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The Wisdom of Rotating Your Pet’s Diet – Part 1

By Guest Columnist, Kate Dutra, CPDT-KA | Aug 01, 2019
Photo by: Debra Bell

For this month and the next, my column will be authored by Kate Dutra, my co-host on The Woof Meow Show and our Operations Manager at Green Acres Kennel Shop. I have asked Kate to update her article, “Alternating Diets” which first appeared in our newsletter in May of 2005. With the current concern about dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) and a possible, but as of yet unsubstantiated link to what we feed our pets in the news, we thought an update on the wisdom of rotating what you feed your pet was in order. This is part 1 of that series. – Don Hanson

Would You Be Healthy If You Ate the Same Thing At Every Meal?

Tokyo turnips dipped in cilantro hummus; a ham, cheese, and lettuce sandwich on organic seven-grain bread; raw pepper, tomatoes, and cucumbers; a handful of pretzels – this is what comprised my lunch today. Overall, most would agree that it was a healthy, well-balanced meal. Now, what if I ate this same meal every day, twice a day, for several years? Is that still considered healthy and well balanced? Probably not.

Why then do we deem this acceptable for our canine and feline companions? Pet food companies, veterinarians, breeders, and others have convinced us that changing our pets’ food is difficult and will result in digestive upset. Intuitively we know our pets should have more variety in their diet; however, there is also a grain of truth to the tummy troubles. If animals have been eating only one food for several months or longer, it is only natural that they will experience digestive upset, and possibly diarrhea, when their GI tracts are exposed to other types of food.

The reality is that many companies do not want us to change our pets’ food because it impacts their bottom line. Fortunately, several companies now offer their foods with a variety of animal protein sources and have made adjustments in their diets to allow for a smooth transition from one type of food to another. While this is a good start, it is insufficient. When speaking of dietary rotation, it is not just limited to rotating within a brand of food, but also rotating among brands as well as food types.

The reasons for dietary rotation are many. The most obvious is to increase our pets’ exposure to a variety of meat sources, thus giving them variation in both macronutrients and micronutrients. Whether it is kibble, canned, freeze-dried, or raw, varying the meals between red meats, poultry, fish and some of the more novel protein sources, can be a simple way to benefit our companion's nutritional well-being.

By rotating brands, even when using the same meat protein, we are increasing the odds of some small variations in diet. All chickens (turkey, pigs, etc.) are not created equal. For example, one company may source their chicken from a poultry farm in the Mid-West and another from New York. Both farms may be Certified Organic, but the soil in the Midwest has different nutrients than the soil in New York. Additionally, the air and water quality will vary, and the farms may be using dissimilar poultry feeds. This results in small differences between the chickens, and as we learn more about nutrition, we are discovering that these differences matter. Another rationale for brand rotation is the vitamin and mineral packs that are often supplemented in pet foods. While all of these packs should meet industry standards, there will be some variation because many of these vitamin and mineral packs are proprietary blends manufactured for specific pet food companies.

Additionally, we still do not understand everything there is to know about nutrition. Nutrition is a very complex science and one that shifts with evolution and the environment. Currently, we are experiencing an apparent increase of (DCM) in dogs (and a few cats). It has yet to be determined if there even is a link between diet and DCM, or what that link may be, but we do know that many of the dogs in the analysis did not have any variation in their feeding. If it is concluded that something in diet plays a role in DCM, had those dogs been on a rotational diet, there is the possibility that they may have had less exposure to whatever is causing the increase in DCM. In our world of genetically modifying everything, who is to say that we have not damaged the bio-availability or essential makeup of some nutrients?

Furthermore, recalls and shortages do happen. If your pet can only eat one food, and that food is recalled or unavailable for some reason, you may find yourself floundering for what to do. If, however, you have introduced multiple foods and proteins to your pet, you will have other options available. It is essential also to have an alternative protein because when there is a shortage in an ingredient, it is likely to impact multiple lines of pet food.

A final reason to change up our pets’ diets is boredom. There is a middle ground between creating a picky eater and offering a variety. We control so much in our pets’ worlds, and unintentionally deprive them of choice and experiences, and this is an easy way to enrich their environment. Next month, we will explore transitioning your pet to a variety of diets, what to do about those pets that truly have sensitivities to foods, warming and cooling foods and other questions such as these.

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Kate Dutra is the Operations Manager at Green Acres Kennel Shop ( greenacreskennel.com ) in Bangor, ME where she has been helping people with their pets since 1992. She is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT-KA) and is committed to PPG’s Guiding Principles and the Pain-Free, Force-Free, and Fear-Free training, management, and care of all pets. Kate co-hosts a weekly radio show and podcast, The Woof Meow Show, that airs on Z62 Retro Radio WZON (AM620) and WKIT 103.3-HD3 and is streamed at http://www.wzonam.com/ every Saturday at 9 AM. Podcasts of the show are available at http://woofmeowshow.libsyn.com/, the Apple Podcast app, and at Don’s blog: www.words-woofs-meows.com. The opinions in this post are those of Kate Dutra and Don Hanson.