There are arguments to be made on both sides of the feeding fence, but the verdict comes in overwhelmingly in favor of a set feeding schedule versus the dog food bowl made available 24/7/365 (free feeding).
Here are a few reasons why the scales are tipped (figuratively and literally) in favor of scheduled, managed feedings.
Why Control the Bowl?
A major advantage to controlled, or scheduled feedings, is weight management. Overeating often becomes an issue with constantly-available food. Many dogs eat out of boredom or even habit (yes, they fall prey to the same eating rut as we two-legged grazers). And, too much poundage promotes a plethora of health problems. By reading this blog, we have to believe that you are committed to ensuring your pet’s health and happiness.
Still, some fear that by not making food available “on demand” is inhumane -- that their dog may “go hungry” without their human’s knowledge. Actually, serving food in one fell swoop will leave your dog feeling more satisfied, versus nibbling round-the-clock. Think of it this way: If you snacked all day long, without every really enjoying a full meal at any point in the day, wouldn’t you feel a little “cheated” and unfulfilled by day’s end?
Making dog food constantly available deems it very difficult to monitor how much your dog is consuming at any particular time. Since “going off food” is one of the most common red flags that a dog may be ill, the practice of unsupervised feeding is counterintuitive to being good stewards of our pet’s health.
By setting your dog’s meals to align with your own sit-down mealtime, you can present them with their food versus giving in to the spontaneous temptation to share your menu (a very bad practice indeed!).
If you're supplementing your dog's diet, you'll want to be able to regulate doses, or servings, of those supplements to ensure their full efficiency and benefits. This is virtually impossible to do without scheduled feedings (and becomes even more so if there are multiple dogs in the home).
Then there’s the science behind all this logic: The lining of a dog’s stomach has folds that contain glands, and in order for the digestive system to work properly, the stomach needs to be stretched -- via food content -- for these glands to function in the manner for which they were designed. In fact, by feeding higher volume less often, the systems works more efficiently, requiring up to 30% less food than dogs subsisting on smaller, more frequent meals.
And finally, if your dog is an insulin-dependent diabetic it may be even more important to schedule meals so that insulin delivery can be coordinated with food consumption. Still, when making these decisions, you should always, always, always consult with your veterinarian about any special needs your pet may have.
When putting your dog on an eating schedule, we suggest the 2X approach. Place half his daily food allowance in his bowl in the morning. Leave the bowl down for 15 minutes and then pick it up. If the dog does not eat, that’s perfectly okay! He’s not that hungry. In the evening, put the bowl down again for 15 minutes then pick it up. You’ll probably see a little more enthusiasm this go-round. After two or three days of this routine, your dog will learn that he has an allotted time to eat and will eat what he needs within that 15 minutes.
Once your dog is acclimated to his new schedule, he will become your personal alarm clock. He will tell YOU when it’s time to eat!
So, let’s re-cap:
By establishing a feeding ritual, you can
a) help maintain your dog’s ideal weight,
b) resist the urge to dole out detrimental treats,
c) promote the natural digestive processes, and
d) and keep a watchful eye for any appetite changes, all of which will help him live a longer and happier life.
Case closed? Well, not quite yet:
Puppies need more!
Puppies get a pass on the twice-daily rations, since their nutritional needs are great, but their stomach capacity is small. Translated: Their tanks need refilling often. It is recommended that puppies eat several times throughout the day -- up to six times -- in order to deliver all the nutritional support they require. At six months of age, they can get by with our recommended two feedings per day. These are general rules that may need tweaking for the growth rates of varying breeds. For instance, a toy dog may have reached adult size in less than a year, while their giant counterparts take much longer (a year-and-a-half for some) to reach mature size.