What to feed your pooch and how often are two of the most common questions for new doggy parents.
Whilst what to feed him should be based on solid research and consultation with your vet and/or canine nutritionist, when to feed him has some general guidelines everyone can follow.
Well, kind of.
As with any kind of parenting, there’s really no hard and fast rule. When it comes to best feeding practices for dogs, portion sizes should be adjusted based on these key factors play a part:
- Breed – large breed dogs tend to need more calories than medium and smaller breeds, unless highly inactive or of senior age.
- Age – puppies need feeding regular smaller portions throughout the day with key nutrients to help growth, as well as bone and organ development. Senior dogs do better with small meals containing higher fibre and protein content.
- Health concerns – dogs with medical conditions or specific dietary needs may need a more personalised feeding schedule with restrictions on what they eat. Speak with your vet or canine nutritionist to create a suitable healthy plan.
- Activity levels – a highly active dog will naturally need more calories than a sedentary one.
- Environment – dogs that live in extreme hot or cold climates may need their diet adjusted accordingly. E.g. a dog in Alaska would need more calories than a dog in southern Italy to help maintain body heat.
So bear the above in mind as well, when deciding how often you should be feeding your fur baby.
Now for the more general feeding guidelines…
When it comes to feeding times, initially you can feed him 4 times per day, reducing this to 3 times per day once he hits the 3 month mark, and down to twice a day at the 6 month marker.
Most adult dogs only require one or two meals a day.
Many vets prefer feeding a dog two smaller meals a day (one daily portion size split in two) over one larger meal a day for the simple reason that dogs have a similar stomach structure to us.
Once their stomach is full, it empties within a few hours. So after 8 to 10 hours, it’ll send signals to the brain saying its hungry.
By only feeding your dog once a day, not only could it be highly uncomfortable (we’ve all experienced hunger pains haven’t we!), it could make the stomach hyper acidic which can cause nausea, and it may lead to him inhaling his food when it finally does arrive which can cause many health issues, including bloat (a life-threatening condition).
One caveat to the two meals per day method is in smaller breeds. Active small breed dogs can burn energy quicker than large breeds, so you could adopt the 3 small meals approach instead.
Sticking to a regular mealtime routine is hugely beneficial for your dog’s mental health more than anything. So continue giving him meals twice a day, but reduce the portion sizes so he doesn’t start putting on weight (assuming his activity levels have lessened).
The biggest change for senior dogs mealtimes should be what it consists of. Less fat but higher protein and fibre will minimise the risk of weight-gain, whilst maintaining muscle mass and digestion.
Benefit of mealtimes
Creating regular mealtimes benefits your pooch for many reasons:
- House training – puppies need to be taught where to eat, where to play, and where to ‘go’. Puppies often need to go for a pee or poop 10-15 minutes after eating. If you start taking him outside to pee or poop shortly after feeding him, he’ll begin to know when he’ll be fed and when he can go to the loo, and the preferred location for that activity. Consistency and association – great tools for your pup to learn by.
- Security – especially important during times of change. Having a regular schedule so your dog knows when he’ll get food, provides certainty and security in his life when other things could be less so – the one thing that doesn’t change.
- Health warning – if your dog has a regular routine for eating, you’ll immediately notice if something’s up. For example, if he usually demands attention leading up to his 6pm dinner time but one day doesn’t, it could be a sign that he’s unwell.
What about grazing?
Unless your vet or canine nutritionist has recommended the grazing method, it’s generally advised to avoid it.
Grazing can lead to obesity as many dogs simply won’t stop eating until the bowl is cleared!
This method of feeding also makes it difficult to know exactly what he’s ate in a day, which can make it harder for you to spot any potential issues if he under or over-eats.
What about treats?
It’s perfectly okay to feed your dog treats. In fact, it’s a great training aid. Just think about the calories in each treat and adjust your dog’s mealtimes accordingly.
And don’t forget how good carrots, apples, broccoli, and peas can be. Healthy, nutritious, and lower in calories which means his meals won’t need much adjusting at all!
- How and when to feed your dog needs to fit with your lifestyle so it can be easily maintained by you, and your furry friend doesn’t stress over food uncertainty.
- Don’t feed your dog immediately before heading out in the car as he may be car-sick. And avoid exercise within one hour before or after eating, as this could cause stomach dilation and torsion – aka bloat – a life-threatening condition.
- Feed your medium to large breed dog from a raised bowl to prevent them from swallowing air whilst eating, as this can also lead to bloat.
- Let your pooch enjoy his meals in peace. If you come near his bowl or try taking it before he’s finished, it could cause anxiety and potentially aggressive behaviour at mealtimes.
- Don’t feed your dog from the table or your plate, it encourages begging, barking and drooling.
- Make sure your dog’s water bowl is always full.
Whatever feeding method you’d prefer to use, your vet or canine nutritionist is still the best source of nutritional guidance.
So reach and get the advice of a professional before embarking on your own strategy. As the latter may not be the best choice for your dog’s breed, activity level, or environment.