If you've ever switched your dog's diet, you know it has to be done slowly to avoid digestive upset. This is true even when switching from dry kibble to raw, despite the many benefits of transitioning to a raw diet for dogs. I was recently reminded of how difficult this transition can be when switching my dogs from kibble back to raw after a year off.
Our family just spent the last year living in Hawaii. While there were many upsides to the move, there was also a major downside for my dogs: raw food was just not an affordable option on the island. But now we are back on the mainland, and my pups are back on raw.
This transition took time due to a number of common challenges in switching to raw feeding. Below, we’ll look at what these challenges are and why they happen. We’ll also show you how to best transition from kibble to raw to avoid digestive upset and other problems.
Today, there are multiple options for raw food diets for dogs. Whether you’re transitioning from kibble to homemade raw, BARF, freeze-dried, or dehydrated, you’ll want to take it slow. This is because it will take your dog’s system time to rebuild, rebalance, and detoxify.
Microbiotics play a huge role in our overall health. We now know that these microorganisms influence everything from mood to the immune system. But the first job of the gut biome is to help us digest our food.
When dogs eat a dry kibble diet, their biome tends to be largely bacteria and yeast that feed off starch and fiber. This is because kibble is mostly made up of carbohydrates. Raw meat diets, on the other hand, are almost entirely protein and fat. Digesting these macronutrients requires a different cast of probiotics, including more Fusobacterium and Clostridium.
It takes time for the microbiotic makeup of your dog’s gut to change in order to account for a new diet. A slow transition helps ensure that the right organisms have time to populate the gut lining before the diet change is complete. This helps avoid diarrhea, excess gas, and gut pain.
One thing you can do to help speed up your dog's gut biome rebuild is to provide a quality probiotic supplement before and during this diet transition. This will help ensure that your dog is exposed to healthy, beneficial bacteria to populate the gut and help resolve any imbalances that already exist.
The gut isn’t the only thing that needs rebalancing during a diet transition. The stomach also requires time to prepare to digest different kinds of food.
Carbohydrates take a long time to digest—around 8 to 10 hours, on average. Raw meat takes a fraction of this time. This means that if your dog is eating kibble and getting fed twice a day, they are likely to have food in their stomach at almost all times. Switching to a raw diet means greatly increasing how much of the day (and night) they’ll spend with an empty stomach.
This affects your dog beyond how they feel. A full digestive tract has to continuously produce digestive enzymes and secretions, like bile, to break down food. It takes time for these processes to adjust to the digestive requirements of meat and more time spent with an empty stomach.
Many dogs suffer from bilious vomiting syndrome when switching from dry food to raw. This syndrome, which causes the dog to vomit bile, happens when bile in the small intestine makes its way into an empty stomach. When you transition too fast between kibble and raw, bile production in the gallbladder doesn’t have time to adjust.
This is the biggest problem I encountered with my dogs when switching from kibble back to raw. I had to move extra slowly when changing the ratios of each food so their overactive gallbladders could adjust to more time on an empty stomach.
Dogs on raw diets also have a more acidic stomach than those on kibble. This is a necessary change to help neutralize pathogens in raw food and help digest connective tissue and bone. If you move too fast switching from kibble to raw, the stomach won’t be acidic enough to properly break down their new food.
Commercial kibble diets are loaded with toxins. This is true of all products, from low quality to high.
Low-quality diets use fillers, chemical preservatives, and dyes. High-quality diets are less likely to have these ingredients but are still chock full of pesticides, herbicides, antibiotics, and other chemicals found in the meat and plant products that go into them. Additionally, high carbohydrate diets, which all kibble is by necessity, causes toxic byproducts to accumulate in dogs' systems.
When switching from kibble to quality raw food, your dog will experience detoxification. This process produces many symptoms, including:
- Dry, flaky skin
- Low energy
- Worsening joint pain
- Excess shedding
- Watery or gooey eyes
- Mucus in the stool or runny stool
- Discharge from the nose
The best way to decrease the severity of these systems is to slow the detoxification process so your dog’s system can keep up. A slow transition between diets will help immensely with this.
