How much and how often should I feed my dog is a question we are often asked here at Burns Pet Nutrition, but in general it is the overall daily amount of food that is most important for the health of your dog but there are circumstances where you might need to adjust the number of meals per day.
It does depend on the needs of your individual dog and their lifestyle and our dedicated Nutrition Team is always happy to help with this on Live chat or by telephone too- but here are some useful pointers to get you started.
Free feeding means just that. The dog is able to eat as much as she wants from a regularly topped up bowl, grazing throughout the day. As well as causing digestive upset and fussiness, dogs allowed to eat as much as they like can also become overweight which can lead to associated problems such as diabetes, arthritis and heart disease.
However, some dogs (like people) seem to be able to eat and eat and never gain weight. It may appear that they are perfectly healthy but these dogs are often passing most of what they are eating resulting in huge, smelly (and often runny) stools that the owner has to pick up. Allowing your pet to pick all day means that at proper meal times when fresh food is offered, he or she is simply not hungry anymore.
In puppies, free feeding can allow the pup to eat much more than they need. Again this may result in digestive problems but more seriously it can cause rapid growth. Growing too quickly can lead to joint problems later in life; this is especially a problem with the larger breeds.
Free feeding is therefore usually only recommended for elderly underweight dogs that need to increase their calorie intake.
As puppies grow and develop rapidly, they need more food than adult dogs (per kg of body weight) to sustain this growth. However, their bowels are not yet strong enough to cope with larger amounts of food and so offer smaller meals 3-4 meals a day from weaning and reduce this as they get older.
Behaviourists have suggested that some of the ‘naughty’ behaviour of older puppies could be simply due to hunger. After all, losing concentration and being irritable when hungry is something many of us have experienced! When to reduce the daily amount of meals depends on your own puppy’s growth rate (including if they are currently going through a spurt) and their breed.
Most adult dogs are fed once or twice a day. However, again there is no set rule here. For example, a working dog will need to be fed more than once in 24 hours for blood-sugar level control and to keep their energy up, whereas one meal a day is fine for a very fussy dog that isn’t food motivated. For larger, deep-chested breeds, at least two meals a day is recommended as one large meal is more difficult to digest and could cause bloating.
Smaller more frequent meals are recommended for certain disease conditions and digestive upset, as they are easier to digest. They are also of benefit to dogs with liver disease and are more likely to be tolerated by dogs which are poorly and feeling nauseous.
Elderly dogs are usually less active and often require fewer calories, so you can either reduce the amount of food you feed or change to our lower calorie food, Burns Weight Control+.
However, some very old dogs may refuse to eat much, possibly because their sense of smell and taste has declined with age. Certain diseases e.g. kidney failure can cause appetite suppression too. If an elderly dog eats little and becomes underweight, then persuading them to eat more with small frequent meals or free feeding may be necessary. Alternatively, changing them to a higher calorie diet may help them gain weight, even if eating small amounts.
An increased appetite has also been reported in older dogs. If underlying diseases such as diabetes have been ruled out then it’s possible that the hunger is due to other causes. Theories include side-effects from medication, senility or simply because meal times are the now the highlight of their day. A higher fibre food such as Burns Weight Control+ can help to satisfy hungry dogs, or giving multiple meals will mean your dog doesn’t have to wait so long in between meals.
For tailored help and advice about feeding your dog or to request a free Burns sample, call our Nutrition Team on 0800 083 6696 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Download our extensive pet health and nutrition guide written by John Burns.