Before a mid-October vacation, we took inventory of our dog’s food and headed to the store to buy more. The usual brand wasn’t there. A manager called other regional locations – nothing. They’d let us know.
Two days later, the manager found one bag, so we grabbed our dog’s grub on the eve before departure, which begged a question. Isn’t it unhealthy – or at least asking for trouble – to change a pet’s diet suddenly? Yes, and no.
“It’s dog-dependent – if your dog is healthy,” said Dr. Cassidy Cordon, a small-animal veterinarian in a community practice at the Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine.
Sans allergies, “as long as the majority of the main ingredients are similar, they usually do OK. Some dogs are sensitive and can’t switch cold turkey, but most dogs can.”
If a store is out of a certain dog food, she suggests calling around, from big-box outlets to tiny pet stores, to locate inventory or at least other brands with the same main ingredients. Cats are a different story because they’re pickier in general, but you can try, Cordon said.
Sometimes calling a manufacturer can pinpoint stock. While a grocery store might have a few bare shelves, often specialty pet stores have inventory.
It’s more complicated if your dog is on a special diet for allergies, kidney disease or other conditions.
“I always keep a backup bag because mine are on a special diet,” Cordon said. “That’s not always easy with storage issues, but I like to preplan in case that happens and have an additional bag at home.”
Know the pet food calories if you do switch to ensure another mix isn’t calorically too much or too little, she said. Cordon offered strategies to keep pets fed and healthy:
• Keep a backup bag or cans in reserve, but watch expiration dates. You can fill a couple of gallon bags to freeze if you have room.
• If you can’t find the same food, look for what’s close, perhaps the same brand in a smaller bag or geared to a breed smaller or larger. “It wouldn’t be the worst thing to have to do that temporarily,” Cordon said.
• If all fails, you can cook temporarily for pets, she said, using lean protein like chicken, vegetables, rice and plain pasta. Keep it bland, and avoid high-fat and sodium foods, onions, garlic, grapes, raisins and anything fried. It can get expensive, with less of what’s needed.
“It’s never going to compete with a commercial dog food because it’s never going to have the vitamins, minerals, enough of a protein, fat and carbohydrates balance as a commercial pet food would,” she said.
Similar tips might work for cats. “It comes down to texture and to consistency for them,” Cordon said. “They’re the ones it’s better to have a backup bag for, but you can also cook for them.” Try bland proteins and go slow.
In switching diets, some dogs can get sick, she cautioned.
“Ideally, you change diets over a week to 10 days, which is why if you’re in this abrupt situation where you have to find something else, giving them something as close to what they’re used to is usually the safest.”
You also can try to ask your vet about a small amount of a prescribed gastrointestinal diet that’s bland, she said.
Charlie Powell, a WSU veterinary college spokesman, recently wrote newspaper columns about pet food-supply concerns. Shortly after, he received an Oct. 25 photo showing empty pet food shelves at a Safeway store in Port Angeles. On a recent Monday, Powell said a Rosauers in Moscow had a few empty pet food shelves.
“Most of those were canned foods, not dry kibble,” he wrote. “There are spot shortages of pet food at least here regionally.”
He said several U.S. agencies say any shortages are expected to be short. Factors have included supply chain interruptions, delays with imported ingredients and poorer crop yields. Plant slowdowns occurred after COVID-19, with limited workers and other changes. Also, more people got pandemic pets, so the demand has risen.