WHY DO WE CHOOSE DAILY MEALS RATHER THAN GORGE AND FAST AS WOLVES AND COYOTES EAT IN THE WILD?
In nature, dogs follow a gorge and fast model of feeding. In our homes we tend to do the opposite, offering smaller meals daily. In this article, we will explore what gorge and fast feeding are, why most people feed the daily model, which option is better for your dog now and in the future, and what are the potential trade-offs of daily meals versus the gorge and fast model.
While you may be tempted to go straight to the more natural model, this issue is multifaceted, with various contributing factors that can affect this choice. It is best to make this choice deliberately armed with some knowledge to make an educated decision.
A wolf in the wild does not have access to a grocery store and refrigerator. They must work hard to earn their food. They may go days or weeks without making a successful prey kill. Once they do, they want to eat that kill as quickly as possible to avoid loss from other scavengers. They will gorge themselves on the meat when they have it available, sometimes eating as much as 25% of their body weight or more.
Having never eaten unnatural foods, coyotes, wild dogs and wolves have their senses intact and unimpeded, so they are able to feel when they are full and stop eating. Dogs that are fed kibble and commercial food however often have their senses damaged by the chemicals and toxins present in all commercial and cooked foods. This can lead to some of our dogs gorging too much and then vomiting the food back up. This issue will heal over time but can be an issue for some dogs when they are still healing which would make the gorge model less ideal for these dogs.
Here are some common reasons why we might choose daily feeding over a gorge and fast:
- Hunger Sensors – As mentioned above, a dog that has been kibble-fed may have had its natural stop-feeding senses dulled or damaged. I see this very often in our senior rescues who have been on kibble for a long time and in the younger ones who are really overweight. In most dogs, this will heal over time. But in these dogs they will gorge themselves to the point where they throw up because they simply don’t have that “Stop, I’m full” sense working properly. So we have to take that into consideration and in those dogs prone to overeating it would be best to stick with smaller daily meals.
- Breeding Issues – Dogs are wolves that have been selectively bred for various traits, many of which are not beneficial to their overall health. Unfortunately, this means we have to concern ourselves with bloat in some of these breeds. The risk for bloat increases if they have been fed kibble for part of their lives or if their mothers were kibble fed. This can lead to structural weaknesses making it possible for bloat to occur. If your dog is a breed with a high bloat risk, then sticking with small meals daily is the better option. Also, proper food combinations and avoiding all non-ideal foods are essential for bloat-risk dogs.
- Feast and Famine – Dogs retain their natural instinct to gorge on high-calorie density proteins when they are available because in nature they did not know when their next meal would be available. If I gave 6-pound Ziggy a whole cornish hen every day, he would eat it every day. He wouldn’t stop eating them when he started to get fat because his instinct says, “Eat all the prey when it’s available because it’s hard work to catch prey, and we don’t know when we will catch another.” Prey is fast and smart. A wolf might catch one in 10 or one in 20 attempts. A grocery store-fed dog lies on the couch all day and then has his prey delivered on a silver platter. Obesity and disease are the end result. Since prey is always available in our fridge with no work put in, it becomes our human responsibility to adequately exercise our companions before feeding and to put in an adequate number of fasting days between meals to mimic the natural feast and famine cycle of nature. Gorge feeding is only a healthy option when the accompanying fasting time is observed as well.
- Emotional Feeding – While feeding the gorge and fast style may be the most natural option for our companions, as humans, we tend to introduce complications because we misfeed ourselves and have emotional attachments to eating. We tend to project these emotions we feel onto our pets which leads us to create feeding habits that are in alignment with our emotions rather than our companion’s physiological needs. If you ever feed to reward your dog or feel bad if they skip a meal then gorge feeding is likely not a good option for you right now.
- Overfeeding – Humans naturally want to overfeed. We overfeed ourselves. We mistake the body’s healing pains for hunger pains, we think we need or benefit from eating multiple meals a day plus snacks, etc. Naturally, we will be inclined to overfeed our pets as well. If we want to take on the more natural model we as humans need to connect with our true nature and release a lot of the social programming that makes us overfeed. If you haven’t worked through this yet on your own, gorge feeding may be difficult for you to manage.
- Fasting – Many humans are fasting averse. This becomes an issue because the gorge model requires anywhere from 3-7 days or more of fasting between meals and it requires us to learn the true signs of hunger and be in touch with what our pets require. If you are nervous about fasting then the gorge model is not for you right now. You can always revisit this in the future.
- Working for food – Wild dogs, coyotes, and wolves will forage on fruits between prey meals. They will sift through the fallen fruits to find the best fruits. They are not eating out of a bowl hand delivered so they are not eating as quickly. They are allowing the body time to adjust to the fullness of the stomach. Most of us don’t have a yard full of fruit trees for the dogs to forage in. So we are hand delivering a pile of fruit, often cut up into tiny pieces, which requires no work to find, pick, forage, or to even break apart to chew. This can affect our companion’s ability to self-regulate on fruit and on meat meals. This is another factor that needs to be taken into account if gorge feeding.
- Clean up – Gorge feeding often means there will be an unfinished carcass to deal with. In nature, our dogs and cats would bury their leftovers and dig them up later. That is nature’s refrigeration method. However, the nature of feeding in our homes means having to figure out another solution. This might also entail having to get the leftovers away from your dog if they are guarding them or not able to dig to hide them.
- Play and activity level – In nature, after a large meal dogs, wolves and coyotes will sleep the day away and often the following day as well. They won’t be up and playing and active until the digestion completes. For some this is a benefit, if you go to work all day and they are at home with a full belly sleeping the day away then everyone is happy. But if you are used to your dog being up and running around and playing all day then gorge feeding will change this which is something worth considering. Fruit days and fasting days will be high-energy days, and meat days will be low-energy days.
If we want to consider the gorge and fast feeding method we need to take all of the above into account. We must also be mindful of whether or not this feeding protocol might be right for a dog breed that has issues with bloat. It is the most natural method but we and our dogs do not live in nature so adjustments must be made to account for our unnatural living conditions and habits.
If you read all of this and feel like both you and your dog or cat are ready for a more natural feeding model then give gorge feeding a try. Simply offer a large prey, perhaps a whole cornish hen for smaller dogs, a whole or half a chicken for larger dogs, and let them eat until full. Then incorporate 1-2 days of fasting and then offer fruits to free feed upon between prey meals. Dogs can eat up to 20-25% of their body weight, so offering prey that is roughly that weight will allow your dog to eat until they are full.