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Introducing Your Pet to a New Diet

Changing the diet for a pet is usually fairly simple. Most pets will readily eat any diet you provide. Some can be a real challenge. Hopefully, this discussion will be of help with them.

Any diet is accepted more easily if the changeover is gradual. Not only will it not be as obvious to the pet that the diet is being changed, but sudden change can often cause intestinal problems. If an eighth to a quarter of the total food being fed any one day is replaced by the new diet and every couple of days an equal amount of the new food is substituted for the old diet, most pets will have an easy time in the changeover.


Unfortunately, most of us tend to cater to our pet's food likes and dislikes too much. In fact, most pets that are finicky eaters have been encouraged to be so by their owners. If a pet refuses to eat something or seems to like something better, we all tend to provide what is liked most. Each time the pet refuses to eat something and we offer something else, the pet's refusal to eat is rewarded with something it deems better. In effect, our willingness to offer alternatives to a finicky pet reinforces the behavior of being finicky. One rational is that the pet must know what is best or that something must be wrong with the food. In fact the foods our pets prefer most are usually  the lower quality brands that concentrate on flavor rather than quality.


Assuming there is a rational reason for the change in food, you must be strong and make sure that all family members know how important it is to make the pet accept that the diet being offered is it! Every time someone breaks down and offers something else, the pet's refusal to eat is reinforced. There is rarely any chance that a healthy dog will actually hold out so long that it will create health problems. Cats can be a different story. If your pet has held out for more than 2-3 days and has not eaten anything, please call our office for more advice. Many times an ill pet can be encouraged to eat a new food by adding something to it that tastes good enough to overcome what the pet doesn't like about the new food. This cannot be done randomly, however. What is added can significantly alter the purpose of the new food.


If the new diet is to help the pet lose weight, and your pet tends to beg a lot, please remember, the begging is a habit that has been reinforced in the past. If the pet really needed those snacks, it wouldn't be overweight! If you just have to offer something at those times, either offer some of the reducing diet (and be sure to subtract what you offered from the total amount allowed per day) or offer raw vegetables. Raw vegetables have little or no net calories, but do seem to make most dogs happy and do provide some bulk to make them think they have had more food. Pets on reduced rations also seem to be happier if the total food allowed per day is fed in several portions throughout the day, rather than one large meal that then is not repeated for 24 hours.


If you are persistent, the new diet is almost always accepted eventually. If you give in, not only will the pet not receive the benefit of the new diet but also it will have once again been shown that holding out is going to get it what it wants!

Learn more about diet & nutrition for different animals below:

• What? My Pet is Fat?
• Introducing Your Pet to a New Diet

• Pet Bird Nutrition
• Iguana Diet
• Nutrition for Rabbits