I have been feeding my dogs a raw meat diet for 8 years. Last year, I started including fruits and steamed sweet potatoes (rotating them as suggested with the raw meat). I noticed this REALLY helped my 13 year old black lab who, before this change, had really bad breath and small growths on his skin. With this change, his breath became normal and the growths reduced in size (and one large one just fell off!!). However, with this change, he lost a lot of weight (he looks REALLY skinny despite the fact he gets the most food of all 4 dogs) and acts like he is constantly hungry. What’s worse is that he has to go to the bathroom all of the time with urgency and sometimes cannot hold it in time for me to let him outside. He has started defecating and urinating in the house. Overall, his energy is really good and he does not seem ill (he actually acts VERY healthy and happy). My other three dogs have not had any issues with the change in diet.
You may be interested in reading Mogens Eliasen’s book about extrapolating the info we have about wolf dietary habits to domestic dogs. In it he talks about a way of feeding that is similar to rotational feeding, only instead of feeding plant matter, you just fast the dog on the days s/he would normally get fruit or cooked veggies. It is not for the faint of heart because the dog is allowed to eat to satiety, so it requires even fewer than alternate day feedings. The author says he feeds his dogs 2-3 times per week, as I recall. He says that this way of feeding will cause dogs to stop looking for food and that his dogs no longer act hungry all the time.
It is theorized that this feeding method also maximizes digestion because when the stomach is full, all of the glands on the inner surface of the stomach are activated. On non-feeding days, the stomach folds up like an accordion and rests, which is completely normal and not uncomfortable for dogs. It’s obviously very close to how dogs feed in the wild, except wild dogs likely experience periods of prey drought that would motivate them to eat secondary food (plants). How often and how long are issues that would vary widely and indeterminably. The fact that we don’t have exact information is one reason why you can experiment and be guided completely by the results you see in your dog.
There are a couple of issues that come up when thinking about feeding like this, however. One is that nobody has really experimented with enough dogs to know if it’s true that there are some that would harm themselves by eating too much if allowed the opportunity. I tend to think that dogs are not suicidal and know their limits but even I have seen some dogs who seem to suffer from some kind of eating neurosis. So it would be a matter of whether you know and can trust your dog, and if not, proceeding with caution.
Also, how much to feed? What constitutes ‘satiety’? There probably is a way to know for sure what a dog’s stomach can reasonably hold so that we would have an upper limit to work with, but I haven’t arrived at it yet. It would involve knowing how much a hungry wolf eats after a large kill (when the amount he can eat is not limited), and decreasing that proportionately depending on the size of the dog in question. I have seen that information somewhere, so maybe it’s not so difficult to come by. Of course I think you would also need to decrease downward even more to compensate for the relatively sedentary lifestyle of most domestic dogs. In the meantime, a conservative approach would be to experiment by gradually increasing the amount of food you feed on feeding days and allowing longer periods between meals.
It should go without saying, also, that this cannot be attempted with anything except raw food. It should also not be attempted by anyone who hasn’t conquered the problem of emotional feeding. If you feel any kind of emotional tug to feed your dog on a day when you know he should be fasted instead, you’re not a good candidate. Most dog owners fall into this category, which is why this way of feeding may not have mass appeal.
Did you see my blog post below about the Greyhound whose owner was worried about his lack of appetite? It discusses the myth that skinniness is always a sign of under consumption. If it’s true that this gorge-and-fast way of feeding maximizes digestion and overall metabolism, it might be a way to increase a dog’s ability to carry reserves if the underlying problem is functional and pathological (i.e., not genetic, as with Greyhounds). This might also help your dog with his feeling the need to urinate and defecate so much.
I found when my dog got old that I had to cut way back on his consumption or he would get symptoms. I couldn’t allow myself to be influenced by his low body weight. Your dog being unable to hold his urine or feces is a symptom, and it should override what you see when you look at his waistline. If it was one or the other, I’d say there’s a possibility that a urinary organ or the bowel is failing. Since it’s both, I tend to think a change in feeding will help.
Thanks for your question.