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Choosing a feeding method for your dog

Virginia Chavez is a Phoenix-based freelance writer covering pets and lifestyle in the Southwest. In addition to regular contributions both online and in-print, Virginia locally owns and operates two pet care and supply businesses. For t...

Free feeding vs. feeding schedules

To feed or not to feed, that's not really the question. When to feed, however, sounds more like the pet parenting predicament dog owners simply can't see eye to eye on.
Puppy eating from food bowl

Despite facts from countless reports, surveys and research studies, when it comes down to a final say, only you know what is best for your pet. If you still need help deciding whether Fido would prefer a meal plan or a leisurely feast, this list of pros and cons can help you decide.

Feeding on a schedule

The good

  • Puppy potty train with ease. The general rule of thumb is that puppy's will go potty within 30 minutes of eating. Scheduled meals can help get your little one get acclimated to a potty routine by associating mealtime with an immediate potty break afterward.
  • Acts as a weight watcher. Feeding your pet on a schedule allows you to portion out each meal and helps keep track of your pet's daily intake.
  • Instant health check. Loss of appetite typically presents itself as the first sign of illness. If your pet turns down mealtime, you'll know right away that something is wrong.

The bad

  • Stick to the schedule. Once you've established a schedule, you must commit to it. Changing schedule times on your pet can cause upset stomach or plain frustration to your pet.
  • Reverse weight watcher. Scheduled meals can help you monitor your pets food intake but what if Fido is hungry and begging for food in between meals? Do treats help tide him over until the next mealtime? Maybe an extra serving of food to appease his appetite? Any of these options can quickly add excess pounds. For fussy mealtime pets, try reducing the meal portions and increasing the number of scheduled meals.
  • Traffic jam and other dilemmas. If you're always on the run, predictability is never on par. If Fido relies on you to feed him at 5 p.m. on the dot, you'll have a starvin' Marvin by the time you get home.

Free feeding

The good

  • Hunger never strikes. Leaving a bowl of food for your pet means dinner is served, even if you can't make it home.
  • Some dogs are natural grazers. Certain breeds enjoy the ability to nibble on bits of kibble throughout the day. Because grazing comes naturally, overeating is not a concern for these types of pups.
  • Multi-dog household control. If you have multiple pets with multiple feeding schedules, free feeding can be the best option to prevent monitoring various feeding schedules throughout the day.

The bad

  • Too much of a good thing. Some pets will overeat if given the opportunity. Leaving a full bowl of food can cause your pet to eat the entire bowl simply because it's there.
  • Who ate what? Multi-dog households may need to monitor each pet's food intake to ensure all pups are getting equal rights to the food feast.
  • Set it and forget it. Free feeding can easily become a routine part of the day with little attention paid to how much is actually being ingested. Lose sight of you pet's eating habits and you could be missing serious signs of illness in your pet.

More on pet diets

4 Premade raw diets for dogs
Homemade healthy dog food
Raw diet for dogs: What you need to know

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