The other day I talked about and was looking for advise on how to overcome a finicky pet when switching to a new diet. This article was about reacting to a problem when it is too late. What I am asking today is, could the pet becoming finicky have been avoided? In my research on the subject I came across Dr. Morgens Eliasen, a coach, lecturer and education systems developer. He in his newsletter comes to some interesting conclusions on this subject. His advise goes as far as the very drastic sounding “It is better not to feed your pet every day.” In a nutshell, the following includes some of his arguments and outlines the common mistakes pet owners tend to make.
First mistake: Carnivores like our companion animals are not meant to be fed on time. In addition they are not built to take in the same food every time they eat. Carnivores are genetically programmed for variation in both, food composition and timing of feeding. Unfortunately, our companion animals are very fast to adjust to a regular feeding schedule and to a specific food composition. However, such a programmed lifestyle also causes problems. They start with the animal being finicky and end with the more serious vomiting of bile and other signs of significant decrease in wellness.
Feeding an animal every day at the same time gets it conditioned to a predictable feeding schedule. This means all organs of the body will program themselves to start their function in the digestion process at that particular feeding time. Regardless whether feeding at that point takes place or not. Have you ever experienced on yourself that if you eat dinner every day at exactly the same time, you automatically get hungry at that time and your body doesn’t like it if it’s not being fed? Well, animals are no different. Interesting enough, this theory was documented and proven in experiments with dogs already back over a century ago. By the Russian physiologist, psychologist and physician Ivan Pavlov (1839 to 1936) who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1904 for research pertaining to the digestive system. Pavlov is widely known for first describing the phenomenon of classical conditioning. In the 1890s, he was investigating the gastric function of dogs by externalizing a salivary gland so he could collect, measure and analyze the saliva and what response it had to food under different conditions. He noticed that the dogs tended to salivate before food coated with chili powder was actually delivered to their mouths, and set out to investigate this "psychic secretion", as he called it. He decided that this was more interesting than the chemistry of saliva, and changed the focus of his research, carrying out a long series of experiments in which he manipulated the stimuli occurring before the presentation of food. He thereby established the basic laws for the establishment and extinction of what he called "conditional reflexes" i.e., reflex responses, like salivation, that only occurred conditionally upon specific previous experiences of the animal.
Turning back to our lives today, if we suddenly change the feeding time for our pets in the midst of a long tradition of consistent feeding at predictable times we are doomed to create a problem. What’s the pet going to do with those excess digestive juices produced by the stomach at the programmed time? There is only one way: Get it out of the system by vomiting. After all, we are talking pretty strong chemicals being generated here and without food to neutralize them they will hurt the stomach by starting digestive processes of the stomach tissue.
The second mistake many pet owners make is conditioning their pets to a predictable food. This definitely refers to the problem of dealing with a “finicky” pet when switching diets from an unhealthy to a healthier diet (hopefully its never done the other way around). Is it really being finicky? Or is it instincts telling our pet that this new stuff is not going to work? Here is where I am coming from: I heard of many cases where the switching caused the pet to vomit. The owners then thought there was a problem with the new food. I am pleased to say that this always was the wrong conclusion. Until most recently kibble generally consisted and in many cases still continues to consist primarily of carbohydrates deriving from grain. To an extend of more than half and up to 70% of the weight of dry food is grain. By the way, this despite the fact that our companion animals are carnivores and grain has never been on the menu of Mother Nature’s natural diets. As a side note, the good news is that more and more manufacturers these days are introducing grain free formulas, at least one step in the right direction.
So what’s the actual problem here you want to know? Carbohydrates only can be digested in a dog’s stomach by enzymes. These enzymes only function well at pH levels close to neutral (pH 6 to 7). Thus they are very far from the very strong acidity (pH 1 to 2) required by the enzymes that digest raw meat. How does that translate into our dog’s life? If the dog has been programmed to expect a carbohydrates rich meal every day at 8 am, then the pancreas will produce lots of the enzymes required to digest these carbs, up to a pH level of let’s say around 6 at just shortly before 8 am every day. Now you “shock” the dog’s system by changing to a raw meat diet. Can you see it now? Everything is wrong: The enzymes available are for carb processing and not for raw meat and the pH level is way ways off. Still wonder why your dog doesn’t feel well? And, no, it’s not the new food, it’s that the dog was conditioned for the wrong food.
As a responsible pet owner you can avoid all these problems by simply conditioning your dog to the right conditions: Varied feeding times, which means feed your dog at different times every day. Keep in mind not to use shock therapy, i.e. do it slowly but steadily, for example start feeding an hour earlier for a week, then an hour later for another week, then go back to your old schedule, etc, and in between, even throw in a day of no feeding. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. In nature wolves sometimes have to go for days, even weeks before finding any prey and to me they all look just fine. Always remember to start out with feeding the dog earlier than his original preset time. This way the stomach is already full when feeding time comes around and there is no problem. Keep in mind, it does not take long to destroy your dog’s conditional reflexes. While it may have taken you 100 repetitions to establish a conditional reflex, it may only take you 2 to 5 times of breaking the rule to destroy it. If your dog is used to preset timing for years, it will in the very worst case only up to 4 weeks to eliminate the old harmful conditioning. And with regards to the enzymes: Once your dog is used to a varied feeding, his stomach will no longer produce digestive enzymes until the stomach realizes what kind of food it needs to digest. Pretty simple, isn’t it? And way healthier too.