Most dogs should be fed twice a day — once in the morning and once in the evening — and follow a regularly-scheduled feeding time. However, depending on factors like the age, weight, health, and size of your dog, a different feeding schedule may be better.
When it was suggested that I blog about how often to feed your dog, I thought, “Is that really an issue?” Apparently, it is! I did not realize that so many people struggle with knowing how often they should feed their dog. I am kind-of the “one size fits all” doggie parent…. I have always fed all my dogs two meals a day, morning and evening. Fortunately for me, I’ve always had healthy adult dogs, no puppies, no special dietary needs, no finicky eaters. The twice a day schedule has worked well for me, and I think that’s the standard for most people.
Some people prefer to put out their dog’s food in the morning and leave it out, so their dogs can eat whenever they want. My sister “free-feeds” her dogs and it has worked very well for her. She starts when they are puppies and puts their food out for them in the mornings and leaves it there all day. They eat when and however much they want to. Her dogs have never been over-indulgent and have maintained a very healthy weight, if not a little on the skinny side. That would never work for my little piglets! I think they would devour the entire bowl first thing in the morning and have no food left for the end of the day. Perhaps one advantage to free-feeding would be that removes the anxiety over food. It’s there; they know it; so they don’t pig-out. And the dog doesn’t have to worry about whether or not he would be fed, as I think they sometimes do.
The Advantages of Scheduled Feeding vs Free Feeding
There are definitely advantages to free-feeding: It’s easy. It assures your dog that there is always food available. But I personally think scheduled feeding is the best way to go, for several reasons:
- Dogs like routine and schedules. That’s just the way they’re wired. The predictability of a routine is comforting to a dog. Even when life is “chaotic” … like when you’re moving, or you have a new family member or guest, or the craziness of holidays… your dog is “consoled” by his mealtime routine.
- They can look forward to meal times! This is something my dog and I have in common… we both look forward to meal times! Notice how excited your dog gets at mealtime. My dog does a little dance, his eyes are lit-up… it makes him happy. Food is nurturing to their souls as well as their tummies! If the food was left out all day, meal time kind-of loses its appeal.
- You can better monitor how much your dog eats, taking note if their appetite increases or decreases. If your dog suddenly loses his appetite, it could be an indicator of a serious underlying illness. Likewise, a sudden increase in appetite (“Polyphagia” in veterinarian terms) can also indicate a serious disease. If you see one or the other, a veterinary visit is recommended.
Factors you should consider when deciding how often to feed your dog:
- The age of your dog
- The size of your dog
- The weight of your dog
- The metabolism of your dog
- The health (diabetes, etc.) of your dog
Your dog’s age
A puppy needs to eat more often than an adult dog. WebMD recommends that puppies 6 months and younger should eat three to four times a day. Try to feed around the same time each day, say 7 AM, 12 PM, and 5 PM. Talk to your vet about how much to feed at each interval.
One meal a day used to be the “norm” for adult dogs. As I was growing up, we always fed our dogs once a day. Many people did this years ago. We have since learned that, just like us, a dog’s digestive system works better if their meals are broken out into several feedings rather than gorging themselves once a day.
Adult dogs should eat twice daily, breakfast-time and dinner-time. After making the jump from three times a day as a pup to twice a day as an adult, many people enjoy giving their dog a snack or a small portion of food at lunchtime. That’s perfectly fine. Just make sure this feeding is included as part of their daily allotment, and not “in addition to”, which could cause excess weight.
Feeding a senior dog is tricky. Many senior dogs begin losing weight as they get older. It would supposedly make sense that if your senior is losing weight, you need to feed him more often and more food, but that’s not always the case. You may need simply to add more fat or protein to their diet. I advise you work with your Vet to find the perfect schedule for feeding your senior, as well as the perfect diet.
Your dog’s size
Toy breeds and other small breed dogs often struggle with large fluctuations in blood sugar levels. Their tiny size and high activity level burn up glucose very quickly. You will need to feed your small dog 3 – 4 small meals a day in order to keep his blood sugar at optimum efficiency.
Some large or giant breed dogs, especially dogs with deep chests (Great Danes, standard poodles, Dobermans), have a susceptibility to “bloat”, a condition where the stomach twists, blocking the delivery of nutrients and blood throughout the body. Bloat is deadly. It can be triggered by eating a very large meal. Because of this, it is highly recommended that these larger breeds eat 2 or 3 smaller meals throughout the day, rather than one large meal.
Your dog’s weight
If your dog is overweight, you will no-doubt reduce the amount of food he is eating. Concurrently, it is best to feed him 3 – 4 small meals a day. Just take his daily allotment and divide it into 3 – 4 feedings. This works for dogs as well as people because it helps to keep hunger under control.
Feeding an underweight dog has more to do with the food itself than how often he eats. As you will want to increase the calories, fat and protein in the food, you need to let your dog be the guide as to how often to eat. If the reason he is underweight because you are unable to get him to eat, you may want to try free-feeding as encouragement. Some dogs are naturally skinny and very healthy that way. Visit your vet to assess your dog’s health and rule-out any adverse reasons for him being so thin.
Very active dogs like terriers, herding dogs (Aussies, Border Collies, Corgis, etc.), Vizslas, some hunting dogs (i.e., German Shorthaired Pointers, Brittany spaniels, etc.) have an exceptionally high metabolism. It’s a good idea to feed them three times a day throughout their adult years to fuel their fire appropriately. Conversely, some larger breeds and hounds, like Newfoundlands, Saint Bernards, Bullmastiff, etc., are downright lazy (and I mean that in an adorable way, of course!). These dogs have a much slower metabolism so they don’t burn a lot of calories. They may be fine with one meal a day, but I believe it would be healthier to give them two smaller meals… it might even boost their metabolism to eat more often, right?
Your dog’s health has much to do with when he eats. Foremost, always check with your vet about feeding if you have a dog with a health issue.
- A diabetic dog should eat roughly every 12 hours.
- Dogs who are pregnant may not be able to eat as much in one sitting because the puppies are pressing against her internal organs. During late pregnancy, as her appetite increases, feed several small meals throughout the day. While she is nursing, feed her as much as she wants whenever she wants… She will need all of that nutrition.
- If your dog is recovering from surgery or infection, he will need more calories to help him heal. The problem is, he’s probably not going to be hungry… at least for a few days after the surgery. That is normal. Hand-feeding (some nice, cooked chicken perhaps?) him throughout the day the day should help him to get his appetite back.
Here are a few more things to consider:
- Most dogs act like they’re starving all the time. Don’t fall for it. Use their weight as the indicator as to whether you are feeding them sufficiently.
- In the winter, dogs who play outside most of the day need more food. Playing in the cold weather burns more calories, and more calories help to keep them warm.
- Try not to let your dog go too long between meals or snacks. If a dog goes 12 hours without eating, the stomach can become very acidic and may cause nausea. I have heard these called “hunger pukes”. Ewww.
- If you feed your dog too late in the evening, you could be setting him up for an “accident” in the middle of the night.
When it comes to feeding your dog, consistency is key in both frequency and diet. Once you have a schedule and a diet that works for your dog, stay with it. When your dog visits us at Holiday Barn Pet Resorts, let us know how often to feed, and how much. We are happy to maintain his routine.
Lastly, WHAT your dog eats is as important as WHEN your dog eats. Make sure you feed your dog a high quality, highly nutritious food and treats.