Not having owned a dog for quite some time, I wasn’t aware that so much time and thought was now put into the various ways of feeding man’s best friend. After all, when I last called myself a dog owner, I fed my dog when I was home, on a pretty regular schedule, and there was no official name for the method that I was aware of.
Yet, after talking with frequent “Today” show guest Carol Osborne, a world-renowned integrative veterinarian and author, a pet feeding philosophy surrounding the three methods (free feeding, meal feeding or timed feeding) is vital to a wellness system for dogs.
Finding What Works Best For Your Dog And Your Lifestyle
“In an ideal world, pets would be fed every four hours, or six times daily, and timed feedings are a great way to offer dogs small multiple meals throughout the day,” she says. “These timed feedings are especially beneficial for the pet owner unable to be at home during the day.”
Feeding in this manner offers several pet health benefits. First, it stabilizes blood sugar levels, hence helping to avoid disorders like diabetes. In addition, each time your pet eats, it stimulates their metabolism, which requires energy and burns calories.
“The result will be that your dog will simultaneously begin to lose excess pounds without going hungry,” Osborne says. “In addition, pets suffering with pancreatitis and inflammatory bowel disorders also benefit, as small multiple meals are physically much easier for your pet’s body to digest, absorb and utilize.”
A normal schedule can also be important to your dog. Al Townshend, a staff veterinarian for WellPet, the maker of Wellness natural pet food, says that feeding your dog at the same time the rest of the family eats is always a good idea.
“It prevents begging at the table and improves the bond between the pet and the family,” Townshend says. “A consistent feeding schedule also maintains regularity in your pet’s digestive system.”
Of course, feeding multiple times a day (depending on the age and activity level of the pet) in controlled amounts takes more time and requires consistency; however, it reduces the risk of weight gain, improves the bond between pet and pet owner and reduces the risk of aggressiveness at the food bowl.
For busy families, when it comes to free feeding a dog, it’s very convenient and requires less time since most dry food can be left out for the day without spoiling.
“Meal feeding is ideal for dogs whose owners are at home long enough to provide breakfast and dinner at the very minimum,” Osborne says. “In general, the principle is the same as for timed feedings. Two meals a day are fine, three are better and four are great.”
Certainly, feeding six times a day is simply not practical for the vast majority of dog owners — at least those who I know. Leaving your pet’s bowl down for 10 to 20 minutes is usually sufficient. If your pet’s meal hasn’t disappeared, then either he or she doesn’t particularly care for the food, or perhaps isn’t feeling well and needs to see a veterinarian.
Other things I learned were that although many dogs only eat when they are hungry, it’s best to keep track of your pet’s weight to ensure that your pet isn’t overeating and gaining weight using these methods. Also, multipet households may not be able to free feed, as it may encourage bullying or cause one pet to gain weight while another loses weight.
Finally, whichever method you choose, clean, fresh water should be available 24/7.
People spend a lot of time thinking about food and their meal schedules, and it only makes sense that an equal amount of time is spent learning the best method to feed their dogs.