Canine nutrition is a polarizing and complicated topic, yet nutrition is one of the essential factors determining your dog’s health. Nutrition is not something you should venture a guess with, as over or underfeeding can cause many health issues for your dog.
If you’ve never had a dog before or are just starting to research proper nutrition, you’re likely to feel overwhelmed with all the conflicting information out there. Come along with us as we closely examine how much and how often your dogs should be eating.
Dog Feeding Schedule: Puppies
Puppies have unique nutritional needs because of how fast they grow. You might be surprised to learn that they need more food than their adult counterparts, especially during their first five months when they’re developing the fastest.
Proper nutrition is essential for developing a solid foundation for your pup’s future growth and proper bone and organ development. Puppies should be started on solid foods at around four weeks as they will not be getting the calories they need from their mother’s milk at that point. Most vets recommend weaning a puppy by six to eight weeks.
Use your puppy’s body condition, not how much it’s eaten or what it leaves in its bowl, to determine future portion sizes. Portions will depend on your pup’s metabolism and body type and will vary from puppy to puppy.
If your dog starts skipping meals or picking at its food, it may mean it’s time to eliminate one of the feedings or that you’re serving it too much.
How Often Should Puppies Eat?
Puppies need smaller and more frequent meals than their adult counterparts. Feeding them more often makes it easier for their sensitive digestive systems to digest food and helps maintain consistent energy levels.
Toy breed puppies will need even more frequent feedings, up to six meals per day for the first three months. Medium-sized breeds should get three meals daily, while large and extra-large breeds need three to four.
Should I Let My Puppy Eat All It Wants?
It is not recommended to follow a free-choice feeding protocol with puppies. This can lead to obesity and binge eating and set the stage for future conditions like diabetes.
Overeating can make your puppy feel uncomfortable and bloated, affecting its digestion. It’s best to allow for slower and controlled growth during puppydom to ensure optimized body condition in adulthood.
Dog Feeding Schedule: Adult & Senior Dogs
Sometimes well-meaning people refer dog owners to the daily feeding guidelines on their dog’s food packaging. While this can be a good jumping-off point, the guideline certainly has limitations.
These guidelines are typically based on the nutritional needs of an intact male, who will have a higher metabolism and caloric need than its neutered counterparts. The range of weights for feeding can be quite broad. For example, a bag of Purina One’s dog food provides serving recommendations for dogs between three and 12 pounds. The nutritional needs of a three-pound dog will vary significantly from that of a 12-pound dog.
The goal, then, is to feed your pet based on the ideal weight for a full-grown dog of that breed. Treat feeding directions as a starting point. Like humans, every dog is different from the next, and their caloric needs will vary greatly depending on their genetics, metabolism, and a handful of other factors.
Learn how to assess your dog’s body condition score and talk to your vet about the ideal weight. You can also use the calorie calculator for dogs. Remember that this calculator does is only a baseline and you should consult your veterinarian about any changes in your dog’s diet.
How Often Should Adult & Senior Dogs Eat?
Most vets recommend twice-a-day meals as the best dog feeding schedule for adult and senior dogs. The reason for this is if more than 16 hours elapse between feedings, stomach acid and bile can build up and make your dog nauseous.
Your dog’s size or lifestyle may determine how often it should eat. For example, large dogs with deep chests should eat two meals a day as one large meal may make digestion difficult and cause bloating, which can be life-threatening. Working dogs should eat more than one meal daily to keep their blood sugar levels under control and energy levels high. Dogs with certain diseases may require smaller, more frequent meals.
Remember when we said that canine nutrition is a polarizing and controversial topic? Case in point: a recent study suggests that adult dogs fed once a day had low mean scores on a cognitive dysfunction scale and lower odds of having certain organ disorders.
So, what’s right? One a day or two a day feedings? Your best bet would be to speak to your vet to get advice. They will consider its breed, size, activity level, and age to provide you with the optimal feeding schedule.
Why Is It Important to Feed the Right Amount of Food?
Feeding anything (be it animal or human) too little can cause nutritional deficiencies. On the other hand, feeding anything too much can result in obesity, disease, and reduced quality of life.
Feeding your pet the proper amount of the right food will support its health and keep it feeling its best.
Why Should Dogs Have a Feeding Schedule?
There are several reasons why it’s important to feed your dog on a schedule.
First, dogs are creatures of habit, a fact that we can use to our advantage by creating a feeding routine and being faithful to it. They may feel less anxious as they don’t have to wonder when or if their next meal is coming.
2. Appetite and Calorie Regulation
A meal routine allows dog owners to control how many calories their dogs take in. When pets are allowed to feed free and have access to food all day long, their risk of overeating and obesity is much higher. Monitoring your dog’s food intake will also provide insight into its health. Dogs often lose their appetite when sick, and it’s impossible to track appetite if you’re free feeding.
3. Behavior Modification
A predictable feeding schedule is recommended for all dogs, but it’s beneficial while housetraining a puppy or adult rescues that haven’t yet been taught manners. In addition, regular mealtimes are a must if significant changes are on the horizon (e.g., when a new baby comes home or the house is being packed up for a move).
4. Emotional Well-Being
Regular meal times allow dogs to see their owners as pack leaders. It builds trust and respect and can lessen or eliminate your dog’s anxieties.
Dogs with separation anxiety also thrive on set meal times. We recommend feeding your anxious dog right before you leave home as doing so will give it something to look forward to. It may even allow your dog to associate your absence with something positive (food) instead of feeling anxious every time they see you tying your shoes.
What Time of Day Should I Feed My Dog?
No science dictates that one time of day is better than the next for a meal. It all comes down to your schedule. You should pick meal times that you can keep up with no matter what day of the week it is. Most dog owners who feed their pet two meals a day will give the first as soon as they wake up and the second when they get home from work.
What Affects How Often and How Much a Dog Should Eat?
Dogs with medical issues or special dietary needs may need to follow a specialized feeding schedule or have restrictions on how much to eat.
Your dog’s breed will also hugely affect how often and how much it needs to eat. Larger dogs will need large meals.
Your dog’s caloric needs may also change with increased activity levels, pregnancy, and weather. Your dog will need a more calorically dense diet if it has recently had surgery or trying to gain weight.
Figuring out how much and how often to feed your dog can feel like an impossible puzzle. Much information is out there, and a lot of it is conflicting. Your veterinarian will be your best source if you’re unsure of your feeding schedule or the amount of food you’re giving your dog. Your vet will be your best point of contact for determining the best eating habits for your pup to ensure its nutritional and medical needs are being met.
Featured Image Credit: Eva Blanco, Shutterstock