Why Should You Never Free-Feed Your Dog?

Why You Should Never Free-Feed your Dog
Why You Should Never Free-Feed your Dog

You are probably doing a ton of research as a new dog owner to ensure you raise your dog as humanly as possible.As you have probably already learned, a healthy dog’s diet is one of the most crucial aspects of dog ownership. You may have even searched for what is the best food to give your dog. But nutritional content should not be your only concern. Proper eating behavior is also important. 

Open or free feeding, however, may have adverse effects like overeating. A diet that is too rich in calories can result in weight gain, which strains the heart and joints. If you choose free feeding, only add a sensible amount of food to the bowl.

What is Free-Feeding?

Free feeding is the practice of always having food available for your dog. Some people who free-feed their dogs give them their entire daily ration at the start of the day, while others ensure the bowl is always full, adding more food whenever it appears to be low. It’s the canine equivalent of a Las Vegas buffet: there’s always something on the menu at any time of day or night, and the dog can eat whenever he wants.

The primary justification given by some owners for using the free-feeding method is convenience. Some people think providing dogs with constant access to food can prevent them from guarding it, especially if they were adopted and may have come from a home where food was scarce. A guarding-prone dog may experience ongoing stress due to constant access to food because he may believe he needs to be “on guard” all the time to protect his buffet.

Why is Scheduled Feeding Better Than Free-Feeding?

Most of the time, veterinarians advise their four-legged patients to eat on a set schedule. This implies giving your dog a predetermined serving size of kibble or another food one to two times per day. Some dogs will thrive on just one meal daily, while others will thrive on two. Offering a strict portion following their unique dietary requirements is the key in this situation.

This approach might be difficult for your dog if they aren’t used to eating on a schedule. To ensure he isn’t eating from his housemates’ bowls or inhaling his food, you should keep an eye on him while he is eating. If you live with several dogs, you’ll discover that this practice makes it simpler to gently remind each dog to stay in his bowl and avoid interfering with his dog’s friends.

Scheduled feeding is more hygienic, enables you to easily monitor your pet’s food intake, which may help alert you to a potential illness, provides an opportunity for bonding, and enables you to predict when your dog will need to go potty.

Why Do Some Dog Owners Prefer Free-Feeding?

As was already mentioned, free-feeding dogs have many benefits; consequently, many dog owners continue to use this method. The following are a few benefits of free-feeding dogs that proponents frequently list.

It is a Matter of Convenience

When leaving for work in the morning, dog owners find filling the dog’s bowl or automatic feeder convenient so they won’t have to worry about finding a hungry dog who needs to be fed. Dogs won’t ever have to skip a meal due to a late owner.

Increasing Nutritional Needs

Young puppies cannot go as long between meals as older puppies and adult dogs because they are more active and grow quickly, making them hungrier and requiring feeding more frequently, up to 3 or 4 times.

Therefore, the issue can be resolved, especially for dog owners who work, by leaving water and food out in measured amounts during the first few weeks (controlled free-feeding).

Controlled free-feeding may also be advantageous for pregnant or nursing dogs because these animals have higher nutritional needs.

This might be advantageous for them as long as they don’t binge. Multiple planned feedings might be beneficial if overeating is a problem.

Keeping Dogs Lean

The fact that their dogs are free-fed, according to many dog owners, is the secret to their lean dogs. Their dogs don’t typically overeat because food is always accessible, and they don’t usually gorge themselves.

Of course, this only applies to dogs with the necessary self-control and who don’t turn into pigs at the sight of food, but here’s the thing: many dog owners notice that, when they start free-feeding, their dogs may tend to initially put on a few extra pounds but then start to lose weight once they get used to the idea that food is always available.

Although it’s best to begin when the dog is a puppy, if free-feeding is the route you want to take, that’s a good idea. Starting a dog on free feeding after it had been receiving scheduled meals can be risky, particularly in breeds predisposed to bloat, a condition that can be fatal.

Less Digestive Problems

The fact that food is always available prevents dogs from eating too quickly, which can cause digestive problems and, in some dogs, even potentially fatal bloat, according to advocates of free feeding.

