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) and their fasting periods would presumably be longer than the typical dog owner would be able to go. How often this would happen 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 conservatively.
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 without risk to the dog. I do know that the maximum stomach capacity of a 90 pound wolf is an incredible 17 pounds (David Mech 1970), so I think a lot of the fear we have about allowing dogs to eat to satiety is irrational and based on what happens when dogs are fed kibble in too-large quantities (i.e., bloat). Of course we would need to decrease this amount proportionately depending on the size and activity level of the dog in question, bearing in mind that most domestic dogs are practically sedentary compared to wolves. 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.
One more thing to bear in mind is that addiction is a natural cyclical consequence of the desire to suppress bad feelings which arise from previous self-abuse, and it is not a strictly human phenomenon. I don’t believe anybody has ever even thought about the possibility of dogs being addicted to commercial food, never mind actually studying it. However, if it’s true that people who are addicted to harmful foods find that eating them quells withdrawal symptoms, I don’t see why dogs can’t also have figured it out. If a dog is just coming off commercial foods, he may feel some discomfort that would drive him to look for food. It isn’t necessarily “hunger” and it should eventually subside, as it does in humans when the digestive system heals. Or, maybe not. It could also be completely normal for dogs to constantly hunt for food. We have to remember, dogs developed in spare economies where being perpetually vigilant for feeding opportunities was an evolutionary advantage. Perhaps those domestic dogs who don’t constantly search for food are the ones who are neurotic.
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.