Why feeding your dog a consistent diet
"on time" is a bad idea…
By Mogens Eliasen
Carnivores, like our dogs, are not meant to be fed on time. And they are not
built to get the same food every time they eat. They are genetically
programmed for variation - both in food composition and feeding time.
Unfortunately, our dogs are also very fast to adjust to a regular feeding
schedule and to a specific food composition. This can create big trouble
when you suddenly start deviating from the well-established schedule. You
might see vomiting of bile and other signs of a significant decrease in
wellness by simply feeding something different - or feeding at a different
Conditioning to a predictable feeding schedule
If you feed your dog every day at, say, 8 PM, then all organs in the body's
gastrointestinal system will program themselves to start their parts of the
digestion process at 8 PM. Whether or not you feed! (Pavlov's famous
experiments about 100 years ago are the classic proof…)
So, if you suddenly introduce a fast day in the middle of a long tradition of
consistent feeding at predictable times, you are doomed to create a problem
for your dog! What should the dog do with all those excess digestive juices
produced by the stomach at the programmed time? There is only one way:
vomit them out of the system! Those juices contain strong chemicals.
Without any food to neutralize them, they can hurt the stomach by starting
digestive processes of the stomach tissue!
Unfortunately, many people take this kind of observation for proof that it is
unhealthy for the dog to have its meals served on different times, not to
mention having a healthy fast day... I hope you see why this is a terribly
Conditioning to a predictable food
Many people experience similar problems when they try to get their dog to
eat some food it isn't used to. These problems particularly become apparent
when you want to shift from kibble feeding to a more healthy raw natural
There are many cases of this causing the dog to vomit. And the owner then,
naturally, thinks that there is a problem with the raw food…
Again: Wrong conclusion.
Kibble generally consists primarily of carbohydrates from grain. More than
half of the weight is carbohydrates, if not 70% or more. But grain is not
even on the menu of a natural diet….
Carbohydrates can only be digested in the dog's stomach by enzymes that
only function well at pH levels that are close to neutral (pH 6-7) - and thus
very far from the very strong acidity (pH 1-2) required by the enzymes that
digest raw meat.
When a dog has been "programmed" to expect a meal of mainly
carbohydrates at, say 8 PM, then the pancreas will produce lots of those
enzymes that can do the job of digesting the expected carbohydrates, and
the stomach will adjust the pH level to around 6. All of this happening
shortly before 8 PM every day….
But if you now instead shock the entire system by feeding raw meat instead
of the expected carbohydrates, the dog cannot do anything with that great
food - everything is programmed now to digest carbohydrates. The enzymes
produced by the pancreas and other glands are the wrong ones for this food,
and the pH level in the stomach is wrong. The only defense the dog has is to
vomit everything and thus eliminate the problem.
The culprit is not the food, but the past feeding schedule and biologically
inadequate food source.
Precautions when planning a shift to a natural diet.
Before you pull the dog through this kind of trauma, you should first erase
those conditional reflexes the dog has created in response to your unnatural,
regular, and predictable feeding.
It is simple. You just start varying the times you feed the "old" food. Shift
the times by feeding an hour early for a few days. Then two hours early on
some days, one hour early on other days, even back to the previous time
once in a while - but never the same time two days in a row! In a couple of
weeks, you go earlier and earlier - and, at the same time, make the time less
and less predictable. If the dog wants to skip a meal, you just let it. Your
goal is to feed the dog a maximum of 6 meals per week, at times it has no
way of predicting.
In the beginning of this transition, you should avoid feeding later than the
predicted time - because that would cause the dog to experience problems
when you don't feed on the expected time…. If the stomach is already full
when "feeding time" comes up, there will be no problem.
It does not take a lot to erase a conditional reflex like the production of
stomach juices on predictable times. If it took you, say, 100 repetitions to
establish the conditional reflex, it will only take 2-5 times "breaking the rule"
to make it dysfunctional again. So, even if you have had your dog
"programmed" over several years, it will not take more than a few days,
maximum a week or two, to erase the old harmful conditioning.
Once you erased the conditional reflex of the dog's system preparing for a
predictable meal, you will no longer experience problems when you shift the
diet to a more healthy raw, natural diet. The dog will then no longer produce
any enzymes for the expected digestion until the stomach has realized what
kind of food it needs to digest - and it will no longer make wrong guesses.
Although you might see the dog salivate when exposed to the smell of some
delicious food, its stomach should not start producing any production of
enzymes for digestion until the food mechanically has passed the esophagus
- and if you keep a non-predictable feeding schedule, it will stay that way.
The biggest benefit you get will be that the dog will increase its ability to
handle the digestion of all kinds of natural food. By not allowing the stomach
to "jump the gun" on starting the digestion process before the food actually
is available for it, it remains flexible in regards to making the digestion fit the
food. And that way, you keep your dog in much better health.
Mogens Eliasen holds a Ph.D. level degree in Chemistry from Århus University,
Denmark and has 30+ years of experience working with dogs, dog owners, dog
trainers, and holistic veterinarians as a coach, lecturer, and education system
developer. He publishes a free newsletter "The Peeing Post" containing lots of tips
and advice on dog problems of all kinds, particularly about training, behavioral
problems, feeding, and health care.
For more information about Mogens Eliasen, including links to other articles he has
published, please send a short e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.