the scientific study of pet nutrition by veterinary nutrition specialists and experts.

Out of options? What to do if your pet’s food is out of stock

Out of options? What to do if your pet’s food is out of stock
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COVID-19 has caused turmoil in people’s lives this past year, but it has also had an impact on our pets’ lives, most recently because of some popular pet foods being temporarily out of stock.  There are various reasons for the backorders, including issues with supply chains and slower production due to social distancing and other safety protocols in plants.  These backorders not only cause stress and worry to us humans by having to scramble to find a solution – it’s also not a good idea for pets to have to change their food abruptly if you run out.  An abrupt change in diet may also be harmful to your pet if they are on a therapeutic diet for a medical condition.  Since we (and most other veterinarians) have been getting a lot of questions about this, here are some thoughts on ways to prevent running out and what to do if you do end up in that situation.

Tips to reduce the risk of running out of your pet’s food

  • Plan ahead.  Depending on the size of your pet and how much food they go through (this will be affected by your pet’s weight, activity level, calorie density of the food, and a variety of other factors), I like to have 2-3 months of food as a back up (a little more if your pet has very specific nutritional requirements – see below).
  • Don’t hoard.  You don’t need to store months and months of food.  And don’t buy giant bags that will last more than a couple months since dry pet food won’t stay fresh forever once the bag is opened.  It’s better to buy multiple, smaller bags as the food will stay fresher in sealed bags.  Also, avoid buying more food than you can use before the expiration date on the packaging.
  • Store it right.  If you do buy extra, don’t dump it all into a bin or store it at temperatures that are too hot or too cold.  For tips on the safest way to store pet food, see “The Scoop on Storing Pet Food.”
  • Have a back-up.  Talk to your veterinarian about a good back-up food for your pet that has a similar nutritional profile to the diet you’re feeding (or, if your pet’s medical and nutritional needs are complex, you can consider working with a Board Certified Veterinary Nutritionist).  The number of options you’ll have depends on your pet.  For some dogs and cats, there will be many choices but it’s good to think about it ahead of time, rather than in a panicked scramble as your pet is finishing the last few bites from a bag or can.  You’ll want to allow plenty of time to purchase the food in a store or online (including shipping time) and to do a gradual transition to a new diet.
    • One of my dogs has some medical issues but has a lot of flexibility in terms of the diet she could eat.  So, while she eats a therapeutic diet, she could eat a different therapeutic diet or even many different good quality over-the-counter diets.  So, for her, I don’t worry too much about keeping extra food in stock because I know I could switch her to one of many other diets in a pinch.
    • My other dog, however, has significant medical issues that make his nutritional requirements very specific and there are a limited number of diets he can eat to stay healthy (plus, he weighs 125 pounds!).  For him, I keep a pretty big cushion of extra food ready in case there is a problem with supply of the diet he’s eating, and I have a couple other options as a back-up that I could feed in an emergency.
  • Check calories.  This is an opportune time to reassess how much you’re feeding.  If your pet is overweight, you could save money and use less food by feeding less (and making your dog or cat much healthier)!  Talk with your veterinarian about the best way to slim your pet down.
  • Consider a reality check.  Does your pet really need to feed a diet with very limited ingredients or other specific properties?  There is a great deal of misinformation about pet food ingredients, and an over-diagnosis of food allergies, so your choice of pet food may not need to be so limited and you may have many more options than you think that your pet would thrive on.  Talk to your veterinarian about the best options for your pet.

What if your pet’s food is already out of stock?

  • Check online for availability through multiple websites of both large and small retailers or contact the manufacturer for information.  The manufacturer can sometimes direct you to a retailer or veterinarian that has the food in stock.
  • For dry food, it may just be a single bag size that is out of stock and a larger or smaller bag may still be available.
  • For healthy pets, a different flavor or for dogs, a different dog size (e.g., small breed vs. large breed) of the same product is usually a good alternative option. For pets with medical issues, check first because different flavors or dog size of the same product can have very different nutritional profiles.
  • Talk to your veterinarian for recommendations on an alternate diet that will meet your pet’s specific needs.  This is especially important if your pet has medical issues.  As noted above, it’s always best to plan ahead!
  • If your pet has medical issues and their usual therapeutic diet is unavailable, be sure to check with your veterinarian about any alternative options that a store or online retailer might suggest to be sure they’re safe and healthy for your pet.  While these recommendations may be well-meaning, they can sometimes be dangerous for your pet!
  • Know your pet. Some pets can switch from one diet to another “cold turkey” with no transition without any problems.  Others, however, need a much more gradual transition over 7-10 days.  If your pet is on the sensitive side, you’ll want to have a little extra cushion of food so you have time to change slowly
  • If you switch diets, check the calories of the old and new diets so you can match your pet’s previous calorie intake (if they are at ideal weight).  Pet foods vary widely in the number of calories in a cup or can so if you don’t adjust, you may end up under- or over-feeding your pet with the new food.  Many pet owners feed based on volume (two cups, regardless of the food), but it is important to keep in mind that a new food may differ in calories – sometimes dramatically!
  • Don’t cook your pet’s food unless you’ve considered all the pros and cons, are willing to work with a Board Certified Veterinary Nutritionist to get a nutritionally balanced recipe, and you’re willing to spend the time and money following that recipe exactly.

Hopefully, pet food availability issues related to COVID-19 will be over soon, but this last year has shown us the importance of planning ahead for your pet’s nutrition and overall health.


Dr. Freeman is a veterinary nutritionist and a professor at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University. She is on the cutting-edge of science, with hundreds of articles in prestigious journals, speaking engagements at national and international conferences, and awards for her scientific achievements. However, she also is passionate about providing objective and accurate information on pet nutrition to veterinarians, pet owners, and other animal enthusiasts.

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