Like people, dogs require food regularly to replenish stores of essential vitamins and nutrients, and also to increase energy. And like people, dogs can have unique feeding needs for a variety of reasons. While some of us prefer three square meals a day, others benefit from grazing and eating smaller meals. Dogs are no different.
When it comes to feeding dogs, it essentially breaks down into two categories: scheduled feedings and free-feedings.
What is Free Feeding?
The concept of free feeding is simple: food is always available and your dog will self-regulate. This is easiest and most commonly done with kibble. However, free feeding often leads to overeating for some dogs, while others may lose interest in their food because it is always available.
Not all dogs are great self-regulators, which may explain why more than half of domesticated dogs in North America are overweight or obese. In free feeding homes, it is still important to be aware of the manufacturer’s feeding guidelines to prevent overfeeding, which may ultimately lead to unwanted weight gain.
What is Scheduled Feeding?
Scheduled feeding takes a bit more planning, but does a better job of maintaining proper portion control. Scheduled feeding involves feeding your dog one or more times per day. There are some variants of scheduled feeding, like timed feeding: taking away the bowl after a predetermined length of time.
Scheduled feeding can be beneficial for many reasons. Firstly, you can better control how much your dog consumes, which is essential for maintaining a healthy weight. Secondly, it is easier to make meal time more exciting, as excitement between meals builds throughout the day. And third, since food is not being left out all day, it makes for a cleaner eating area.
How Many Times a Day Should I Feed My Dog?
To determine how often to feed your dog, first consider how much food they need to meet their nutritional requirements. Feeding information is always listed on the dog food packaging.
Next, consider your daily schedule, and how you can work around that to keep your pooch well fed. It’s best to feed your dog at the same time each day, as dogs typically do best with routine.
Ideally, you want to feed your dog 2-4 times per day, depending on their age and eating habits. Puppies should eat 3-4 smaller meals throughout the day to keep their blood sugar and nutritional intake balanced.
Most adult dogs should eat a minimum of twice a day. Many dogs are fed once per day and do quite well, however eating your whole day’s worth of calories in one sitting isn’t the best idea. Two daily meals is common among pet owners with busy work schedules. One meal in the morning before work, and another in the evening at dinner time.
Many dogs are fast eaters. Some may swallow their food whole, or consume their meals at record speed, and this often leads to vomiting and digestive problems. For dogs who are fast eaters (looking at you, retriever breeds!), more frequent smaller meals throughout the day has its advantages. Also, consider a slow feed bowl for your speed-eating pooch. When you slow down the rate of consumption, you will improve their digestive health.
Smaller dogs, especially toy breeds, are more susceptible to having low blood sugar problems if there is too much time between meals. Three meals a day is fine, however four meals per day is preferable.
How and when you feed your dog will depend on your dog’s unique needs, as well as your lifestyle. Be sure your dog is eating a high quality, wholesome diet from a reputable brand, follow the feeding guidelines, and you will have a fit and trim pooch for life!
Brandon Forder, known as The Pet Expert, is vice-president of Canadian Pet Connection, an industry leader in healthy pet lifestyles. Brandon is certified in pet nutrition, and has more than twenty-five years’ experience specializing in pet health and behaviour. He has written hundreds of informative pet-related articles for newspapers, magazines, radio, and the popular Ask the Pet Expert Blog. Brandon is highly skilled in pet problem solving, and enjoys teaching others about smart and responsible pet ownership. To learn more, visit www.CanadianPetConnection.ca.