By TB Thompson, Doctor of Veterinarian Medicine
Have you ever wondered how many times a day a dog should eat? Chances are, you adopted your current dog feeding habits from whatever you saw your parents do. Maybe you decided to free-feed your dog for the sake of convenience. You might be hurting your dog’s health without realizing it.
Free-Feeding Has Its Limitations
The term free-feeding means that you put out more food than your dog would eat in a day so that he has food available at all times. You allow the dog to eat as much as he wants.
Free-feeding is a reasonable strategy in some cases. For instance, small and medium breed puppies need to take in such a large amount of food they may do better when food is always available. Dogs with digestive trouble and those who are underweight sometimes do better with free-feeding, too.
However, there are some serious problems with free-feeding most dogs. The biggest problem is that many dogs take in too much food when it’s always available. Overeating leads to obesity and an increased risk of many diseases including diabetes (Briand et al., 2006) and osteoarthritis (Smith et al., 2006).
Other problems encountered with free-feeding dogs is that it makes it difficult to track their food intake. You might not notice that your dog’s appetite has decreased until several days have passed. Also, if you have multiple dogs and one is more timid it may not have enough access to food. Finally, leaving food out in a bowl attracts insects and wild animals to the area.
Food-Restricted Meal Feeding Is Better for Most Dogs
For the average dog, offering meals of a measured amount of food has many advantages. You’ll be able to monitor your dog’s appetite and intervene if it’s abnormal.
Allowing a dog to have more time between meals allows his hunger to develop between meals. This is a normal situation and a closer approximation of how their ancestors lived. Take advantage of your dog's pre-meal hunger by doing some training using some delicious treats as rewards.
Meal feeding will allow you to give dogs in multi-pet homes an individual portion. Timid dogs will have access to the right amount of food and overeaters can be kept from stealing from their housemates.
Transitioning Your Dog to Meal-Feeding
Transitioning to meal feeding doesn’t have to be difficult. Most dogs do well eating two meals a day, so it’s only going to require about 15 minutes of your time twice a day during the transition period. Using highly palatable, moist foods like Koha Pet foods can make the transition easier.
Decide on a day to start. The night before your starting day, take away your dog’s bowl of food. Letting him go overnight without eating should be no big deal. In the morning, offer him a meal with half his daily food allotment.
Put the food bowl down on the floor and make sure your dog knows it’s there. If he doesn’t eat it, that’s OK. Just leave it there for 15-20 minutes. At the end of that time, pick up the food and discard it or store it until the next feeding time.
At the next feeding time, offer a meal again. Your dog will be more likely to eat now that his hunger has had a chance to build throughout the day. It shouldn’t take more than a few days for him to get used to meal-feeding if you stick to feeding him at the same time twice a day.
If he begs for food or pesters you between meals, it’s best to let his hunger build until the next meal time. Normal, healthy dogs can easily go for 8-12 hours between meals, so don’t let him bully you! If your dog is less than a year old or has health challenges, discuss your plans with your veterinarian before you start the transition to meal-feeding.
Briand, F., Ougerram, K., Krempf, M., & Nguyen, P. (2006, May). Insulin resistance is not associated with glucose intolerance in dog made obese by overfeeding. In JOURNAL OF VETERINARY INTERNAL MEDICINE (Vol. 20, No. 3, pp. 771-771). 7175 W Jefferson Ave., Ste 2125, Lakewood, CO 80235 USA: AMER COLL VETERINARY INTERNAL MEDICINE.
Smith, G. K., Paster, E. R., Powers, M. Y., Lawler, D. F., Biery, D. N., Shofer, F. S., ... & Kealy, R. D. (2006). Lifelong diet restriction and radiographic evidence of osteoarthritis of the hip joint in dogs. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 229(5), 690-693.
Zentek, J., Meyer, H., & Daemmrich, K. (1995). The effect of a different energy supply for growing Great Danes on the body mass and skeletal development. 3. Clinical picture and chemical studies of the skeleton. Zentralblatt fur Veterinarmedizin. Reihe A, 42(1), 69-80.
Dec 6th 2018