I won’t lie to you: I am one of those lazy dog owners, when it comes to feeding. I just leave the food out all day. But it wasn’t always that way: When I first got my dog, I fed him twice a day, with the precision of a swiss clock. Always at the same time and always the same gram amount of dry food, previously weighed on my kitchen scale, following the recommended amount on the back of the food bag. One year later, with one more dog in the house, I don’t even know when and how often my dog eats. Once a day me or my flatmate (probably sometimes even both of us) fill their bowls with the same amount of dry food and it sort of gradually becomes less and less until it has magically vanished. I am aware, that this is not ideal, but both dogs are neither skinny nor obese and seem overall healthy so we feel, that this works well for us.
However, if someone would ask me, what I recommend, I would tend to say scheduled feeding. Why? There are several good reasons:
1.It It makes housebreaking easier
Simply put, if you don’t know when food is going into the dog, it’s much harder to know when it will need to come out of the dog! This is especially important when initially housetraining a puppy or newly adopted dog. Dogs digestive systems vary like in people, and for some dogs, this might always be the best solution.
When a dog is fed on a reasonably consistent schedule (more of a time-window than an exact time) , it’s easy to determine his bathroom needs and develop a routine that is easy to follow.
2.It prevents food guarding
One would assume, free-feeding will put a dog, that comes from a situation where food was scarce, at ease and prevent food aggression. Quite the opposite can be the case, and some dogs will constantly feel the need to guard their buffet-like food bowl.
3. Eating habits are an indicator of health
Lack of appetite is often the first sign that your dog or cat is not feeling good. If your furry companion is used to eat throughout the day, it’s harder to know if he/she hasn’t eaten yet because something else was more interesting, or if he has health issues, that require a vet appointment. If at the vet, you can precisely say, how long your pet’s appetite has been low.
4. The food won’t get bad
Leaving food out too long, especially in a hot and humid country like Lebanon, can cause the food to become spoiled or insects to throw a dinner party in your pet’s food bowl. Both isn’t very hygienic and can cause illness at worst. Please never free-feed wet or raw food, it goes bad too fast. If you feed your pet on a schedule, you can make sure, the food is always fresh, given that you store it the right way. If you aren’t sure how to store your pet’s food, have a look here.
5.Meals can be used to train your dog
If it is to have your dog sit down, when being served his meal or to have him come, when calling his name, there are many ways, your dog’s meal can be part of your training routine. Of course you can also teach your cat to come, when you call his, her name.
6. Meal manners a multi-dog/multi-cat household
If you don’t feed on schedule in a multi pet household, you can’t be absolutely sure, one isn’t eating the other’s food. This could lead to stress and rivalry. Especially if you have both, dog and cat, it is likely your dog is secretly munching from the cats food.
7.Scheduled feeding makes diet changes easier
As your dog/ cat ages, his/her nutritional needs will change. To adjust to these new needs, you might have to change your pet’s diet to another brand, wet food or even raw food. When you feed scheduled meals, you control the transition from one food to another completely and have the ability to monitor your cat’s reactions. You will learn if he/she needs more time to transition or if your pet simply hates the new food.
Needless to say that with free-feeding we do not mean, that you constantly refill your pet’s food bowl when empty. Many pets can’t be trusted with knowing “how much food is enough” and this kind of uncontrolled free-feeding can likely lead to obesity. (If you want to know what to do, if your pet is obese, click here.)
There are as well some pros for free-feeding, however they are less and if we are honest, the biggest pro is our convenience. They include:
1.Pets eat only when they are hungry, and do not feel pressured to eat when they are not hungry just because they know, that the food will be removed
2.Dogs and cats, and for sure this doesn’t apply to every pet, eat only as much or as little as they need. For example, if a dog gets a lot of exercise one day, s/he can eat more. If s/he isn’t very active the next day, s/he can eat less.
3. Convenience: You don’t have to worry about forgetting meal times, and your dog will always be able to eat when hungry.
Recently I am strongly considering to switch our dogs to a feeding schedule, and I hope to take this step soon. Even if it is a little bit more effort, I feel that, because pets can’t tell you if something is wrong, monitoring their eating behavior is crucial to ensure they are happy and healthy.
If you cannot decide which method will work best for your dog or your cat, talk to your veterinarian for suggestions. If free-feeding at this point works for you, and your dogs/ cats weight is as it should be, you might not have to make a change.
There are also mechanical food bowls that can be set to feed your pet small portions at specific times throughout the day. (Like this one!) In the end, remember that your decision should be based primarily on your furry companions long term health, not solely on convenience.