When and How Much to Feed Your Dog
As always, there are no hard and fast rules about how many times a day a dog should be fed. The idea is to maintain a desired body weight — not too heavy, not too thin. It's the amount of food they're eating that remains the most important thing. Other indicators of a happy and healthy dog are the brightness of the eyes, the shininess of the coat, and the activity level of the dog.
Dogs by nature are worse than humans: many of them would eat to the point of bursting. Because they get such enjoyment out of mealtime, many experts believe that two meals a day is both more satisfying and more nutritionally sound for dogs. Some dogs pick at their food, while others gobble it like it's their last meal. Smaller portions are better for both types of eaters, as the pickers have less to get through, and the gobblers won't overdo it.
Feeding two meals a day will give you an additional opportunity to see how your dog is feeling. If your normally healthy eater is picking at her food and turns away from her bowl, you'll know something is wrong. Even a fussy dog shouldn't want to miss mealtime entirely. If your dog is off her food at either meal, you'll need to keep a close eye on her for signs of an upset stomach or worse.
Free-feeding your dog is not recommended. Simply pouring his kibble in one bowl and leaving him fresh water in another as you race out the door to get on with your day is not the way to maintain a healthy dog. Just as monitoring what your children eat contributes to their good health, the same is true for your dog.
Your dog's mealtimes can be conveniently scheduled around your own. Typically, she should get her morning meal after she's been taken or let out to relieve herself. That leaves enough time for her to eat, you to have a cup of coffee with breakfast, and both of you to get ready for the rest of the day. That should include letting her out at least once more and making sure she has cool, fresh water and any favorite toys — and that she's safely confined — before you leave to do what you need to do.
The second meal can be given in the late afternoon or early evening — preferably before you sit down to eat with the rest of the family. If her tummy's full she'll be less inclined to be interested in your meal, and you won't feel sorry for her and possibly give her treats.
Part of monitoring your dog's food and eating is giving her a set amount of time in which to finish what's in her bowl. Fifteen minutes should be plenty. Whatever she hasn't eaten in this time, pick up and save for later (if it won't spoil) or throw it away. Your dog needs to know that “it's now or never,” so she won't develop fussy habits. If she isn't finishing her food and comes begging to you, don't feel sorry and give her yours. That is her way of training you to feed her something other than her regular food. Unless she's sick (which should be considered), she'll eat if she's hungry, and it should be her food first. If she shows no interest in the food and seems sluggish or ill in any other way, call the veterinarian.
How Much to Feed
How often you feed your dog is one thing. How much you feed your dog is another! Some dogs by sheer weight require smaller amounts. You wouldn't feed a Shih-Tzu the same as you would a Labrador Retriever. Nor should you feed a senior dog the same amount as a puppy. So where does that leave you?
Your best bet is to ask your puppy or dog's former caretaker how much he was feeding your dog. If you like the condition your dog is in or if you're getting a puppy, you can continue following this protocol. Also, dog foods include feeding instructions on their packages. You could use them as a guideline, too. The other thing to consider is your dog's life stage. You may need to feed more or less depending on how your dog is doing on the food at his particular stage of life.
All dogs are individuals, so you need to gauge what's right only for your dog. You want a dog who looks trim, has the appropriate energy level, and radiates overall good health. If that describes your dog, your feeding regimen is on track. If you're feeding too much, your dog will lose his waistline, look more portly all around, and have less energy. If this happens, you should immediately cut down on his rations. If he's too thin, increase his portions. Any unusual weight variations should be discussed with your veterinarian.