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.
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.
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.
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.
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.