Dinnertime Etiquette – What’s Healthy For Your Dog?

I’ve talked about how to choose a healthy dog food for your dog, but what about when it comes time to actually feed them? There are many different options that people have when it comes to feeding Fido such as once or twice a day, free feeding, supplementing food, etc. I’m going to talk about what is best for your dog and the possible health risks associated with certain options.

Instinctually, dogs will eat until they are absolutely stuffed, and maybe then some. This is because in the wild, they never know when their next meal may be and they might have competition for their food from other members of the pack. Because of this instinct, you must be able to monitor your dog’s food intake and make sure that they are not over eating. Yes, they will always act like they are hungry, even starving, but that does not mean that they NEED more to eat. If you look on the back of your dog food bag, there will be a recommended amount of food for your dog based on their weight. You must remember that this is recommended and might need to be adjusted based on the amount of exercise your dog gets. The best thing to do is to consult with your veterinarian as to what amount of food would be best for your dog. Also, you must take into account that sometimes you should not base your dog’s amount of food given over the weight they are at currently (especially if they are overweight!), but rather what their recommended weight should be as directed by your veterinarian.

Many people, especially those who have only one dog, use the free-feeding method. While this method is easy and convenient, there are some health and behavioral risks associated with free-feeding that you might not be aware of. By free-feeding your dog, you are making food constantly available to them; this could have an opposite effect on their instincts and make them essentially unresponsive to food. This could pose a problem when trying to train because the dog might become no longer food-motivated. This method has also been known to create picky eaters. Their food becomes uninteresting and unexciting to them, and they will start to expect more. This could become unhealthy for their diet because many people start to try to supplement their diet with human food, which not only enforces this behavior, but can also pose a health risk to their digestive system. This method can also result in your dog becoming overweight (which comes with its own slew of health problems) because they are often eating way more than they should be, and most of the time without you being aware of it. Also, if your dog is not feeling well one of the first signs of being sick is lack of appetite. If you free-feed your dog, you will not really know when your dog has a lack of appetite. They could be eating half of what they normally do and you would most likely not even notice.

So if you don’t free-feed, when are you supposed to feed your dog? It is best to keep your dog on a regular schedule i.e., feeding at the same time everyday. If your dog is fed too early in the morning, they might become a royal pain at dinnertime because they think they are starving to death. If your dog is fed too late at night, they might be waking you up in the middle of the night to go outside to potty. Try to find a schedule that fits best with your lifestyle and stick to it. If you have a very picky eater, it might be best to only feed them once a day in order to motivate them more to eat their meals. If you have a dog who tends to beg a lot and acts like they are starving to death all the time, it is probably better to feed them smaller amounts twice a day to alleviate their hungry behavior. Do not encourage your dog to become a picky, spoiled eater. If they do not eat their meal when it is offered to them, then take it away. Do not try to supplement their meals with leftovers or coax them to eat because that will enforce that behavior even more and they will start to learn that if they do not eat, something better will come. Instead, they will learn that they need to eat their food when it is offered to them or they will be out of luck!

By following these guidelines and the behavioral guidelines from my last post, feeding time should become an enjoyable time for your dog, and a less stressful time for you!

Have you had to deal with any of these problems during feeding time? What other methods have worked for you?

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