Food Aggression Has Been Reduced

Supporters of free feeding believe that putting food out reduces a dog’s propensity for food aggression. They contend that setting the food bowl down and removing it after the dog has finished eating would encourage dogs to eat quickly and possibly set them up for food aggression.

For Dogs Who Require Peace

Some dogs are naturally fearful and won’t eat until they feel secure or safe. So that they can eat at their own pace and time, such dogs may benefit from having their meals available to them all day.

Why Do Some Dog Owners Prefer Scheduled Feedings?

Free-feeding dogs is strongly discouraged by a large number of dog owners, dog trainers, and vets. Here are a few reasons they favor scheduled meal times over free feeding.

A Method for Keeping Food Fresh

Kibble’s aroma may be recovered if it is included all day. When given food that doesn’t smell fresh, dogs may turn their noses up at it and become picky eaters.

Because of this, many dog owners put their dog’s food inside airtight containers to keep it fresh. Aside from that, food left out may draw pesky rodents or bugs like flies and ants.

Obviously, given that such foods spoil quickly, dogs fed raw, canned, or home-cooked meals shouldn’t be allowed to graze freely.

Understanding How Much Dogs Eat

Especially if dog owners don’t measure how much a dog is fed, it may be challenging to determine how much food a dog consumes when food is left out all day.

Does the dog get enough to eat? Even though you can tell if a lot of kibbles are missing, it might be challenging to determine how much the dog consumes.

It might be challenging to determine whether one dog receives more food than the other if you have multiple dogs. Later, when one dog grows chunkier than the other, you might become aware of it.

A dog’s weight and health can also be determined by knowing how much he consumes. Therefore, if your dog turns his nose at his food on the day of his scheduled feeding, you can tell immediately that he is sick.

Additionally, you will have more thorough information about the duration of your dog’s absence from food, which is crucial knowledge for your veterinarian.

This stands in stark contrast to free-fed dogs, where you might notice your dog isn’t feeling well once you realize you haven’t added much food to his bowl or automatic feeder lately.

More Predictable “Outings”

What goes in at predictable times must also come out at predictable times. In other words, dogs who eat at regular intervals, like twice daily, are more likely to poop at regular intervals, which simplifies potty training.

However, proponents of free-feeding frequently claim that they haven’t had any particular difficulties with potty training because their dogs eat in small amounts throughout the day, which causes bowel movements to build up gradually and frequently creates less urgency than dogs that eat in larger settings.

A Comforting Routine

Dogs benefit from knowing what to expect throughout the day because they are routine-oriented animals. Feeding the dog at regular intervals, such as twice daily, can reassure dogs and give them a routine they can depend on to help them feel less anxious.

Many dogs start to look forward to their mealtimes, which becomes the perk of the day, and some dog owners might even swear that their dog must be able to read the time because they start to get excitedly happy when mealtime is approaching!

The Training Worth

Many training benefits come from feeding your dog from a bowl. When it comes to recalling training, calling your dog for his meal is a fantastic opportunity for reinforcement. Teaching a dog to lie down while you prepare his meal is also a tremendous exercise in impulse control for dogs.

Additionally, dogs interested in food are more likely to use food puzzles, which are a fantastic way to stimulate their minds and enrich their surroundings.

Food Value Increase

The value of food is increased by serving it in a food bowl at specific times rather than leaving it out all day. It is common to see dogs that have been free-fed and have developed picky eating habits.

As a result, feeding food at a set time during the day becomes an anticipated event, and dogs will eagerly anticipate it.

Preventing a Recipe for Disaster

Free feeding would be disastrous for certain breeds of dogs. For instance, it is common knowledge that Labradors have bottomless stomachs. In other words, they would overeat if given unlimited access to food and quickly become very fat.

Additionally, if you free-feed your dog, he might consume too much food in a single sitting, which could put him at risk of developing life-threatening bloat.

Additionally, you might need to be made aware of how much he consumed beforehand; as a result, exercising him on a full stomach could result in bloat.

Last but not least, in households with multiple dogs, if one dog has a medical condition and needs a special diet, all other dogs would also need to be on a diet, which is highly undesirable and impractical.

Why is Free-Feeding Not Ideal?

