For our dogs, food might as well be the whole world. Our pups love food, so much so that they could eat all day if we let them, and they rarely pass up an opportunity to sneak a table scrap or two.
While food is exciting for dogs, a proper feeding schedule can be confusing for pet owners. How much should I feed my dog? What kind of dog food is best? How many times should I give my dog food a day, and when should these feedings be? There are so many questions dog owners might have about what is best when it comes to dogs and food.
Puppies and Adult Dogs Have Different Needs
Before we really dive in, remember that puppies will need specially formulated puppy food and should be fed in smaller and more frequent increments than adult dogs. As puppies age, you can begin feeding them fewer times a day and adjusting the amount they eat according to body type and their breed.
If you are considering changing your puppy’s feeding habits, consult a vet to ensure your dog is still receiving the nutrients as it needs to grow and mature into adulthood.
Switching from puppy food to adult dog food should occur gradually. Sudden changes in diet can cause your dog to have an upset stomach and may even cause it distress when it is not used to the new food.
Manual or Free-choice Feeding?
In the case of adult dogs, many owners wonder if they need to feed their dogs on a set schedule, or if it’s okay to put food out and let the dog eat at its own pace throughout the day. The former is called manual feeding, and the latter is free-choice feeding. Both options have their pros and cons, and which one you choose will ultimately depend on your dog’s temperament, body type and control.
Free choice feeding
In free choice feeding, food is left out for your dog each day, and your dog is allowed to eat from its bowl when and how it chooses. This option is often more convenient for dog owners, as they have more flexibility in when they feed their dogs and do not need to be home to feed them at specific times of each day.
Free choice feeding can also be good for dogs that have good self-control and will only eat when they are hungry. This may be ideal for very active dogs that burn lots of calories, as they may get quite hungry throughout the day.
However, free choice feeding can be bad for a number of reasons. Not all dogs are capable of controlling the amount of food they eat and will eat more than they need. This can lead to weight problems including obesity, which in turn can lead to other health problems. Other dogs may eat too much food too quickly, potentially causing them to feel sick and vomit.
Additionally, dog owners cannot easily monitor how much their dogs are eating in a free choice feeding schedule. Monitoring how much and when your dog is eating is important because loss of appetite is a key symptom of many health issues.
During manual feeding, the dog owner will provide a set amount of food at specific times a day for their dogs to eat. Typically, adult dogs should receive two meal portions a day—once in the morning and once in the evening.
Manual feeding is a great way for dog owners to monitor their dog’s eating patterns and appetite, and to ensure it does not overeat. It can also help make feeding time a good bonding experience because the dog must rely on the owner for food.
The major drawback of manual feeding is that it’s not nearly as convenient for pet owners and can be quite restricting once your dog gets set on a routine. Additionally, feeding in this way may force your pet to eat when it isn’t hungry, unless you leave the bowl out for a while after feeding to let it finish when it’s ready.
If you’re going to implement a feeding schedule for your dog, make sure to keep it consistent—or as close to consistent as possible. Some pets will get used to being fed at a very specific time each day, while others will be okay with more general timeframes, like morning and afternoon. Maintaining consistency will help regulate your dog’s metabolism and give your dog a schedule to look forward to and feel comfortable with.
Pay Attention to Portions and Treats
Whether you choose to manual feed or free choice feed your dog, make sure you’re paying attention to the appropriate amount of food your dog needs to stay healthy. Most dog foods have suggested portions, but your vet will be able to more accurately discuss how much food is best based on your dog’s weight, breed and activity level.
In addition to portion sizes, make sure you’re monitoring how many treats and table scraps your dog has each day. These extra bits of food should only make up a small portion of your dog’s daily food intake, and you should feed it a little less food to balance it out.
If you notice your dog is having trouble finishing its food or appears to always be hungry, consult with your vet to see if it’s okay to cut back on or increase food quantities, or perhaps switch to a new type of food your dog will enjoy more.