Dr. Mahaney’s Top Tips for Successful Food Transitions and Prevention of Digestive Tract Upset
As a house-call veterinarian having a busy clinical practice in Los Angeles, I frequently receive reports from clients that my patients (mostly dogs) are showing some degree of digestive tract upset, including reduced appetite, vomiting, and bowel movement abnormalities.
Bowel movement abnormalities top the list of digestive tract upset reported by my clients and can have one or more of the following characteristics:
• Soft to liquid appearance
• Small to large volume
• Increased frequency or urgency
• Flatulence (farting, passing gas, etc.)
• Presence of mucus and/or blood
The most-common reason I see bowel movement abnormalities in my canine (and feline) patients is dietary indiscretion, where a pet eats something he should not that otherwise should have stayed out of his mouth.
Besides dietary indiscretion, the second most-common reason my patients have bowel movement abnormalities is food or treat changes.
Food changes can occur anytime in a pet’s life, such as:
• When a puppy grows into an adult and has less of a metabolic demand for foods that are higher in protein, fat, carbohydrates, calories, and certain vitamins/minerals
• When the current food is not being eaten with a good appetite or vomiting or stool abnormalities are occurring
• When an owner decides to transition from a processed-food diet like kibble (“dry food”) to a fresh, whole-food diet like PURE
Although giving a treat to your pet seems relatively innocuous, the addition of small to large volumes of commercially-available or home-prepared treats can cause mild to severe bowel movement abnormalities.
My recommendations to help keep your pet’s digestive tract working in tip top shape are:
• Performing a food transition from the current food to a new food to permit the digestive tract sufficient time to acclimate. Ideally, take 10 days to gradually reduce the current food and add in the new food. 10 days makes for a simple transition, as each day 10% of the current food is reduced while 10% of the new food is added. Especially when transitioning from a kibble to a whole-food diet it is important to perform a longer food transition.
• Transitioning to the same or a similar protein and carbohydrate source. Sticking with the same or similar protein and carbohydrate source can be more-likely to maintain normal digestive tract function as compared to introducing a new protein or carbohydrate source.
For example, if your pet’s primary meals include chicken and rice as the protein and carbohydrate sources then consider transitioning to a different food also having chicken and rice.
Yet, chicken and turkey are not that different types of poultry, so if a pet owner seeks to transition from chicken to turkey doing so can be less-likely to cause digestive tract upset as compared to going from poultry to red meat, fish, or vegetarian sources.
• Preventing dietary indiscretion and binge eating
Many pets explore our shared world with their mouths, which puts them at risk of consuming environmental materials that can damage the digestive tract, cause toxicity, permit bacterial, fungal, parasitic, or viral infection, or cause other health problems.
Keep your dog on a short lead on walks and don’t permit him to have free access to indoor or outdoor areas potentially harboring items that could be in appropriately ingested (feces, fertilizer, mulch, plants, soil, trash, freestanding water, etc.).
Bingeing (consuming food quickly and/or in large volumes) can also cause mild to serious health problems, like food stasis (food sitting in the stomach and not readily moving into the small intestine), eructation (burping), gastric torsion (stomach twisting, also known as Gastric Dilatation Volvulus or GDV), and others.
Feed smaller and more-frequent meals during instead of letting your pet consume larger or less-frequent meals.
Use a slow-feeder bowl or other feeding device to slow down your pet’s pace of eating.
• Consult with your veterinarian
With any digestive tract upset or plans to undergo a food change, I recommend owners consult with their veterinarian.
Veterinarians understand the spectrum of types digestive tract upset and the means by which to help to prevent it from happening. We also recognize health problems that can alter normal digestive tract function which may require diagnostic testing (fecal, blood, and urine testing, x-rays, ultrasound, etc.) to determine the underlying causes and establish the most-appropriate treatment.
Thank you for reading this article. I hope that it sheds light on the ways you can help to keep your pet eating normally, not vomiting, and having normal bowel movements.
Dr. Patrick Mahaney
Chief Veterinary Officer at PURE