How Much to Feed?

Hi All,

I got the following questions from a client I’ve been working with whose dog was suffering from frequent hot spots.  I hear these questions all the time so I thought it might be helpful to post them and my response here.

Hi Nora,

I thought I’d give you an update.  Barkley has been doing much better. He is full of energy and hasn’t had a hot spot since our telephone chat. He has been eating melons, sweet potatoes and pastured (and mostly grassfed) beef neck bones.  He still is biting himself occasionally when I bring him in at night, although it doesn’t seem to develop into full blown hot spots.

I realize that he has been conditioned by me to eat more frequently and on a regular basis. However, it bothers me that he looks hungry. Whenever he comes inside at night, he is searching for food and even looking into garbage cans to find anything to eat. He whimpers and barks if I don’t feed him when I go into the kitchen.

He gets a couple pounds of melons, a couple pounds of sweet potatoes and a couple pounds of meat. Then he gets his day of fasting. I’m wondering whether I should fast him for a few days and see whether his itchiness goes away. At the same time, he looks hungry. I’m not sure what to do. Do I just need to give it some more time?


Hi Dave,

Thanks for the news. I’m glad things are improving.

The questions you’re asking get asked a lot. It is normal for dogs to be hungry when their bellies are not full. They are driven to do some of the searching/hunting behaviors by nature, since they have scavenged for food since their species began. The only time they stop is when there is no room for more food in their stomachs, which is just a small percentage of the time. The other behaviors, like barking, whimpering, hovering, ‘begging’, etc., are conditioned by previous experience. None of these is a good way to determine whether a dog needs to be fed, because they do not necessarily indicate a genuine need for food, even though we dog owners may be in the habit of interpreting it that way.

In domesticating dogs, we humans messed up a natural system that had its own perfectly developed way of balancing consumption against other factors like availability of food and the work it takes to get it. So we must slap together a replacement. Anything compared to perfection will be lacking, of course, but we can do much better than teaching dogs behaviors that get them fed, pretending that we didn’t teach it to them, and feeding them in response. That’s just crazy. The only thing crazier would be allowing their natural scavenging behaviors to dictate their consumption. In a world with unlimited food, that’s a recipe for disaster.

The best way I’ve come up with is watching symptoms and weight. If there are symptoms, it’s easy. Generally, the dog should be fed less, or if recent reductions have been made, that should be continued until healing has time to occur. This could take days, weeks, or months, depending on the age of the dog and severity of the condition. If there are no symptoms, watching the weight is fine as long as the owner knows what a dog should look like, weight-wise (concave waistline, tucked abdomen) and is prepared to cut back if & when symptoms appear. Bear in mind that overfeeding will often produce symptoms before a dog looks overweight, except in young dogs who can handle the extra waste.

Regarding the residual itching Barkley is experiencing, it’s very hard to know whether a fast is in order. As you know, major improvements in diet can cause the elimination of wastes to temporarily continue through the extraneous avenues that the body has already created, including the skin. What this means is it can happen if you’re doing something wrong, or it can happen if you’re doing everything right. The diet you’re feeding sounds great – very clean, simple and digestible. You didn’t say anything about his weight. Has he lost any? If he has, you would probably be fine just continuing the way you’re going. If you do that, mark on your calendar to email me in a month with an update so we can compare his symptoms. If he hasn’t lost any weight, you could fast him for a few days and see if the symptom lets up. If you decide to fast him, email me in a week with a progress report and we’ll go from there.

Keep up the good work!



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