A dog eats from their bowl in front of a green wall.

Is It Time to Update Your Dog’s Diet?

Do dogs ever get tired of eating the same old kibble? Very rarely. “Dogs don’t have the taste receptors we do,” says Dr. Joanna Woodnutt, “and they don’t care as much about what they’re eating.”

No, most dogs don’t mind a monotonous diet. In fact, that monotony is actually helpful in avoiding gastrointestinal distress. Our dogs lack both discerning taste buds and resilient digestive systems. As such, consistency is essential when it comes to their diets.

That does not mean, however, that dogs should eat the same exact food throughout their lives. A dog’s palate and nutritional needs will change as they age and certain health conditions may prompt your veterinarian to suggest a switch.

Next time you’re in the pet food aisle, take a look around at the bags on the shelves. In addition to various flavors, you’ll notice recipes designed for dogs at certain stages in their lives. Pet food manufacturers aren’t just trying to make a buck — all these blends exist for a reason.

Growing puppies need significantly more calories than adult and senior dogs do. That’s in addition to extra helpings of protein and fat. As dogs reach maturity, they gradually require fewer and fewer calories to stay healthy.

When is it time to switch to adult dog food? That depends on the size of your dog. Small and medium breeds should move onto adult kibble after their first birthday. Large breeds, on the other hand, should wait another half-year and especially big dogs (like Great Danes and St. Bernards) should wait as long as two years. “Most dogs,” notes Dr. Heather Venkat, “will stay on adult food until around age 7 or 8.” At this point, they should switch over to lower-calorie senior foods.

While most of your dog’s dietary changes will follow a strict schedule, certain symptoms and conditions may warrant an unplanned switch. Diarrhea and excessive flatulence, for example, may indicate that your dog’s current food is a poor choice. Other symptoms of food intolerances and allergies include vomiting, excessive itching, and loss of appetite.

Your dog may also benefit from specially-blended recipes if they develop conditions like liver and kidney disease, diabetes, or obesity at any point in their life. Working alongside your veterinarian, you can determine whether or not a dietary change may help alleviate some symptoms.

A pregnant dog will require additional nutrients and calories, particularly during the final 6 to 9 weeks of the pregnancy. Alexandra Rodriquez, a veterinary technician, blogger, and consultant, advises switching a pregnant dog back to puppy food to ensure they’re getting additional calories from their usual number of meals. Alternatively, a dog that has recently been neutered or spayed will require fewer calories than usual. These operations affect a dog’s hormones and can slow their metabolisms considerably.

Safely Switching Your Dog’s Food

Even a necessary switch could leave your pup suffering from indigestion and diarrhea if you’re not careful. Introduce new foods slowly to reduce the risk of an adverse reaction. Canine Journal’s Sadie Cornelius suggests “mixing your dog’s current food with the new dog food for at least 5 days.” Start with a bowl that’s 20% new food and 80% old food on Day 1 and add 20% more new food each day. During this period, you should monitor your dog closely and watch for the following:

If you notice any issues, Cornelius says, “slow down the process” to help your dog’s digestive system adjust. Remember to consult your veterinarian before making any changes to your dog’s diet and to follow their advice throughout the transition.