What Time Of Day You Should Feed Your Dog, According To Experts

Does it matter if you feed your dog once or twice a day? What about at a certain time?

It's 6 p.m. and your pup has been giving you side-eye for the past five minutes. He knows it's time for supper, and he's giving you a not-so-subtle reminder. No matter what time doggie breakfast or dinner is at your house, feeding your dog at the same time every day provides security and the predictability of a routine. What's more, a regular feeding schedule helps to house train puppies since they usually have to go outside within 15 minutes of eating. It also provides rescues the stability they may not have had previously. So, what time should your dog eat?

Dog Eating Dinner
Jaromír Chalabala / Getty Images

Is There a Best Time to Feed Your Dog?

"While there is no best time, with most dogs that eat twice a day, it is best to feed them in the morning as soon as you get up and then again when you get home from work in the afternoon," says Dr. Sara Ochoa, veterinary consultant for doglab.com who practices in Texas. "This gives them time to digest their food and go outside to potty before you have to leave for the day or go to bed."

Should Your Dog Eat Once or Twice a Day?

Smaller dogs should eat twice a day while larger dogs may be fine eating just once a day. "This is because smaller dogs have a harder time regulating their blood sugar and going a whole day without food can cause their blood sugar to get too low," says Dr. Ochoa.

But even large dogs would likely prefer to eat twice a day if given the choice. Mealtime is exciting, fun, and something to look forward to that provides structure to their day, even if they do wolf down their kibble in five minutes flat.

Feed dogs who eat twice a day about 10 to 12 hours apart.

What Is Free Feeding?

You might remember a generation ago, dog owners often put dog food out once in the morning and dogs grazed on it throughout the day. That's called ad libitum or free feeding.

Dr. Ochoa says putting food down and leaving it is okay for dogs who won't overeat. Some dogs would eat every morsel of kibble you give them until they are very sick while others will self-regulate what they eat. "If your dog eats the entire bowl of food as soon as you set it down, it is best to feed them meals each day and not continue to fill their bowl when it is empty," she says.

The best way to see which is right for your dog is to put a bowl of food out. If they eat it all, fill it right back up. If they continue eating, they cannot be free-fed and need portion-controlled meals once or twice a day. Free feeding tends to cause dogs to become obese which can lead to health issues.

How Much Should Dogs Eat?

The amount a dog eats depends on its weight, breed, age, and health, according to the American Kennel Club. Ask your pet’s vet about your dog's specific portion size. If you’re using the dog food label as a guide, keep in mind that some feeding charts list daily intake and you’ll have to divide the total recommended amount of food by the number of meals your dog eats in one day. Dogs can trick you into more food with their puppy eyes and begging so be sure to keep track of any treats and appropriate table food, like carrots or blueberries, you give him. These shouldn’t exceed 10 percent of your dog's daily diet. Check the American Kennel Club list for fruits and vegetables that you can and can’t give your dog.

How Do Dogs Know It's Time to Eat?

If your dog won't let you forget his feeding time, think of him as your little helper. "My dog lets me know that it is feeding time and she needs to eat," says Dr. Ochoa. "She will stand and paw at her bowl until it is full." Researchers think dogs may tell time for things like dinner and going for walks using their circadian rhythm as an internal body clock or by "smelling time" (the way each part of the day smells helps them identify what should be happening next).

Whatever the reason, creating routine feeding times for your pup builds a happy, healthy bond between you and your dog.

*Always consult with your veterinarian about the best and healthiest routines for your pet.

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