After “what to feed”: “when to feed” is the second most popular question we get asked. Can I leave food out for my dog? Do I need to follow a schedule? If so, how often should I feed my dog?
If you find yourself asking any of these questions, keep reading as we explore different school of thoughts and help you decide what is best for your dog.
Is it ok if I leave food out for my dog?
Free feeding is when you always leave a bowl of food out, topping it as it gets low. Your dog has access to food all day and can graze until his/her heart is content (or should we say stomach).
The reasons for choosing this method is often convenience. Most owners will give their dog’s full ration in the morning and not think about it. Some believe that it can prevent resource guarding as the dog doesn’t have a limited time access to the food and no need to guard it.
We never recommend free feeding. In most cases, it leads to obesity as many pets will overeat. It also becomes difficult to monitor your dog’s eating habits or bathroom routine (especially when you’re potty training). If you have more than one dog, there is a risk that the dominant dog will get more food and not let the other dog access it.
One last important aspect of free feeding: leaving food out will attract pest and makes it difficult to keep your house clean.
Schedule feeding: How many times a day should my dog eat?
We’ve established that free feeding is not a good idea and you should choose schedule feeding instead.
Schedule feeding is when you offer your dog a specific amount of food at a set time in the day.
An adult dog will usually be fine with two meals a day, one in the morning one at night. Puppies and mothers require several meals a day.
For schedule feeding, you should determine how much food your dog needs, based on his/her breed, weight and activity level and split the total amount/day between breakfast and dinner. If you know you’re training your dog and he/she will have lots of high value treats that day, you can use some of the brekky or dinner or adjust the amount of food accordingly.
NOTE FOR PUPS POTTY TRAINING: When feeding your pup, leave the food out no more than ten minutes. If you dog doesn’t eat it, take the bowl away and do not serve again until the next schedule time. Leaving food out will set your pup up for failure and make it difficult for you to predict when your dog will have to go for #2.
What is the best time to feed my dog?
As mentioned above, if your dog isn’t a puppy under 6months or a lactating mother, two meals a day are usually enough. You can work with your schedule and feed your dog in the morning before your leave for work or while you’re having breakfast and again at night, when you come back from work.
If your lifestyle makes it hard to feed your dog at scheduled time, investigate automatic feeders and pet food dispensers
Some dogs also do well with one meal a day and will have their full portion in one sitting. It’s all about figuring out what works for your dog.
Remember to always feed your dog at least 1 hour before a walk or a run to prevent bloat, which can be fatal to dogs.
Is it ok not to feed my dog for a day?
We know it is easy to panic when your dog refuses to eat and misses a meal or two. Rest assure, your pet will not starve to death. According to vets, dogs can live three to five days without eating, if they can drink water.
Now if your dog has diabetes, it is important that he/she has regular meals but in a healthy adult dog, do not panic and do not try to feed anything in an attempt to give them their required nutrients.
There can be many reasons for your dog refusing to eat, ranging from illness or fussiness. If it is the later, by giving in to them and feeding high reward food you are encouraging and reinforcing such behaviour. Do not be tempted to hand feed either. Stick to the principles or schedule feeding. Take the food away, and only offer it again at the next mealtime. It can feel like tough love but you need to be strong in your commitment to set your dog up for success!
In the case of diarrhoea or vomiting, you might need to fast your dog. It is recommended to stop feeding your dog for 24hours before re-introducing bland food such as boiled chicken and rice. Once again, do not be scared that your dog will starve, the digestive track just needs a rest.
A parting thought on portion control
We know it is hard to resist those begging puppy eyes, but we cannot stress enough the fact that you need to know the amount of food your dog requires and stick to it!
You can use the recommendation on the packet but keep in mind that those tend to be on the “over feeding” side. The best is to talk to your vet or use portion controlled food based specifically on your dog’s needs.
Pet obesity is a real problem. Almost half of dogs and one third of cats in Australia are overweight or obese1.
If you find that your dog consistently isn’t finishing his/her meals, you might be feeding more that is needed. Try and reduce the amount of food by 25% and see what happens. On the contrary, if your dog seems to be asking for more, observe his/her weight closely for the next couple of weeks. If your dog is losing weight, you’ll know that you need to increase the portion or have a more nutrient dense food. If the weight stays the same, maybe the hunger is all in the head: we’re talking to you food-obsessed Labradors and Beagles! 😊
Ressources:McGreevy PD, Thomson PC, Pride C, Fawcett A, Grassi T & Jones B. Prevalence of obesity in dogs examined by Australian veterinary practices and the risk factors involved. Vet Rec. 2005 May 28;156(22):695-702.
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The Doggy Grub blog is dedicated to help dogs and their owners achieve happier, healthier lives, changing the way we feed our dogs one bowl at a time! If you would like to know more about our fresh food head to Doggy Grub