What is the difference between free feeding and scheduled feeding companion dogs?
Free feeding is the act of filling up a dog’s food bowl whenever it is empty so the companion dog can eat whenever he is hungry or wants to. Pet companion caregivers often cite convenience for themselves or consider it more humane and kind to their companion dog.
Scheduled feedings are feeding a dog a set amount of food one or preferably divided as two times per day with the expectation he will finish it within 15 minutes.
Two subsets of scheduled feeding are time-limited and amount-limited. Time-limited is the practice of giving a companion dog a meal for a limited time period, and then taking it away if the meal is not finished within 15-30 minutes. Amount-limited is filling up the bowl with a measured amount of food and allowing your pet to pick at it throughout the day.
While we understand the reasonings for free feeding, it is an open invitation to pests and rodents, crawling infants and toddlers; it can contribute to obesity or other chronic health conditions; and it can create potty training problems and behavioral issues.
This is why at Hemopet, we and the majority of veterinarians endorse scheduled feedings as it is one of the easiest ways to monitor your companion dog’s health. Is the dog eating too fast? Is he not interested in the food? Does he retch or burp? …And an assortment of other health conditions can be assessed.
Humans do not like to admit this, but we are creatures of habit. Think about it. When you wake up in the morning, you probably do things in the exact same order. You use the restroom, wash your hands, then brush your teeth, then shower, then dress, then have a cup of coffee and breakfast, then comb your hair and put on your makeup, and finally have your morning constitutional before going off to work. It sounds boring, but ritual creates order, structure and stability for a household and your sanity.
Order, structure and stability work well for companion dogs and help ease their anxiety. They know what to expect and when to expect it based on their internal timetables.
Indeed, many dogs, too, have to naturally relieve themselves within 10-15 minutes of eating. Scheduled feedings certainly help you steer clear of avoidable cleanups and tell your companion dog the allowable spots and times to go “potty”.
Scheduled feedings give you an easy two-second, training reinforcement. If you have a dog that is starting to overly resource guard the house, his food or you, you have tools at your fingertips. For instance, set the bowl down with the food in it, make him sit and then release him to eat. You are simply reminding him you are the adult in the situation and that while you appreciate the help, you’ve got the household under control. Of course, do not make him sit for an extended period of time, as that’s mean.
If you have a multiple dog household, you probably already have a set feeding schedule. If not, we would highly recommend starting. In general, one dog can become the food aggressor and eat all of the food. Clearly, amount-limited feeding will not work in these situations.
Let’s say you gave up on scheduled feeding due to having a picky eater. We suggest time-limited and 2-3 feedings per day. Time-limited is good to use for picky dogs as an experiment in case you believe you need to increase the amount of food your dog eats in a day. It will also indicate to you if you need to change the food.
What if you have a scarfing gobbler that needs to gain weight? Clearly, free-feeding will not work as it will more than likely create uncontrolled diarrhea, acute pancreatitis or vomiting. We would definitely feed twice in one day, and possibly introduce a third scheduled meal of the same or lesser amount as the other two.
Wondering about cats? We discuss our feline friends in “Free or scheduled feedings for companion cats“!
Colman, Stephanie. 5 Reasons NOT to Free-Feed Your Dog. Whole Dog Journal, 20 Jan. 2020, https://www.whole-dog-journal.com/food/dog_food/5-reasons-not-to-free-feed-your-dog/.
Is Scheduled Feeding or Free Feeding Right for Your Dog? East Valley Animal Hospital, 9 Oct. 2019, https://www.eastvalleyanimal.com/scheduled-feeding-or-free-feeding-right-for-your-dog/.
Llera, Ryan, and Robin Downing. Feeding Times and Frequency for Your Dog. VCA Hospitals, https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/feeding-times-and-frequency-for-your-dog.
Sypniewski, Sarah. The Great Feeding Debate: Free Versus Scheduled Feeding. Embrace Pet Insurance, 21 June 2017, https://www.embracepetinsurance.com/waterbowl/article/free-feeding-vs-scheduled-feeding.