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Hunger, Fasting & Once A Day Feeding

These are frequently discussed topics in raw food circles. Let’s take a look at the logic of how and when to feed.

Dr Nick Thompson

Author: Dr Nick Thompson
BSc (Vet Sci) Hons, BVM&S, VetMFHom, MRCVS

Hunger, Fasting & Once A Day Feeding

Should we feed once a day or twice a day? What are ‘hunger pukes’? How can I avoid them? What is the best time of day to feed? Should I fast my dog? If so, how often? These are frequently discussed topics in raw food circles. Let’s take a look at the logic of how and when to feed.

Music

You can’t feed the dog continually, obviously, therefore you have to put spaces between meals. The less frequently you feed, the more you have to feed at any one meal to maintain calorie consumption. The space between the meals, bizarrely, therefore is as important as the meals you feed. Not feeding becomes integral to the ideal diet as much as feeding! Just as the space between the notes in a piece of music is essential to the melody as the notes themselves.

History

Depending on how lucky a dog is, how skilful they might be, the season of the year and their position in the pack, ancestral dogs might have eaten daily in good times and perhaps weekly in bad. On average I think it’s fair to assume they likely didn’t eat every day. They likely ate at random times, and generally, this involved a period of exercise, hunting or scavenging, before all meals.

This contrasts with the modern dog. Kibble manufacturers would have you feed high carb food first thing in the morning and then more that evening, regardless of whether exercise had been taken at all. Exercise in humans is known to prepare the body for food.

Because fasting was just a part of everyday life for the ancient canid, the body evolved to use the time to repair liver, gut and pancreatic tissue. The modern dog is fed twice a day and in between is plied with treats, leaving no time for the gut to ‘rest’.

This common practice, based on the human model of ‘square meals every day’, which seems so innocuous, is contributory, I think, too much of the disease we see today. Weight/fat issues (obesity and overweight dogs are 70% of the UK and US population), pancreatitis, diabetes and cancer are all significantly worse than they were even 30 years ago.

Dr Jason Fung, the ‘Diet Doctor’, in his book ‘The Obesity Code’, describes a technique called ‘Intermittent Fasting’. Intermittent fasting, for humans, means eating all your food in a six-hour period during the afternoon, avoiding the traditional breakfast, lunch, dinner and supper we’ve all grown up with. I’d like to steal this idea from him and apply it to dogs.

It’s easy – all we do is gradually feed less breakfast and just feed once or twice daily (in a six-hour period), after midday, to allow the body 18 or so hours to fast – just as they did throughout history. Personally, I’d feed once a day, but if you feed at 1pm and 5pm, that’s fine.

Hunger Pukes and Random Feeding

I would suggest you consider feeding once daily and at random. ‘At random’ just means not having a fixed time to feed. Why meals at different times during the day? To prevent the ‘anticipation-of-dinner’ build-up that most dogs get for hours before their set mealtime.

For example, suppose you feed at 5pm, as most people do. In that case, you can guarantee, unless your dog is entirely non-foody, from about 1pm, they will be saying to themselves, ‘only 3 hours till dinner!’, then, ‘only two hours’, then ‘only one hour’ and so on. All the while their stomachs are churning, producing excessive acid and their guts are readying themselves for the 5pm call to eat. I think this is what causes a lot of the ‘hunger pukes’, acidity and digestive issues we see so often in the practice. If we can eliminate the anticipatory build-up, we can eliminate the hunger pukes.

So, to feed randomly, what we do is to feed the following day at 4pm, the next day at 3pm, then 2pm, then back to 4pm, then 6pm etc. This process may take a month with some dogs. Gradually they will not know or care when they’re going to be fed (because they know food will arrive at some point) and will just be grateful that food has appeared. It can be a pain if you’ve got a strict timetable and may be impossible for some, but please consider it! In the long run, it obviously makes your life easier because you don’t have baying hounds chasing you with their eyes all afternoon until the dinner gong sounds.

Fasting

As you can see from our discussions above, I think fasting is a good idea – feeding once daily and keeping treats until after 12 midday allows the gut and pancreas to rest and heal. If you’re doing this, then there is less necessity to fast once a week or once a fortnight, but you can. If you’re only able to feed twice daily, I would sincerely advise considering fasting your dog for 24 hours when you can.

Don’t just stop feeding for one day a week/fortnight. The best plan is to gradually reduce food on the appointed day over weeks and months. I find Mondays are the best day. Often dogs have shows or competitions at the weekend and may need the calories.