Most dog owners only free-feed their dogs because it’s so convenient and for no other reason. Fill their bowl to the top and place it on the ground for them to graze on. But is convenience sufficient to ignore all the drawbacks of free-feeding dogs?

The following are some reasons why free-feeding dogs is not the best option for them in case you still need convincing:

They Will No Longer Be Food Motivated

Training your dog is an essential part of dog ownership. Most dogs are food motivated, so providing them with the proper food rewards will help them learn new skills. But if food is always available, they will never feel motivated enough to work for it. Why would they, after all, when there is a bowl full of it right there in front of them?

Training will become much more challenging with free-feeding dogs unless you have one of the rare play-motivated dogs.

Bad Manners Can Be Taught Through Free Feeding

Free feeding can also result in a variety of rude behaviors. To name a few, see below:

Food Aggression

Dogs who tend to guard and protect may start guarding their food bowls when they notice that nobody else is using it. Due to this, it might be challenging to change their food, and it might even be dangerous for young children and infants to be around their food bowls.

In households with multiple dogs, dominant dogs may act aggressively toward submissive dogs and eat more than is necessary, which can result in obesity and the health problems that go along with it.

Fear Around Food

Anorexia canine can result from a dog’s fear of food, which can happen in the opposite situation with a submissive dog. A wide range of additional illnesses can develop due to malnutrition and emancipation.

Getting them to learn to break bad habits is the most difficult aspect of training. Depending on how severe the dog’s aggression is, either dog may need to be relocated due to the severe trauma suffered by the submissive dog. You’ll save a ton of hassle by sticking to mealtimes.

Picky Eating

Finally, some dogs or breeds of dogs, such as Siberian Huskies, tend to be picky eaters. They get sick of always having the same meal. Try to purchase healthy pet food online in various flavors that appeal to your pet’s sense of taste. This will help to curb their propensity for picky eating. If they always have food available, they might start to graze, eating only when they are starving and only the barest minimum.

Can Only Be Done With Dry Dog Food

The fact that only dry dog food can be used for free feeding is a bothersome drawback. Naturally, this shouldn’t be an issue if you feed them premium dry dog food. However, this can be an issue if the dog needs to drink more water or needs a mix of wet and dry dog food.

To get dogs to drink more water, mix some soupy or lukewarm water with their dry kibble. However, it is only advisable to leave wet kibble on some days.

House Training Will Be Challenging

Strict meal times and healthy dog food aid in bowel regularity. How will you know when your dog needs to go outside if you don’t know when they eat?

Free feeding will undoubtedly hinder your dog’s ability to learn to use the bathroom if you have a puppy or young dog in the house.

An Open Invitation to Germs

You will understand what we mean if you live in a hot and humid area. Food left out in the open can be a haven for ants! If you leave the food out before going to work, it may be infested with ants and other insects by the time you return.

In the end, kibble is a perishable food that will spoil if your dog doesn’t consume it all. You and your dog may contract various diseases if there is stale food around the house. And let’s face it, even the healthiest dog food in the world won’t do them any good if it is old and contaminated with disease. It might need to be thrown out more frequently than you anticipate.

Increases the Possibility of Bloat

Dogs who enjoy eating will find it difficult to leave food unattended. They might consume it all at once. Since their stomachs are already very thin, the food and gastric juices may cause the stomach to expand and move out of its current position. If they are not taken into surgery right away, they could die from this condition known as bloat.

Dogs with deep chests, those who are older, and those who have previously experienced bloat are more likely to develop the condition, and free feeding them will result in their demise.

Some Alternatives to Free Feeding Your Dog

Determining mealtimes might be difficult if you work a full-time job and are the only person living in the house. Hey, you’re in charge of your dog if you keep one. Animal guardians cannot afford to sacrifice their health! Here are some things you can do to ensure that your dog is well taken care of.

Food Dispenser

Food dispensers that allow you to set timers are widely available in markets. The most convenient way to give your dog meals on schedule is with a food dispenser. We advise separating your submissive and aggressive dogs from various food dispensers if you have them.

The aggressive dog should not be able to see the submissive dog eating if the dispensers are placed far enough apart.

