A first-time dog owner might think that feeding a dog three meals a day, similar to the way humans eat, is a logical feeding schedule; however, dogs’ metabolism is different from humans, they have a lower average activity level per day, and they’re potty-trained to poop on a schedule, rather than at will as humans do.
We’ve put together a guide for feeding adult dogs, puppies, senior dogs, and pregnant or lactating dogs, and some information about water requirements and how many treats to fit in. Read on to learn more!
Why a feeding schedule is important for your dog
Once your dog is eating on a schedule, you’ll find that he’s pooping regularly too, and that monitoring his meals and bowel movements will be much easier. You’ll notice each missed meal and each day that he goes without pooping. Keeping track of these things is quite important, as they’re often the first clues that your dog is not feeling well. If his bowel movements decrease to once every 2 days from his usual once daily, for example, you’ll know it’s time to start paying closer attention, or even take him to the vet.
A dog that gets meals on a schedule, as opposed to one who always has food waiting for him in a bowl, will be less finicky about eating and will also be less prone to growing overweight. Furthermore, the act of bringing food to your dog will help cement the power dynamic between you and your dog, which may be necessary with alpha dogs or those with Small Dog Syndrome.
The goal of this guide is to help you understand your dog’s nutritional needs and take control of his diet; It’s not to replace a vet’s advice. If in any doubt, and before making any large changes to your dog’s diet, consult a vet for more comprehensive instructions specific to your dog.
How often to feed an adult dog
In general, most adult dogs will do well with 2 feedings per day, plus treats (discussed below). Twice a day feedings will decrease the large fluctuations in blood sugar & bloating that come with once a day feeding, and will prevent other digestive problems, such as hyperacidity, that may result from having an empty stomach for a significant portion of the day.
Most dogs will have low energy during mid-day, mostly snoozing from mid-morning to the afternoon, so the ‘lunch’ meal is safe to omit. The remaining two meals should be about 8-12 hours apart; a good example is as follows:
- 8am – breakfast (half of daily calories)
- 6pm – dinner (half of daily calories)
Some special circumstances to consider:
- Active or working dogs – dogs that participate in sports and working dogs will need roughly 40-70% more calories per day. This can be divided into the standard 2 meals a day, or a mid-day meal can be added, depending on the dog’s workload and preference.
- Illness – dogs that have lifelong diseases like diabetes or cancer may have special nutritional needs. Similarly, dogs that are recovering from an infection or recent surgery will need to keep their energy up as their bodies heal. Your vet will be able to give you more complete advice on your dog’s needs in these instances.
How often to feed a puppy
Puppies up to 6 months old should receive meals more frequently than adult dogs. Their puppy livers aren’t mature enough to store and release energy as needed, and their puppy muscles & organs are growing at a rapid rate, needing constant nutrients to keep up with the growth.
Puppies should be maintained on breast milk up to 8 weeks of age, and should not be separated from their mother up to this time. Starting 6 weeks of age, before they’ve been weaned off breast milk, they should start receiving frequent feedings daily (while still having breast milk from their mother available until at least 8 weeks of age).
- 6th week to 3rd month – 4 meals a day
- 4th month to 6th month – 3 meals a day
- 7th month onwards – 2 meals a day
How often to feed a senior dog
Older dogs become significantly less active during their senior years, often sleeping 14 to 18 hours a day, and may have a corresponding decrease in required calories per day. While the quantity they eat per day decreases, senior dogs with an adequate appetite may be maintained on 2 meals a day, plus treats (discussed below).
On the other hand, older dogs with certain diseases or an impaired sense of smell may have a decreased appetite and/or weight loss. These dogs may benefit from smaller meals given more frequently (3-4x a day), or from a free-feeding option. Free-feeding is where food is left in the dog’s bowl throughout the day and they’re allowed to eat whenever they please.
In the event that your senior dog has a noticeable increase/decrease in appetite or weight loss, make sure to consult your vet for possible causes of these changes and how to tailor his diet in response.
How often to feed a pregnant or nursing dog
A pregnant dog should be maintained on the same amount of food and frequency of feeding as she received prior to her pregnancy. This amount of food should be increased gradually once her body weight starts to increase, which is expected to start at about the 5 weeks before she gives birth. By the time she gives birth (referred to as “whelping”), she should be receiving about 50% more food per day than prior to her pregnancy.
Once her food intake starts to increase, pregnant dogs should eat smaller portions more frequently throughout the day; this will make it easier for her to receive adequate nutrition per day and avoid digestive problems such as bloating and malabsorption. By the time she’s nearing the time of birth, she will most likely benefit from free-feeding.
After she gives birth, a dog may not eat much for the first day or two, and then her appetite will increase. Nutrition is especially important for dogs during this period as they are lactating and are expected to feed a litter of puppies for 8 weeks. Lactating dogs will need 2-3x more food than their maintenance, divided into 3-4 meals per day. The amount of food and frequency of feeding will depend on factors such as the number of puppies in the litter and the mother dog’s preference. At this point, free-feeding will also be helpful to provide sufficient calories per day, and to maintain an adequate supply of breast milk.
Treats may be given as frequently as you please, but they should make up no more than 10% of your dog’s daily calorie intake. What this means is that you should know how many daily calories is recommended for your dog to maintain a healthy weight (usually by consulting a vet), and then learn how to read the dog food label. Dog food labels will usually contain the amount of calories per cup.
Say, for example, your dog receives 1 cup of food twice a day. Using the picture above as reference, he would be receiving 250 calories per cup, a total of 500 calories per day. Ten percent of 500 calories, or 50 calories, is the maximum allowable treats per day to keep your dog at a healthy weight. Check the nutrition label on the treats to find out how many treats per day will equal 50 calories.
Giving your dog water on a schedule will allow you to monitor his water intake and understand any changes in his urination. This will be especially important for dogs with kidney problems and older dogs who may be lazy to drink and pee. In general, a healthy dog should be drinking 15-30ml of water per pound of bodyweight per day, and peeing a significant volume at least once a day.
A simple and effective schedule for most dogs is a fresh bowl of water twice a day (morning, evening), plus a fresh bowl after any physical activity such as playtime or a walk. For longer walks or other trips, bring a bottle of water with you and allow drinking at least once every 2 hours. Be mindful when the temperature goes up, your dog should be drinking more frequently during the hotter summer months.