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 creates 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 simple feeding something different - or feeding at a different time.

***Conditioning to a predictable feeding schedule***

If you feed your dog every day at 8 PM, say, then all organs in the body 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 it out of the system! Those juices are strong chemicals, and 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 fast day... I hope you see why this is terribly wrong!

***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. The problem becomes apparent when you want to shift from kibble feeding to a more healthy raw natural diet.

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 consist primarily of carbohydrates from grain. More than half of the weight is that, if not 70% or more, regardless the fact of grain not even being 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, the dog cannot do anything with that great food - everything is programmed to digest carbohydrates. The enzymes are the wrong ones, and the pH level is wrong. The only defense the dog has to protect itself is to vomit everything and thus eliminate the problem.

The culprit is not the food, but the past feeding schedule and monotone food source.

***Precautions when planning a shift to a natural diet***

Before you pull the dog through this kind of trauma, you should first destroy those conditional reflexes the dog has created in response to your regular and predictable feeding.

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 want 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 destroy 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 destroy it. So, even if you have had your dog "programmed" over several years, it will not take more than a few weeks, maximum a month, to destroy the old harmful conditioning.

Once you destroyed 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 digestion until the stomach has realized what kind of food it needs to digest - and then it will make no wrong guesses.


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 contact@k9joy.com

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