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Why Your Dog Needs to Fill its Stomach on an Irregular Basis

From the desk of Mogens Eliasen - first published: Date

Mogens Eliasen - the author of this article
on 'the dog stomach'

Most dog owners, who love their dogs, try to extend as much TLC to them as they can. However, when they assume that what is good for them is also good for the dog, they make some terrible mistakes….

Dog do not have monkey stomachs!

Some anatomic facts to consider…

A dog stomach is elastic, like an accordion. When empty, it folds to what almost appears to be an intestine. When it is filled, it can contain as much as 7-8% of the dog's body weight! (For a human weighing 120 pounds, this would correspond to eating 10 pounds in one meal - but a human stomach is a bag with almost no elasticity - it simply cannot do more than about 10% of this…)

Further, the dog's stomach is full of small glands that produce digestive enzymes. Those glands start to work when they get in contact with food. This will happen for some of them immediately as the dog gets some food in the stomach, but, because of the folding nature of the stomach, most of those glands do not get to touch food, unless the stomach is filled so that all the folds are stretched out!

An amazing consequence of this is that the dog's digestion process is more efficient when it gets a large meal! While it still might digest a certain fraction of a small meal, that fraction will be much larger for a larger meal! Dogs that are being fed almost exclusively "full meals" (= meals that fill the stomach), generally need some 20-30% less food than dogs that are being fed many smaller meals. (This is exactly the opposite of what would be true for a human stomach...)

The ultimate carnivore experience

Dogs, like other carnivores, do not rely on having food available all the time. In fact, when they have a full stomach or recently had one, they don't even bother looking to the side of a possible prey. Instead, they feed very irregularly - when food is available, and they have hunting success. At such times, they gorge and fill themselves - and there is no discussion possible that they thoroughly enjoy doing that!

Many people also experience that, when they have difficulty getting the dog to eat something new, a simple way to get it to eat it is to first give it a little of what you know they like - then it will eat almost anything after that to fill the stomach! This illustrates that filling the stomach is more important to a dog than just "getting a little bite".

Yet, most domestic dogs never get to experience this…

Keeping the dog constantly starving...

Few dog owners want to starve their dog or to keep it constantly hungry. Nevertheless, this is what most people end up doing when they feed their dog multiple daily meals, assuming that this is just as good for a dog as it is for a human.

An adult dog needs an amount of food in average per day that is about 2-3% of its body weight. Considering that it takes 6-8% to fill the stomach, there is just no way the average dog will ever get to experience the satisfying fulfillment of having a full stomach... With 2-3 small meals per day, it will remain constantly hungry!

Changing the feeding pattern

Now, you cannot just start letting a dog fill its stomach, cold turkey, if it has never been used to this. It would be dangerous (risk of bloat because the muscle tissue is far too weak from never having been exercised). Doing it with kibble is, of course, completely out of the question too - it is far too concentrated.

Also, when you ultimately feed your dog as much as it wants in one meal, you cannot feed it more than 3-4 meals per week! However, when you do this, you will see the "food searching" behavior disappear, and you will see your dog gain weight if it is too skinny and lose weight if it is too fat.

You have an important hurdle to overcome before you can safely let you dog eat full meals 3-4 times a week - in addition to your own human-based emotions:

You must train the stomach muscles to handle the greater volume of a meal. It is like training a broken leg for skiing after getting the cast off... Do it gradually over a period of at least 3 months, preferably 6. (Please refer to my article on Conditioning if you need help with this.)

I know the concept of feeding only 3-4 times per week sounds brutal - but seriously: it isn't. My dogs have been fed this way for more than 30 years, and I tell you: they enjoy their meals!!! But they also enjoy the time between the meals. I have never had a problem with weight - it regulates itself on an individual basis. I have helped literally hundreds of my students to do the same, and they all report the same great results.... not a single exception!


Mogens Eliasen


Mogens Eliasen holds a mag. scient. degree (comparable to a US Ph. D.) in Chemistry from Århus University, Denmark, has a extensive education also as military officer and in business management. He has been working with dogs, dog owners, dog trainers, and veterinarians since 1970. A large part of his dog work has been in the area of education and education planning, and as consultant for dog owners and dog training associations. He is a strong advocate of treating the dog with respect for its nature as domesticated wolf, and has published several books and videos on topics related to dogs, dog training, dog behavior, and responsible care of dogs. He publishes a newsletter "The Peeing Post" containing lots of tips and advice on all matters pertaining to dogs.

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Titles available from K9joy®:

Anders Hallgren:
"The ABC's of Dog Language" (140 page book - 1996)
Understand what your dog is telling you - and communicate with it on its own terms. A must have for all dog lovers. Easy to read. Easy to use as reference.

Mogens Eliasen:
"The Dog's Social Behavior" (2.5 hr. video - 1998, updated on DVD 2006, with support materials on a CD)
How the dog's behavior is linked to its instincts and needs. What you can change and what is "for life". How you use this information to dramatically improve your relationship with your dog.

Mogens Eliasen:
"BrainWork for Smart Dogs" (380 page e-book - 2003)
How you get a happy and well-behaved dog, stimulating its brain with 15 minutes of fun per day. Dogs need to work and use their instinct in order to be in mental balance. Everyone can do it with these instructions. More than 40 exercises to choose from!

Mogens Eliasen:
"Don't Pull on the Leash!" (40 page e-book - 2005)
The 5 simple steps in this complete training manual will effectively stop any dog from pulling on the leash, with no pain or abuse and no special equipment - and make the start of a much better relationship with the dog.

Mogens Eliasen:
"Is Your Dog's Drinking Water Safe?" (30 page e-book - 2005, updated 2006)
A layman's overview of how and why drinking water gets contaminated - and what you can do about it.

Mogens Eliasen:
"Feeding Your Dog - the Natural Way" (1 hr. video - 1998)
The fastest introduction to get you started on feeding your dog a natural diet. It explains the dog's physiology in simple terms, so you also understand why you should do this.

Mogens Eliasen:
"Canine Choice - by Nature" (80 page e-book - 1999, updated 2005)
The simple "how-to" about feeding a natural diet for optimal health.

Mogens Eliasen:
"Raw Food for Dogs - the Ultimate Reference for Dog Owners"
(340 page e-book - revised/expanded 2006)
Everything you need for making your own informed decisions about what to feed your dog, and why and how. Includes numerous examples of feeding plans plus two chapters on how to work with your vet, also if he/she does not approve of your feeding...

Mogens Eliasen:
"The Wolf's Natural Diet - a Feeding Guide for Your Dog?"
(125 page e-book - 2004 updated/revised 2006)
What we know and don't know about the wolf and its natural feeding, and about the dog and its domestication, and what we can and cannot conclude from wolf to dog... this is the big "why?" behind any responsible approach to feeding your dog.

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