When fed correctly, raw food diets are a safe and healthy option for dogs. But a slow transition from kibble to raw is imperative to prevent digestive upset and let your dog’s system get used to the new food.
To ensure the best outcome, we recommend following these stages and using these raw feeding ratios for dogs moving from dry kibble to homemade or commercial raw.
To begin, replace just 25% of your dog's kibble every meal with raw food. Continue this ratio for at least three days. Sensitive dogs may require extending stage 1 for up to 5 days, especially if they have never been on raw food before.
This is also the best stage to introduce a probiotic supplement if you haven’t already. A supplement, such as CHIRP Superfood Topper, that includes not just beneficial microbes, but also prebiotics and enzymes, is best. Sprinkle it on each meal to ensure the new food goes down with all the tools necessary to digest it well.
If you’re planning to feed whole raw meaty bones as part of your dog’s raw diet, it is best to wait until stage 4 to introduce them. It takes a very acidic stomach to fully digest bone. Most dogs on kibble do not have acidic enough stomach acid to get the job done effectively. Waiting until they have fully transitioned onto their new diet to feed bones will help avoid digestive issues.
As long as your dog has tolerated stage 1 well for a few days, then you're ready to transition to 50% raw and 50% kibble at each meal. This stage should also be fed for 3 to 5 days, depending on how sensitive your dog’s stomach is.
For my dogs, who struggle with bilious vomiting syndrome when their stomach is too empty, I introduced a bedtime snack at this stage to help avoid an empty stomach in the morning. This snack can be a little kibble or a dog treat.
As long as your dog tolerates stage 2 well for a few days, you can move on to replacing 75% of its kibble with raw food. Some dogs can go through this stage in just three days, but many will require 5 to 7 days for their gut to fully acclimate to such a high-protein diet. Continue with the bedtime treat as needed for sensitive dogs.
After three days to a week at stage 3, your dog should be ready to go fully raw. Only make this final transition if their stools are firm and they aren't having trouble with excess gas or vomiting.
At this point, you can start weaning your sensitive dog off their bedtime snack by offering less and less each night until they can make it between dinner and breakfast without vomiting bile.
Due to multiple physiological factors, transitioning your dog from dry dog food to raw food requires time and patience. By following our slow transition schedule above and our raw dog food transition tips, it is possible to switch from kibble to raw without upsetting your dog’s stomach.
Remember, the key is to take it slow and let your dog dictate how long to spend at each feeding ratio stage. It’s also very helpful to supplement their transition with a quality probiotic supplement that includes prebiotics and enzymes.
This slow approach allows your dog's body time to adjust to its new diet so it can make the most of the many health benefits associated with raw food. Once on a fully raw diet, dogs tend to experience fewer digestive problems than dogs on commercial dry food. Raw-fed dogs also have a lower incidence of many diseases, fewer problems with allergies, and tend to maintain a healthier weight.
All this is to say that, while switching from kibble to raw can take time, it is well worth the effort!
Butowski, C., Moon, C., Thomas, D., Young, W., & Bermingham, E. N. (2021). The effects of raw-meat diets on the gastrointestinal microbiota of the cat and dog: a review. New Zealand Veterinary Journal, 70(1), 1–9.
Dacvim, D. E. L. D. M. (2021, June 17). Stomaching the problem: Could your pet have bilious vomiting syndrome?Clinical Nutrition Service at Cummings School.
Mickaël P. Weber et al. Influence of age and body size on gastrointestinal transit time of radiopaque markers in healthy dogs. American Journal of Veterinary Research, May 2002, Vol. 63, No. 5, Pages 677-682
Pilla, R., & Suchodolski, J. S. (2021). The Gut Microbiome of Dogs and Cats, and the Influence of Diet. Veterinary Clinics: Small Animal Practice, 51(3), 605–621.
Sara Seitz worked in the pet industry for over a decade. In addition to being a certified dog trainer, Sara gained experience working as the general manager of a dog daycare and boarding facility, as the creator and manager of a pet sitting company, as a groomer, and as a dog behavior evaluator. She also has a bachelors in animal behavior from CSU. Currently, Sara works as a freelance writer specializing in blog, article and content writing.