Mondays work well for most people – gradually reduce the amount of food fed on a Monday and increase the food fed on the other days to make up, so that total week’s calories stay the same. You’ll find the fussy dog tends to be a whole lot less fussy on a Tuesday! It’s a good day to introduce new foods or feeding techniques because hunger finds no fault with the cook, after all!

Fasting should only be considered in the mature dog. Pups, like children, need more regular feeding to provide calories and nutrients to the growing body. Equally, deep-chested dogs may not do well with a single large meal because they risk gastric twisting and bloating. These dogs, Setters and Danes, for example, may need more frequent feeding.

Conclusion

Fasting is not an attractive concept to the modern Western person. We’re taught to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner, but there’s little good science to say this is the best way to eat. ‘Breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dine like a pauper’ was, in fact, coined by Adele Davies in 1955. It has no scientific underpinning what so ever. So much for nutritional science.

Most human cultures throughout history and today use fasting as part of their lives. Indeed, even the word ‘breakfast’ means to eat your first meal in the day after fasting (usually for religious reasons in the UK). Fasting is a time-honoured healing practice all over the world, but I suspect not popular in modern medicine because you can’t patent it and sell it.

For me it’s logical to think carefully about when we feed as well as what we feed. I hope this has given you some food for thought.

Dr Nick Thompson

BSc (Hons) Path Sci., BVM&S, VetMFHom, MRCVS. Founding President of the Raw Feeding Veterinary Society. Petplan Vet of the Year Nominee 2009, 2015, 2017, 2018 & 2020. The practice of the Year Nominee 2018.

8 comments

I have a one year old cavapoo (of toy poodle and cavalier parentage) he weighs 6 kilos. I feed him whole prey and franken prey diet. Is it OK to feed him once per day, in the evening?

ProDog

Hi there

Dr Nick says “I would suggest you consider feeding once daily and at random. ‘At random’ just means not having a fixed time to feed. Why meals at different times during the day? To prevent the ‘anticipation-of-dinner’ build-up that most dogs get for hours before their set mealtime.”

If your dog is not a fully grown adult however, you should stick to more frequent meals as they need the calories more regularly.

Kind Regards
Team ProDog

Dr Eszter Czerodi

Hi,

I am so happy to see this article.
My family always did feed dogs once a day in Hungary. I did the same with my dog before in Italy, too. The Vets there are more flexible and they agreed with my choice. Now in England with my new puppy I had so much doubts. Can I be still a good owner? She is 14 weeks old, but defenetly my plan is feed her only once when she sould be an adult. I must tell that my previous dog, looked like a puppy at the age of 14. She was full of energy and so happy. We started to feed her once a day form the age of six month.
I also feel that not neutralising dogs can make them healtier but I am aware that is a contraversal topic , too.

Oversight Saluki

Hi there,
I have a 3 year old saluki that weighs a whopping 32kg..

We’ve cut out all treats for over 6 months now but her weight is still not shifting..

We currently feed her 2x a day at 4pm and 7pm one cup of kibble mixed with wet food.

Any insight into what we can do greatly appreciated. As someone said today she looks more like a Labrador than a sight hound!

Thank you so much,

ProDog

Hi there, sorry to hear about your saluki.
As we are not aware of the calories, and carbohydrate and fat content of the kibble and wet food you are feeding, it is difficult to advise.
Would you consider trialling her on a raw diet ? We have many a successful weight loss on a species appropriate raw diet.

gabby

Hi I am hoping that switching my five month old puppy to once a day will help with predicting his bowel movements he is still pooping several times a day and sometimes still having accidents in the house. We switch to once a day in the morning for the past week, putting food down for between 6am and 8am but I was still waking up to a 4 am or 5 am poop. I am going to switch to feeding in the evening and see if this will help avoid house accidents. I will switch to random once we stop having accidents but until then I feel we need the predictability of time. Any suggestions for what time would be best?

Winnie

Hi, I have a 2 yrs plus old Maltipoo (maltese mixed poodle) she weighs 4.5kg. Very active dog but picky eater. But she has no problem eating after i switched to raw diet which started almost a year ago when she was having stomach issues i.e throwing up white foams in the morning back when I was feeding her dog food and home made twice a day. The vet gave her some meds and some dry food for sensitive stomachs. She was back normal. But problem was she was back having the same problem. That was almost a year ago. So now Im transitioning her to one meal a day since I notice that she wasn’t interested in morning meal, be it at 7am, 8am, 9am or 10am.. but 11am onwards she was looking hungry. So my question is how do I help her ease the morning hunger pukes while transitioning into one meal a day.. would really appreciate your reply, thank you.

ProDog

Hi Winnie

Have you tried giving her a late bedtime snack, juts before bed ? This usually helps with hunger pukes.

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