Big dogs, small dogs, lazy dogs, energetic dogs – dogs come in all shapes, sizes, and energy levels. This means that all dogs have different eating needs, which can make it tough to figure out a feeding schedule and the type of food that is best for your pet. We’ve asked Freshpet vet, Dr. Aziza, to share some insight on how you can determine a feeding schedule that works best for your dog’s lifestyle.
The best feeding schedule for your dog is determined by your lifestyle, their age, and any medical needs, but generally feeding two meals a day is recommended. This schedule is well suited for many adult dogs, including those with medical diseases such as:
A twice-daily meal time not only works well for dogs with the above-mentioned illnesses, but it’s well suited to the schedules of pet parents that don’t work at home.
Recently, a study conducted by scientists at the Dog Aging Project found that there were benefits to feeding dogs once a day rather than more frequently. The results showed that dogs fed once daily had lower mean scores on a cognitive dysfunction scale as well as lower odds of having:
However, dogs that are only fed once a day can get hungry between these meals and can sometimes be prone to bilious vomiting, which is vomiting caused by an empty stomach. Paired with the fact that only one study has found the benefits of feeding dogs once a day, more research is likely needed in this field before veterinarians would recommend shifting from the two-meal-per-day recommendation.
It’s okay to slightly alter your dog’s feeding schedule throughout the week, however, significant changes are not recommended. I recommend trying to keep the feeding schedule within a 1-2 hour window as uncertainty in schedules can lead to the urge to overeat or anxiety.
For adult dogs that are fed twice a day, having one meal in the morning and one meal at night is ideal. We know that not all pet parents have schedules that allow for meals at consistent times, which is why I recommend investing in an automatic feeder.
Automatic feeders allow you to schedule the time of day and amount of food your pet eats for each meal, so you can ensure they stick to a regular feeding schedule. Two options we recommend are:
If your dog has an issue with eating too much, or too fast, automatic feeders allow you to divide each meal into smaller portions and spread them out during the day. For more tips on how to slow down your dog’s eating, take a look at this post.
I mentioned earlier that the best feeding schedule for dogs is two meals per day, but what I didn't mention is that this isn’t the recommended schedule for young dogs. If you have a puppy, I recommend adjusting your dog's feeding schedule by age. This is because puppies have an increased risk of hypoglycemia or low blood sugar, which makes them better suited to more frequent feedings. Puppies should receive meals 3-4 times a day unless otherwise instructed by your veterinarian. Once your dog reaches 6 months of age, feedings can start to decrease to twice a day.
When veterinarians calculate how much water a dog requires, what they are doing is calculating the maintenance level. This is another way of saying they are calculating the minimum amount of water needed to healthily support the body and not become dehydrated.
Your dog’s required water intake is determined by their total body weight. Their daily maintenance level is calculated by multiplying 60mL by the number of kilograms of body weight. This means that for every 10 pounds of body weight, a dog should be receiving a little more than 1 cup of water or 9 ounces. It’s important to keep in mind that this is just the minimum amount of water your dog should drink – if they are in the sun or exercising they will require more.
For more information on the importance of why you should watch your dog’s water intake habits, take a look at this post.
Now that we’ve got a good idea of how much and how often dogs should be fed, it’s time to get into some tips for feeding your dog you can apply at mealtime itself.
Like humans, the bigger the pet, the more calories the body needs to maintain a healthy body weight. For dogs, large breed dogs require more daily food than smaller breeds but what matters most is the calorie intake. Some foods are very calorically dense and therefore should be consumed in smaller amounts – think of a burger vs a light salad.
A great way to determine how much to feed your pet is to refer to the feeding instructions on the packaging of your pet’s food. For instance, Freshpet’s recipes have an easy-to-follow table that shows how much food is recommended for your pet based on their weight. It’s always a good idea to use an 8 oz measuring cup to accurately dispense daily meals.
If you’re looking for the best recipes for your little dog, take a look at our lineup of recipes tailored to small breeds.
Generally, it is recommended to feed your dog a consistent meal. If you know that your dog can tolerate different foods – for example, they’ve tried both Freshpet® Select Chunky Beef and Freshpet® Select Tender Chicken recipes without issue – then it is fine to switch during the week, but I wouldn’t recommend switching proteins throughout the day.
The reason I recommend avoiding switching proteins throughout the day is that if there is a medical concern that develops that day, it’ll be easier for the veterinarian to determine if it is caused by diet. For instance, a number of dogs can develop allergies to the proteins found in their food – the number one culprit being chicken. If your dog falls into this category, be sure to take a look at our top chicken-free dog food recipes.
If you decide to introduce a new brand or new meal into your dog’s diet, I strongly recommend gradually transitioning it from a previous diet over a period of 5-7 days. Foods that are switched too abruptly can cause gastrointestinal upset, including vomiting and diarrhea.
The best food to feed your dog in the morning and night is one that they will enjoy! Great high-quality meals will help your pet have great energy during the day and sleep well at night.
Like athletes, active dogs burn more calories throughout the day and need to replenish them with healthy foods. Simply put, this means that active dogs require more calories to maintain a healthy weight compared to lazy dogs. To determine the daily requirements of an active versus a lazy dog, veterinarians utilize specific formulas to calculate the calories needed. If you are curious to find out how many daily calories your dog needs, contact your primary care veterinarian or, better yet, a veterinary nutritionist.
It’s normal for your dog’s appetite to fluctuate between days, changing depending on behavioral or lifestyle changes. For instance, if your dog is missing a family member they may be less hungry, or if they’ve been more active then they may be hungrier. Sometimes they may simply want a different meal and are being picky! What’s most important is that your dog’s appetite overall is good, there are no signs of significant weight loss, and energy levels are great.
A great way to get your dog to eat less is by feeding them high-quality food that has fewer calories per cup. This allows you to feed more in quantity, allowing your pet to feel full while maintaining an acceptable caloric intake throughout the day. Some other options include:
For more tips on how to keep your pet at a healthy weight, take a look at this post.
If you are noticing that your dog is having stomach or intestinal issues like vomiting or diarrhea, hold off a meal or two and observe. Sometimes it’s better to give your dog’s stomach a rest from food when showing these symptoms. If they progress, then take your dog to your primary care veterinarian for evaluation.
There are also some medications that have to be given on an empty stomach. If your dog is receiving medication like this, make sure you do not feed your dog until after you have administered the medication and waited for the instructed period of time before meals (ie. 1 hour).
We hope that Dr. Aziza helped clear up some of the top questions you had about feeding your dog. If you have any more questions or want one-on-one help to customize your dog’s feeding schedule, book an appointment with your veterinarian or a veterinary nutritionist.