Don’t change your pet’s food – rotational dieting myths

Some pet owners believe rotating diets how we should feed their pets. They believe this because they think that it will reduce the negative impacts of feeding one diet, provide variety for their pet and reduce the potential to develop allergies to a food.

Let’s unpack this. There’s so many myths associated with this type of feeding that it’s important to look at these first when we consider why people may want to feed in this way.

Myth 1: Feeding one diet is bad
This is mainly because pet owners have been lead to believe that feeding the same complete and balanced diet every day for the life of their pets is damaging. This couldn’t be further from the truth, in fact feeding a highly variable diet is actually more damaging in that if the diet is not always balanced, we can create what is called a “Swiss cheese effect” where all the different deficiencies add up over time to cause illness. The other concern with frequently changing diets is diarrhea; when changing diets, we recommend doing this as a slow transition across an entire week (sometimes longer) to allow the gut microbiome to slowly adapt to the new food – if we change too quickly the microbes in the gut cannot cope with the change and may die off as their regular food source is removed, causing a dysbiosis (imbalance of good and bad bacteria in the gut) triggering diarrhea. When we change slowly, we allow new microbes to be introduced with the new diet and avoid diarrhea. While some may claim abit of diarrhea isn’t an issue, it’s still important to remember we will be playing catch up in trying to replace the vitamins, minerals and fluids that have been lost as a result of the episode, so it’s better to avoid it all together. Another important point to note is that many pet owners are very worried about recalls and cite this as a reason they rotationally feed, using it as a method to avoid feeding a potentially harmful diet long term; recalls can happen to any food at any time and are rarely a cause for concern. A better method of prevention, is feeding a diet that follows strict quality control standards and the WSAVA guidelines. Do not use a diet that touts zero recalls as this can simply mean they don’t perform QC testing to voluntarily recall their foods before they harm pets.

Myth 2: Pets like and need variety
Cats and dogs have significantly less tastebuds than we do, and experience flavour in a very different way to us; they generally prefer texture, temperature and smell when selecting their food not so much the actual flavour. Flavours in pet foods is usually more of a way to appeal to pet owners rather than pets, because apart from the differences in smell the pet probably doesn’t even recognise the difference in taste. Cats in fact, will refuse to eat if they can’t smell their food and often won’t eat things straight out of the fridge because the smell is so dulled. Again, because we as humans would become bored if we ate the same thing, pet owners extend this same belief to their pets; humans eat a wide variety of foods as they cannot get a balanced diet from one specific food unlike pets, and still majority of the population (92% to be exact) suffers from at least one deficiency of vitamins or minerals whether they know it or not. Multivitamins for humans are really meant to be used with a balanced diet anyway, so the argument that we have variety and eat a perfectly balanced diet yet don’t suffer any ill effects is actually false.

Myth 3: Rotating diets prevents allergies
Allergies develop with exposure to an allergen. The more exposure you have does not prevent an allergy from occuring, in some cases it can make it worse. With pets, providing them access to a wide variety of protein sources and diets actually increases their chances of developing unusual allergies, and making treatment (finding a novel or new protein for them to safely consume) very difficult.  Sometimes the term used is a sacrificial protein; this means by feeding your pet one thing only and they then suddenly develop an allergy to it, we can ‘sacrifice’ that protein and use something different which is not an allergen – if the pet has been exposed to lots and lots of different diets and proteins, not only do we not have a ‘safe’ protein source for them to eat, we also may find it extremely difficult to actually diagnose what is causing the allergy. So, it’s actually better for allergic pets to eat one thing until they can’t, rather than over-exposing them and changing their diet.

When should you change your pet’s diet?
• Entering a new lifestage: if your puppy or kitten is now an adult, or your adult is now a senior, consider switching foods.
• New diagnosis: if your pet has been recently diagnosed with a new disease or disorder, speak with your vet or a nutritionist on what diet would best manage their condition
• Allergies: if your pet has been diagnosed with a true food allergy, then you will need to switch to a hydrolysed or novel protein diet
• Current diet is not ideal for your pet: if your vet has recommended changing the diet, your pet is under or overweight, your pet is not thriving, they are experiencing frequent gastrointestinal upsets or their coat appears dull and dry you will need to switch diets

Do you frequently change or rotate your pet’s diet? Let us know your reasons in the comments below!


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