If it was up to dogs, they’d get to eat all the time — or at least at their leisure. Sure, some dogs are less food driven. Their owners can leave a bowl of kibble on the floor all day and the dog will eat only when hungry. Other dogs — well, there’s a reason there are so many products available that are designed to prevent dogs from gulping down dinner at a frenetic pace.
Dogs are at the mercy of their humans’ schedules. They get to eat when their people say so. There is no one perfect time or one perfect frequency. Dogs adapt and they somehow know exactly when to appear in the kitchen around mealtimes.
It is important to spread mealtimes out so your dog has sustainable energy throughout the day if you choose to do multiple meal times. In an ideal world, puppies should eat three to four times a day until they are about six months old. They have small bellies that only fit so much in one sitting and because they are growing, puppies require a lot of calories.
PetMD suggests feeding your dog once or twice a day at eight to 12 hour intervals. This rotation is best for owners who aren’t home during the day due to work, school, and social obligations.
If more than 12 hours passes between meals, the stomach can become hyper acidic causing nausea because dogs have a simple stomach, once the stomach is filled with food, it will empty within a few hours as food moves into the small intestine. After 8 to 10 hours, an empty stomach begins to send signals to the brain stimulating a hunger response.
Vets Ryan Llera and Robin Downing write in an article titled Feeding Times and Frequency for Your Dog for VCA Animal Hospitals
Large dogs require large meals, so consider feeding a large breed dog two or three times a day to reduce the risk of bloat, which is explained in more detail below.
Small breed dogs can also benefit from eating two or three meals instead of just one because they burn energy more quickly than big dogs. More frequent feedings add schedule complications because dogs need to wait to eat before and after exercising.
The portion size recommended on your dog’s food bag is for total daily intake, so if you decide to offer your dog multiple meal times, make sure you portion his or her food accordingly.
How do I balance treats and meals?
If you’re training your dog or rewarding good behavior, chances are your dog is getting lots of delicious yummies throughout the day.
Treats should only make up five to ten percent of a dog’s daily diet. This can be tricky to calculate and the serving you’re offering may vary day to day, depending on how training is going. On heavy treat days, you could withhold some of your dog’s dinner if you’re worried about weight gain.
Keep training treats small — there are specific, tiny but tasty treats on the market just for this purpose.
You can always allocate some of your dog’s kibble or dehydrated food to use as training treats if you’re concerned about calorie intake. Your dog trainer may advise against this because treats related to training should be high value to inspire good behavior.
It’s going to depend on your dog’s relationship with food. If he or she behaves for any morsel, using kibble is probably going to be fine.
If your dog eats raw food, you’re stuck with treats.
When should I feed my dog?
When you feed your dog may be more critical than how often you feed it.
Large, deep-chested dogs like Standard Poodles, Akitas, Basset Hounds, Old English Sheepdogs, and German Shepherds are more prone than other dogs to a condition commonly known as bloat. Dachshunds, a small dog with a deep chest, are also at risk, and elderly small dogs have been known to develop it.
VCA Hospitals notes on its website that a study recently found that Great Danes, St. Bernards, and Weimaraners are at the highest risk of bloat.
The medical term for bloat is gastric dilatation, and is a life-threatening issue. It starts when a dog’s stomach fills with gas. Sometimes that’s all that happens — but bloat can progress to gastric dilatation-volvulus (GDV). When this happens, the gas-filled stomach twists, and both the entrance and the exit are blocked. This is a life-threatening experience for your dog, and usually requires surgery.
Both conditions visually manifest the same. X-rays or other medical tests are needed to determine what your dog has. If your dog has a distended stomach and collapses, an immediate visit to the vet is required. Other symptoms may include:
Anxious peering at the stomach area
Standing and stretching
Unable to hold any position comfortably
Retching without anything coming up
To reduce the risk of bloat:
Feed smaller, more frequent meals, instead of one large one
Wait an hour after exercising to feed your dog
Wait about three hours after meals before another exercise outing
Prevent your dog from gulping large quantities of water
Keep your dog at a healthy body weight
Encourage calm behavior in your dog
If your dog is a meal gulper, find a bowl or technique to slow them down at mealtime
Although deep-chested dogs are more prone to bloat, any dog can develop it and monitoring exercise and food schedules can help reduce risk.
When is it a bad time to feed your dog?
Before an anxiety spiking event
If your dog is anxious and prone to getting an upset tummy when something traumatic is going to happen (like a visit to the vet, or being left alone) hold off feeding until after the event. Give your dog time to calm down and recover. It’s better than finding vomit on the floor or realizing later your dog cleaned up after himself.
Right before or after exercising
Bloat is a serious medical condition. Timing exercise and meal times are ways to reduce this risk to a beloved pet. Wait to feed your dog for an hour after exercising, and hold off on exercise for three hours after a meal.
Before car rides
If your dog gets motion sickness, it might be good to hold off on mealtime until all four of its feet are on solid ground. Otherwise, you’ll all be stuck in a stinky vehicle together until you reach your destination.