Transitioning Your Dog to a Raw Food Diet
Every dog is unique and there is no single “one size fits all” approach to transitioning your dog from kibble or canned food 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 to apprehensions or skepticism. Being confident will reassure your pet about your choice to change to a new diet.
- Go slow with older dogs: the older the dog (or the longer it has been eating kibble), the longer you should take to transition to the new diet.
- Choose one meat to start: while variety is the key to good health when feeding a raw 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: 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.
Transitioning Puppies to a Raw Dog Food Diet
Puppies will generally have healthier digestive systems, and therefore will tolerate a more rapid switch (1 or 2 days) with no trouble. Start by substituting ¼ Darwin’s for your puppy’s current food in each meal, gradually increasing Darwin’s raw dog food while proportionately decreasing the kibble until the transition is complete.
Transitioning Healthy Dogs to a Raw Dog Food Diet
Younger and healthier dogs can transition more quickly than older dogs or dogs 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 transition them in 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
Picky eaters or older 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
- 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
- Gently cook Darwin’s meals to release the flavors and aromas of the food by lightly baking the meal in a toaster oven or poaching it quickly on the stove.
Transitioning Pets with a Compromised Immune System
Many things can disrupt the healthy function of your dog’s or cat’s immune system, including disease, chronic stress, medications (such as antibiotics), and even vaccines.
If your pet has a compromised immune system, we recommend lightly cooking Darwin’s Meals by sautéing in a pan over medium to medium-high heat for 8-12 minutes to minimize any risks associated with feeding raw foods. Remember not overcook as the bones can become brittle.
In addition, it is always a good idea to talk with your veterinarian before making the switch if you have concerns about their health, such as if your pet suffers from a disease that results in abnormal function of their immune system.
Changes You May Notice in Your Dog While Transitioning to Raw
Changes in 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 ok as it is evidence of your dog’s body cleansings and detoxifying 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. Chronic or periodic skin conditions may briefly worsen. 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, usually in a week or two, but it could take 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. Dogs may also occasionally choose to fast as their body completes this process.
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.