DEAR DIDI: Should my dogs be on a set feeding schedule of some kind or is it okay to just leave a bowl of food down for them all day? – Pit Bull Mommy
DEAR PIT BULL MOMMY: Excellent question! I have never been a fan of free feeding or leaving food bowls down for dogs all day. No matter the breed, age, or number of dogs in the household it is a bad idea to have a bowl or bowls of food lying around. It is impossible to ever know with any degree of accuracy exactly how much a dog is eating when food is left out, especially if there are any other animals in the house, including cats. Knowing exactly how much your dog is eating on a daily basis is the first step to controlling their weight and can frequently be a first early indicator of illness. Half eaten bowls of food lying around can attract ants and other pests to your home. Saliva left behind on kernels of dog food can also promote bacterial growth. When your four-legged friend comes back for more, he may be set up for intermittent intestinal issues due to that bacteria. If only one bowl is down and there are two or more dogs in the household I’ve seen aggression develop as the dogs vie for life’s most valuable resource. Either way a dog that is free fed usually develops a habit of not listening to their humans because the dog doesn’t feel like he needs the humans for anything. This is especially true if a doggy door is in use. “I can go outside whenever I want, eat whenever I want, sleep whenever and wherever I want … I am my own boss.”
Let’s be honest, leaving food down is the lazy way out. No need to remember to feed the dog. So, a feeding schedule has to be consistent so it isn’t forgotten yet fits your schedule. Adult dogs only need to be fed once a day unless they are a deep chested breed at risk of bloat. Keep in mind we are not really sure why bloat happens but the general consensus is large breeds eat more at one sitting and may swallow air eating quickly, in addition, to the food creating gas as it digests. This can cause the stomach to twist internally on itself. It is a deadly and excruciatingly painful condition. Examples of breeds with deep chests are Great Danes, Doberman, and German Shepherds. Dogs under a year old need to be fed twice a day or even three times a day when very young. If more than one person in the household will be responsible for feeding be sure to develop a system of communication so everyone knows whether or not the dog has been fed. Some dogs will try to convince you that they are starving to death even though they just ate Thanksgiving dinner! My parents have a post it note system on the inside of their cupboard door where the dog food is stored. One post it says “I’ve been fed” and the other one says “I’m hungry.” Whichever note is on top is the correct message.
The amount you feed varies based on activity level, quality of food being fed, size of the dog and their age. Never believe what the dog food bag tells you to feed. They almost always overdo it. A hungry dog is a healthier dog. Your dog should not take more than 10 minutes to finish his bowl of food in one sitting. Most dogs will finish in a couple of minutes. If your dog finishes his bowl of food in less than 30 seconds (time him) then you may want to consider purchasing a slow down bowl so he doesn’t swallow so much air. Tiny three-pound dogs may only eat a quarter cup of food a day while Great Danes may need up to six cups a day. Two to three is the average for active healthy 55-pound dogs. If your dog is overweight and not active maybe 1.5 cups. Body score your dog by using two fingers starting at your dog’s front legs. Feel with the two fingers across the ribs to his hind legs. If you feel every rib clearly your dog is a very good weight. Congratulations! If you have to press as you feel across the ribs to find them, your dog is overweight and could stand to be on a diet.
If you have been free feeding and decide to switch to a scheduled feeding system don’t be surprised when your dog doesn’t eat his food the minute you put it down. He is used to it being there whenever he wants it. Give it 10 minutes and pick it up. Be strong! Don’t offer it again until next feeding time, whether that be in the evening or the next morning. I promise, he will eat when he is hungry!
Dierdra McElroy is a graduate of Texas A&M University and is an Animal Behaviorist specializing in canines. If you have questions or concerns about the pets in your house, you can get them answered through a future column of Didi’s Dogs. To ask your dog behavior question, email www.CaliforniaCanineUnleashed.com.