Suggested Feeding Times
As humans, we have fallen into a routine of breakfast, lunch, and dinner. When we wake up, many of us are hungry and try to get something in our stomachs before rushing off to work. About halfway through the day, our stomach begins to growl and we feel restless. Finally, when we get home, we are hungry again and ready to make dinner or stop at a restaurant. Humans consider factors such as time, money, and other responsibilities when deciding what time to eat. For a dog, it’s quite different.
Puppies need to be fed three meals a day until the age of eight weeks, and after that, dogs should be fed two meals a day. Always follow the serving amount directions located on the dog food packaging. Puppies require frequent meals because they are growing, and their stomachs are much smaller than a full-grown dog. That means that a serving of food can be digested and eliminated much faster, leaving behind a grumbling tummy. As a dog gets older and his or her digestive system matures, two meals a day will suffice. These servings are usually larger and won’t be digested as quickly as they would in the high-energy puppy. For small breeds, it is sometimes recommended to feed three times a day. Because they are also small and use up a lot of energy, small dogs can burn off calories quickly and may need an extra meal during the day. Check with your vet and make sure to provide the nutritional information of the dog’s food. Free-feeding is not recommended for most dogs. Leaving a bowl of food out and just filling it when it is empty lets your dog know that food is always available, but this isn’t necessarily a good thing. Your dog may become picky, preferring treats over the food he or she knows will always be there. Bored dogs tend to eat more, and if food is constantly available this can lead to an overweight dog. Now that you know how often to feed your dog, what specific times should you do so?
Most recommend feeding once in the morning and once in the evening, about the same times you eat breakfast and dinner. This means that the average dog should eat about every 7-12 hours. While you eat breakfast, your dog should be eating, too. He or she needs that nutrition in the morning to provide energy throughout the day. As with humans, breakfast is the most important meal as it kick-starts the metabolism and fills up an empty stomach. Throughout the day, treats can be provided, especially when training, but remember that treats should only make up between 5-10% of your dog’s diet. More than that provides too much fat and calorie content and can make your dog less inclined to eat the usual dog food. Dinnertime will be around the time you eat, or when you get home from work. It should be more than two hours before going to bed and never just before a walk. Eating too close to bedtime can hinder proper digestion and eating before a walk can lead to cramps and stomach upset.
With both meals, it is very important to maintain a routine. If your dog is used to eating at eight o’clock every morning, you will find your dog gets up that early on the weekends, too. Weekends and days off don’t register with dogs, and they will be up and ready for breakfast even if you don’t have to be for other reasons. If you have to come home later than usual, try enlisting help at home or from someone trustworthy to feed your dog at the usual time. It causes extra anxiety and your dog may not scarf down his food, fearing that you won’t feed him or her again. To avoid this panic, stick to a routine and even try setting an alarm to remind yourself when it is time for breakfast and dinner.
Some dogs may have other considerations to factor in. Pregnant dogs will need more food more often, so the free-feeding technique may be an option if you can monitor her. Dogs with digestive problems and certain kinds of diseases require small meals (about half the recommended serving) divided frequently throughout the day. After or before an operation, dogs may be required to fast to avoid complications and stomach upsets. In most cases, sticking with the routine of one meal in the morning and one meal in the evening at about the same time will keep your dog at a healthy weight and avoid digestive problems, anxiety, and hunger.