Combination of Free Feeding and Scheduled Feeding

If they eat twice a day, most adult dogs are healthy. As a result, you can feed them once before leaving for work and once when you return. You can leave out a small amount of dry dog food for them to graze on if there is a significant time interval between the two meals.

Naturally, this technique only works for dogs who don’t immediately pounce on food when they see it. These dogs need extra tender care and love.

Hire a Dog Sitter or Bring Your Dog to a Doggy Day Care

The cost of doing this may be high, but it will help to schedule meals and ensure that your dog is well cared for when you are not home. Dogs require human interaction and exercise in addition to mealtimes. They will be able to do that much better by having a companion.

Asking a neighbor or a member of your family you trust to feed your dog and watch over them for a few hours may be an option if dog daycare is too expensive.

Come Back For Lunch

Think about moving to a workplace that is close by and allows you to return home for lunch. Due to the pandemic, some industries now offer more work-from-home options and flexible hours. Talk to your boss about it if that is the best course of action for you and your dog. Businesses may make an exception for you if it doesn’t negatively impact your ability to perform your job.

Free feeding only helps a very small percentage of dogs. However, the reality is that free feeding causes far more harm than good. Because of this, free feeding is not recommended for dogs.

Transitioning Your Dog to Scheduled Feedings

You will need to take action to speed up the process if you need to switch your dog over to regular feedings. The most difficult challenge is teaching your dog to consume food in a single sitting. The guidelines that follow.

Divide the Total Amount

Look at the recommended total amount to feed your dog each day (you can frequently find this information on the food bag), then divide based on how many meals you will be feeding your dog each day.

So, if the daily dose is two cups, feed one cup in the morning and one cup in the evening.

Establish No-Food Periods

It is best to transition from free feeding to scheduled feedings gradually. You can start by taking away the food bowl at noon for a few hours for the first two to three days if you spend most of the day at home.

After that, you can take away the food bowl an hour before noon and replace it several hours later for an additional two to three days.

When you get to the point where food can be served at set times for an hour in the morning and an hour in the evening, gradually expand the “no food periods” further.

Pick up the Bowl

Once you have been serving the food at the designated times for an hour, start shortening the times. Give your dog a chance to eat after you set the food bowl down. Next, tally up 30 minutes.

Thirty minutes after that, take out the bowl. Then, when it’s time for him to eat again, do so.

For a few days, do this each time you give your dog a meal. Then, move on to picking up the food bowl every feeding after 15 minutes.

This should teach your dog that if he finishes his food in one sitting, he will retain access to it.

Going Cold Turkey

What if you work all day and need help to proceed gradually? You can either ask a neighbor to come over and take care of it in this situation, or you can immediately make the switch. Even though your dog might not be thrilled about it, there are long-term advantages.

Therefore, if you have a long shift, you can set out the food bowl in the morning before leaving for work and then put it away an hour later.

Then, when you get home, you can re-offer the food, give it an hour to be eaten, and then take it away. Doing this will allow you to gradually reduce the time the food is left out until you can increase it to 15 minutes.

Provide a Quiet Area

Noise and a lot of activity can stress dogs, making it difficult for them to eat. Because they find it too uncomfortable to eat, some dogs limit their eating to times when the house is quiet, and the boisterous kids aren’t present, which explains why some dogs behave like grazers. Giving these dogs a quiet feeding area away from loud noises will be easier to help them.

Don’t Get Caught in the Pity Trap

Dogs are quick learners who can make you believe they are starving and only want a small bite of your delicious dinner by using their pleading eyes. It might be alluring to cave and give your dog a piece of a juicy steak or to sprinkle some of your food into his meals to entice him to consume them.

But if you fall into this trap, you’ll soon find yourself stuck with a dog that only wants human food and will go on a kibble strike because he knows he can get better.

Feed at Predetermined Times

As was previously mentioned, dogs enjoy routines, so letting them know when dinner will be served will give them something to anticipate. Do your best to maintain a routine, which includes eating at specific times.

Consult With Your Veterinarian

The best course of action is to speak with your veterinarian, or even better, a board-certified veterinary behaviorist, whenever you have questions about what diet to feed, how often, and in what portions, or advice on how to transition to a new diet.

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