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Do I Need to Change My Pet's Food?

As our pets age, we often make small changes in their care to ensure we’re providing for them as best as we can. They get new toys as you learn what they like (and don’t destroy too quickly), a new treat to keep their interest, new beds when they need some extra cushion, and maybe a ramp when they get older so they don’t have to jump up onto the furniture.

As you think about all the ways you can improve your pet’s quality of life, don’t forget about nutrition. Eating the same thing day after day, year after year, can get boring, and it can also mean you’re depriving your dog or cat of the optimal nutrition they need. As such, it’s important to assess your pet’s current food every so often. Take into consideration how your pet looks and acts, since these can be signs of food deficiencies or issues that may be improved through proper diet. If you do decide your dog or cat is ready for a nutrition makeover, remember to do so slowly over the course of about 10 days.

Should you change your pet’s food?


Besides accommodating their taste preferences, there are times throughout our pets’ lives when it might be beneficial to try something new. Some of the most common ones include:

  • If your former puppy or kitten is now an adult. Pets in early life have different nutritional requirements—more calcium to help them grow, for example—than older pets. When a puppy or kitten becomes an adult (typically around 12 to 18 months), they’ll be ready to graduate to an adult food formula since the higher calories that help fuel rambunctious youngsters may lead to weight gain in a less active older pet. Your veterinarian can help make a recommendation based on your pet’s breed, size and activity level.
  • If your pet is approaching their senior years. Just like younger animals have certain nutritional requirements, so do older animals. Dogs reach seniorhood at different ages depending on their breed. Smaller breeds tend to live longer and aren’t therefore usually considered senior until around age 10, while larger breeds might be considered seniors around 7. Cats are generally thought of as seniors at around 7 to 10 years of age. When thinking about nutrition for your senior dog, medical concerns (including arthritis and dental disease) should be considered, as well as their likely reduction in activity. Nutrition for senior cats may be formulated to address medical conditions like diabetes and arthritis, as well as dental issues and lifestyle changes. Consult your veterinarian to make a plan for your aging pet. They might recommend a senior formula for your cat or dog or prescribe a food along with prescription medication to help manage your pet's specific health concerns.
  • If your pet is putting on extra weight. Your pet’s weight is another contributing factor when it comes to meal planning. Although we love our pets and want to shower them with everything that makes them happy, overfeeding them can lead to obesity, health issues and even a reduction in lifespan. If your cat is overweight, you’ll want to take a look at some overall lifestyle factors (like lack of exercise and potential underlying health concerns), as well as what they eat. Weight management cat food is specifically formulated to be low in calories and high in fiber, meaning it can help your cat feel full while not giving them extra calories they don’t need. An overweight dog may have some of the same issues—including lack of exercise, medical concerns, etc.—and sticking to a low-fat or calorie dog food can help combat those extra pounds. Remember to always consult with your veterinarian to discuss any health concerns you may have observed. This is especially important before switching your pet’s food to a low calorie or low fat option.
  • If they have a particular health issue or concern. The number of pet food options on the market these days may seem overwhelming, but on the plus side, advances in pet food means there are now more choices for addressing particular health issues or concerns. For example, scientifically formulated dog and cat foods offer solution oriented formulas such as urinary health, digestive health as well as skin & coat health, all supported by years of research and the inputs of pet nutritionists, veterinarians and scientists. Always remember that if your pet does seem to be experiencing an issue, work with your vet to find the option right for your pet and to address any problems.
  • If their skin and coat could use some love. As pets age and the seasons change, they sometimes need some extra skin and coat care, even if you’ve been diligent with at-home grooming. There are some things you can do to help keep your dog’s coat healthy and keep your cat’s coat healthy, like performing regular brushing and bathing and preventing fleas and ticks, but nutrition also plays an important role. Dog and cat food that is formulated for skin and coat care generally contains ingredients and nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids and fiber that are specifically known to support the health of your pet’s fur and hair.
  • If they're showing other signs that their nutrition might not be complete and balanced. Keeping your pet healthy is about more than picking up the first pet food you spot on the shelves. Dogs require 40 specific nutrients in their diet, while cats require 42. A variety of other factors also contribute to healthy meal plans for dogs and cats. If your pet isn’t receiving the nutrition they need , you might notice a lower energy level, skin or hair dullness, or weight gain or loss. If you see a change in your pet’s appearance, consult with your veterinarian to rule out health concerns.
  • If their digestion isn’t up to par. Digestion is extremely important when it comes to making sure your pet is absorbing all those essential nutrients in their food. “Appearances are everything when it comes to your pet’s diet,” says Vetco Total Care regional medical director Dr. Shelly Ferris. “Not only is a shiny and silky coat, with no dry skin a good sign, also pay attention to what comes out the back end. Regular, formed stool is another great sign.” If your pet has had consistently loose stool—with no other discernible changes, consult with your veterinarian to get a diet change recommendation and rule out more serious health concerns. With that information, our knowledgeable Petco store associates or Right Food Finder can help you narrow down your search for a new food to try.

Keeping our pets healthy means paying attention to their changing needs over the course of their entire lives. If you notice a change in your pet like those listed above—or any others—consult with your veterinarian about making a change. Then come to Petco and get ready to shop.