The ways in which we feed our canine companions have changed drastically in the last few decades - from table scraps to kibble and from home-cooked to raw diets.
Beyond just the food selection, new methods to feed your dog began to appear as well in the forms of free-feeding or scheduled meals.
But with so many self-proclaimed canine diet specialists and actual veterinarians engaged in the controversy of what method to pursue to feed one’s dog, you might be wondering whether free feeding or scheduled meals is better for Fido.
Free feeding is good for dogs with portion control, owners who may be unable to get home at the scheduled time every day, and to prevent dogs from having a negative relationship with food. On the other hand, scheduled feeding works for dogs that need portion control, as a helpful way to potty train puppies for multiple dog households and an easier way of tracking appetite loss.
I researched the two different methods and compared them to one another for you, helping you sort out whether free feeding or sitting on a more regimented feeding routine is best for your dog!
Ready? Let’s dive in.
Free feeding is a term that refers to leaving food-time at the discretion of your pup. Proper free feeding can manifest in two different ways: the first being leaving a portioned amount of kibble in a bowl available for your dog all day long, and the other being your dog indicating when they are hungry.
It’s important to note that if you opt for leaving food out all day, it must be kibble or a similar form of food that won’t go bad being out in the open like that for hours at a time. If your dog is sitting on a home-cooked or raw diet, as you can imagine, free-feeding in this capacity isn’t going to work out.
Equally so, it is possible to free feed a cooked or raw diet if you’re a pet owner that tends to spend much of the day with your dog - your dog can be taught to indicate when they are hungry. For example, dogs can express their needs by walking up to the refrigerator or by ringing a bell.
Free feeding has long been a controversial subject amongst canine experts, with some stating that free feeding actually helps maintain proper weight and others retorting that free feeding actually leads to canine obesity. The reality of this is heavily dependent upon the dog you have in your home, some dogs have great natural portion control and others do not.
Spitz breeds, such as the Siberian husky, and primitive breeds, such as the Korean Jindo, are well known for having excellent portion control and food balance. However, dogs such as pugs and labradors are seen as lacking proper portion control and can be prone to obesity.
As well, free-feeding earns an unfavorable reputation due to pet owners not actually following the correct protocol for free feeding - instead of simply offering your dog’s full daily portion for the day, some dog owners opt to have unlimited amounts of kibble on the ready - which if your dog doesn’t have portion control, as mentioned above, will lead to a dangerous amount of pounds tacking on.
On the upside, some dog trainers state that free feeding can help eliminate behavioral issues such as resource guarding and food aggressiveness. This is because the dog never feels that their meal is being limited or at risk of being taken away from them.
Free feeding can also slow down the gobbling of food (eating too fast can cause stomach upset, and a dangerous condition in dogs known as bloat) because the dog is not anticipating the meal with grave excitement.
If you’re a busy individual who does not keep a consistent schedule on a daily basis, free feeding can make the day significantly less stressful as there isn’t a worry about being unable to be home to feed the dog at a regimented time.
Dogs that are active and need more calories based on their daily activity level can also thrive on free feeding, as it can be hard to measure out how much food an active dog needs daily.
Scheduled feeding, as the name implies, is when you develop a feeding regimen for your pooch and keep to it on a daily basis.
This is the most common and standard method of feeding your dog, with most people’s schedules being a morning meal and an evening meal. Food is not left out for your dog to nibble on daily and is only offered at select times.
Scheduled feeding has been the traditional approach to caring for your dog, with this method being most frequently advocated by those in the canine health world.
Scheduled feedings allow dog owners to better monitor how their dog is eating (such as, noticing a lack of appetite indicating illness or discomfort) as well as be in full control of portions to prevent obesity (or to encourage weight loss for dogs packing too many pounds).
Scheduled feedings make it easier to feed raw or home-cooked diets without the risk of food spoiling and causing your dog to be ill. They are also the best option when it concerns multiple dog households, as not all dogs are able to be fed the same way or the same amount!
Scheduled feeding (even if you plan on free feeding later on) is a must-have for puppies. Puppies thrive best on a routine, and routines help with potty training (a very important part of raising baby dogs!).
However, skeptics of the benefits of scheduled feeding state that the scheduled feeding method can cause dogs to have their own version of an eating disorder, such as gobbling down food way too quickly or eating way too much (if the owner is unable to properly portion the food).
Eating too fast, as mentioned before, can cause bloat which can be fatal - however, there are products such as slow feeders that can be purchased to remedy this issue.
Some specialists also surmise that scheduled feeding can also cause your dog to have an unhealthy relationship with food and yourself. That is because a lot of stress, anxiety, and anticipation can begin to build around feeding time. Scheduled feeding can lead to food aggression and guarding, especially in breeds prone to this.
Scheduled feeding can be more complicated on the human side of things, as the structure depends on the food being given at the same time every day. This means that if you’re unable to get home on time, you have to hire or call someone to come feed your pup. Some dogs have such sensitive stomachs that delaying a meal by an hour can cause stomach upset!
So, what should you do for your dog?
Well, I personally feed my dog scheduled meals, but that’s mainly because I also have a cat living in the same house with an enormous appetite. In addition, I also want my dog to have a more predictable pooping schedule since they are still in the puppy stage.
You’ll have to weigh the pros and cons of each approach for yourself and decide which is best for your own circumstances.
Whatever you decide, here are a few tips for success with each approach: