there is nobody providing a slow transition to a new diet.
So what has caused this change in our domesticated dog’s gastrointestinal tract? The answer in short is that, with the help of the pet food manufacturers, we have caused it. Let’s say for example that you purchase a 30# bag of dog food and it takes your dog 6 weeks to eat it. So for 6 weeks, aside from the occasional snack here and there, your dog eats nothing else. You were so pleased with the results of this food, that when you returned you purchased another 30# bag of the same food again and again. So now, for several months your dog has consumed only that one specific type and brand of food. Now I ask, if you were to only eat one thing for several months, even if it was of great quality, and you suddenly changed, would there not be a high probability that you too would be suffering from digestive upset?
The benefits of dietary rotation are many. The first that comes to mind is simply a decrease in food boredom; imagine what it would be like to eat the same thing every day for a week, yet we often ask our dogs to do it for a lifetime. Secondly is that by alternating diets we have the opportunity to broaden our dogs’ exposures to other meat, fat, grain, fruit and vegetable sources, thus introducing different macro and micronutrients for optimal long-term health; with increased exposure comes a healthier gut and the ability to handle a wider variety of foods without digestive upset. Thirdly, by rotating diets we can potentially decrease long term exposure to harmful pathogens and microbes found in some grains which can lead to chronic illness that may not appear until later in life.
Thankfully, many of the pet food companies are now offering lines that give the consumer the ability to easily rotate diets. This however does not mean that you need to stay within a specific brand line, even though the manufacturer wants you to. We actually would encourage the rotation of brands as well as food ingredients whenever possible, as different companies make use of different vitamin packs and sourcing for their primary ingredients. But if you are not comfortable with this, your dog will still benefit from change within a brand as opposed to no change at all.
When you do change you may notice some differences. In some case stools may be smaller and firmer, other times larger and softer. There will be some foods your dog prefers over others and you can note that preference. (I actually had a lab that HATED the duck formulas – go figure)! As you and your dog try out the foods, you will find that you will both develop a preference for certain ones and use those in your rotation. The key is to not be afraid to try something new; the pet food industry is always coming out with great new stuff, it’s not just chicken anymore! Remember, if your dog has a healthy gut and is accustomed to new foods, they will be able to handle the change.
Diet rotation is not for every dog, however. Although rare, there are some dogs with true food allergies that may be best left on the same diet. Others are on prescription diets or have specific health concerns and dietary changes should not be attempted until discussed with a veterinarian. But if you believe your dog would benefit from dietary rotation we encourage you to start today. If your dog has been consuming the same food for an extended period of time, chances are you will have to slowly transition to any new diet, but hopefully with a little patience and some yogurt you will be able to help your dog’s gut develop and regain optimal health, allowing you to transition foods rapidly with little to no mixing.
NOTE: We typically do not encourage rotation of dry diets for cats, particularly neutered males as there is the potential for a change in the pH of the urine which could lead to the formation of crystals in their urine.
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