How often should I feed my dog?

On this National Dog Day, let’s talk about the one subject our dogs probably love most…eating.

If you are a new dog owner, you may be confused about how often and how much you should be feeding your new family member. It’s almost as daunting as feeding a new baby.

Even if you aren’t new to dog ownership, you still may be confused about feeding, or maybe just unsure you’re doing the right thing.

Well, there’s really no black and white answer to how often you should feed your dog. Some people will free feed. Some will feed once a day. Some twice or three times a day.

In this post, we’ll talk about how often you should feed your dog. In our next post, we’ll talk about how much you should be feeding them.

Should I free feed?

When it comes to how often you feed your dog, the decision should be based on your dog, and what works best for them and you.

If you ask a trusted friend with a dog how often they feed them, they may tell you they put the bowl of food down before they leave for work in the morning and refill it when they get home.

Making a bowl of dog food available to your dog all day is called free feeding, and just might not be a good thing for your dog. If your dog likes to eat until you think they may pop, free feeding is not a good option.

Remember that dogs were hunters in the wild.   When they would hunt and score a meal, they didn’t know when their next meal might come around. So it was okay to eat as much as they could consume. It could be days before they ate again.

Dogs in the wild also had to actively hunt for their food. They expended a lot of energy doing that. But it probably doesn’t take too much energy for Buster to walk from his bed to the kitchen to eat his dinner.

Free feeding can cause obesity and can be an unhealthy choice for your dog. It should never be considered for a puppy because they will definitely overeat.

Remember too that a dog’s appetite is an important barometer for their overall health. If a dog is sick, a change in their appetite may be the first sign. If you free feed, you may not see an obvious change in appetite.

When you feed on a schedule, a dog that normally runs to their food to eat but suddenly has no interest in it is telling you something. That’s a sign you don’t want to miss.

If you have a dog that you are trying to housebreak, free feeding will make it more difficult because you won’t know when they have to poop. But if they eat on a schedule, they will poop on a schedule, usually 20 to 30 minutes after they eat.

So how often should I feed my dog?

Most vets will recommend twice a day feeding which works for most adult dogs.

Puppies under 6 months of age should eat 3 to 4 times a day. From 6 months to a year, you should feed them at least twice a day. Once they’re a year old, they’re considered an adult and you can feed them one, two or three meals a day.

How do you decide how frequent their meals should be when they’re an adult? It’s very common to feed one meal a day. But if your dog is one that could be susceptible to gastric bloat (some large breeds), you may want to consider smaller more frequent meals.

I always fed my dogs one meal a day at dinnertime…until I had a dog with a finicky stomach.

I realized that if her meals were too big she’d throw up almost immediately after she finished eating. And in the middle of the day she would throw up bile.

Part of her problem was that she ate too quickly. So I slowed her down by adding water to her food and getting her a special bowl with obstacles in it. But this didn’t completely resolve the problem.

After fiddling around with her food, her bowl and her water consumption, I realized that she just needed to have smaller more frequent meals to keep the acid in check and her stomach less full.

I tried 2 meals a day at first, but ultimately she did best with 3 small meals. She could keep the smaller meals down and had something in her stomach throughout the day, which minimized the acid. She got the same amount of food; it was just apportioned over 3 meals.

Of course, if you have any concerns about how often you are feeding your dog or they aren’t responding well to the schedule they’re on, talk to your vet.

And be sure your dog has access to a fresh bowl of water with their meals and throughout the course of the day.

Be aware that pregnant and nursing dogs have different dietary requirements, as do working dogs. They may need to eat more frequently. Or in the case of a working dog, they may need a small AM meal with their larger main meal at the end of their workday.

Once you determine the right number of meals for your dog, you’ll want to be sure you are feeding them the right amount of food each day. We’ll talk about that in our next post.

How often do you feed your dog? Let us know in the comment section above.

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