Every dog is unique and there is no single “one size fits all” approach to transitioning your dog from kibble (dry processed nuggets) to a more natural, holistic, raw meat-based diet. There are, however, some basic principles and techniques that apply in most cases:
- Be positive. Dogs and cats are very sensitive and can sense any apprehensions or skepticism you may be feeling about feeding raw food. Being confident will reassure your pet about your choice to change to a new diet.
- The older the dog (or the longer it has been eating kibble), the longer you should take to transition to the new diet.
- While variety is the key to outstanding health when feeding a fresh, raw meat-based diet, it’s best to start with one type of meat during your transition (preferably the same meat type you are currently feeding). This will make it easier on your dog’s digestive system.
- Fast your dog the night before beginning its transition. Your dog will have a greater interest in the new food the next morning and this also gives their digestive system a chance to rest.
- Limit treats during the transition, especially flour/grain based ones, in order to increase your dog’s appetite for its meals.
- Provide access to plenty of clean water (preferably filtered).
Switching Puppies to a Raw Food Diet
Puppies will generally have healthier digestive systems than older dogs or those with health issues, and therefore will tolerate a more rapid switch (i.e., 1 or 2 days) with no trouble. Start by substituting ¼ Darwin’s for your dog’s current food in each meal, gradually increasing Darwin’s raw dog food while proportionately decreasing the kibble until the transition is complete.
Switching Young and Healthy Dogs to a Raw Dog Food
These dogs can transition more quickly than older dogs and those with digestive issues. If your dog has no signs of illness or digestive difficulties such as loose stools, constipation or occasional vomiting, then you may be able to switch within 5-7 days. This gradual transition aids in helping your dog’s gastrointestinal system adapt to the new meals.
- Begin by substituting 1⁄8th Darwin’s for your dog’s current food.
- After three meals, double the Darwin’s portion (to ¼), while reducing the kibble by the same amount.
- After three more meals, double the Darwin’s portion again (to ½) and reduce the kibble again.
- After feeding ½ Darwin’s for 3 meals, give a meal of all Darwin’s. If your dog tolerates this well with no digestive upset or other symptoms of discomfort, you have successfully switched your dog!
Transitioning Picky Eaters and Older Dogs to a Raw Diet
These dogs may turn their noses up at the smell and texture of their new food. Don’t worry, as this is a common occurrence (particularly with smaller dogs) and is usually easy to address by following these steps:
- Eliminate treats during the transition
- Fast your dog the night before starting the transition
- Gently cook Darwin’s meals (this will release the flavors and aromas of the food). Don’t over-cook the meals-lightly bake in a toaster oven, or poach quickly on the stove.
- Serve the meal in an appealing manner in a new place or “safe” area of your kitchen away from foot traffic.
- Add flavor “bribes” such as garlic powder, cheese or an egg yolk- usually these will convince the most stubborn dogs.
Changes In Your Dog’s Stool
One of the additional benefits of switching your pet to a raw dog food will quickly become apparent – you will see a significant reduction in the size and odor of your dog’s stool. Stools from raw-fed dogs tend to be smaller and firmer, as the dog is absorbing more nutrients from its food. Some dogs will strain slightly at the hard stools. This is OK, and even beneficial, as the harder stools help the dog express its anal glands, reducing the likelihood of infection.
There may be some variation in the consistency of your dog’s stool. This is also OK, although you should consult with your veterinarian if your dog experiences prolonged diarrhea (soft stool is not diarrhea).
You may also occasionally see a film around your dog’s stool, especially during transition. This is also OK and is evidence of detoxification, i.e., the dog’s body cleansing itself of harmful toxins.
Detoxification: Getting “Unsick”
When switching your dog to a healthier, raw food diet, some dogs – especially older ones who have been eating kibble for a long time – may experience a detoxification process.
This condition may be a bit unnerving – you may see mucus coating your dog’s stool, excess shedding, dry skin, runny eyes, or other symptoms. These symptoms do not mean that your pet is sick – in fact, they are signs that it is getting “unsick”, as the dog’s body purges itself of the various toxins that have built up over time.
The situation will resolve itself with time, (generally a week or two, but up to a couple months in some cases) as new cells must replace old ones in order for the detox process to be completed. You may be able to speed up the process with increased exercise, and by having plenty of fresh filtered water available.
Note: Dogs that have been on steroids, antibiotics, or other long-term drugs, may experience prolonged detoxification periods. You should always consult with your veterinarian if you believe your dog is manifesting severe problems connected to the diet change.