Working in the veterinary field, one of the concerns I heard most frequently expressed was how often owners should feed their dogs (and what type of diet, but that’s another story). Some people fed one meal a day, others three, and still more let their dogs free feed, but most were concerned that they might be feeding either too much or too little.
So how many times a day should your dog actually eat?
As with most medical advice, the answer is not quite as simple as we might like.
How often should puppies eat?
There are few cut and dry answers when it comes to dog diets, just like not all feeding schedules work for humans. For instance, I get super-grumpy if I don’t have a midmorning snack, but I have friends who can go hours without feeling hungry or irritable. However, when it comes to puppies, there are a few rules you should follow.
Young puppies, especially toy breed puppies, need to eat every few hours to avoid dangerously low blood-sugar levels. As your puppy grows, you can decrease the frequency of the meals based on your veterinarian’s recommendation.
How often should adult dogs eat?
Adult dogs, on the other hand, do not need as many meals as puppies and can go for longer between meals.
Veterinary nutritionist Dr. Amy Farcas says that most healthy adult dogs are perfectly fine eating two meals a day. Your dog does not need a lunch, despite what he may tell you, and most dogs adjust very well to this twice-a-day schedule.
There are exceptions to this. Dogs on a weight-loss diet might do better with several small meals over the course of the day to help them feel less hungry, and dogs with health conditions like diabetes or cancer might require a specialized meal plan.
Feeding one meal a day is not typically advised by veterinarians, especially for large dog breeds. All of that food, and the speed with which it is consumed, could lead to bloat.
What about free feeding?
Some owners prefer to free feed, thinking that their dogs will graze over the course of the day and only eat as necessary. While this can be true of some dogs, others, like my cocker spaniel, take to free feeding like I would take to an all-day ice cream buffet.
There are some other disadvantages to free feeding besides obesity. It is harder to monitor your dog’s food intake if you free feed, which means you might not notice right away if your dog has a change in appetite. This makes it harder to catch illnesses early.
It is also difficult to free feed in a multiple-dog household. Down the line, one of your dogs might need a special diet or you might have a dog with some food aggression issues that could make free feeding problematic.
With pet obesity on the rise, measuring out two to three meals a day for your dog seems to be the best option for your pets. Talk to your veterinarian about how much food your dog should be getting on a daily basis — that includes treats — and how often your dog needs to eat to stay healthy.