Q: How many times a day should a dog be fed?
A: A proper feeding regimen can help to prevent negative health problems, provide a healthier digestion and impact your dog’s behavior as well. Some behaviorists have even suggested that some of the naughty behavior of older puppies could simply be because they are hungry. Losing concentration and being irritable when hungry is something many of us have experienced.
Some owners feed their dogs once a day, but for some dogs this may result in blood levels swinging quite low for most of the day. This can lead to extreme hunger, so when mealtime finally rolls around the dog may end up eating too much too fast.
This can be a particular problem for larger breeds that have an increased susceptibility to gastric dilation (“bloat”) which is a digestive problem that causes the stomach to blow up like a balloon and can be fatal. I can’t imagine breakfast being my only meal of the day.
Most experts recommend feeding healthy adult dogs twice a day – once in the morning and once in the evening. This is an effective way to manage blood glucose and to keep energy levels stable.
Canines have a simple stomach structure that will empty in a few hours as food moves into the small intestines. After 8 to 10 hours, an empty stomach begins to send signals to the brain, stimulating a hunger response. For this reason, at least two meals per day are best for our canine friends, about 12 hours apart. If more than 12 hours elapses between meals, the stomach can become hyper-acidic, causing nausea. If your dog has ever vomited a yellow liquid, chances are it was from an empty stomach.
Puppies are constantly growing and using up more energy than older dogs. Feeding three to four small meals a day is the traditional way of feeding them. This can also work well for underweight adult dogs who can’t cope with large volumes of food but need to consume a lot throughout the day.
Free feeding is a method where you put down enough food for the day and your dog grazes on it throughout the day. This technique only works if your dog has some self-control, but most dogs don’t do well at self-regulating their intake of food and will eat it all at once. Some elderly dogs prefer this though as they can eat a little and often to suit their appetite.
Your veterinarian is your best source for nutritional guidance for your particular dog and can answer important questions such as what to feed, how much and how frequently.
Sally Salopek is the owner and operator of Attend-A-Pet pet sitting services in northern Door County. She has also worked professionally with animals in health care, pet grooming, training, wildlife rehab and rescue. Send your pet-related questions to her at [email protected].