After learning how much raw food to feed, it’s only logical we tackle how often you should feed your dog next.
If you’ve ever wondered:
- “How many times a day should I feed my dog?”
- “How many times a day should a puppy eat?”
- “What’s the best time to feed a dog”
You’re not the only one.
But now that you’ve switched to raw feeding, the questions only increase.
Luckily, this topic is more straightforward than figuring out how much to feed. In today’s article, I’ll address these common questions. Plus, I’ll share all the information you need to determine how often to feed your dog a raw diet.
Meal Frequency is Mostly a Choice
The first thing to understand is that feeding frequency is your choice to make. Several options are available and each has their own pros and cons.
Take recommendations for puppies, pregnant, or nursing dogs more seriously. But for the vast majority of adult and senior dogs, feeding frequency is lenient.
And remember, dogs are individuals.
Not every one will follow the same schedule or pattern. Does every person you know eat the same number of meals each day? Do all people eat at the same times? No, because this varies by the individual.
In the end, how often you feed your dog will boil down to your dog’s preferences and your schedule.
Do your best, but do what works for you.
How Often To Feed A Dog Based On Age & Life Stage
While feeding frequency is flexible, you’ll want to keep a few things in mind based on your dog’s age or life stage.
How Many Times a Day Should a Puppy Eat?
In determining how often to feed a puppy, understand:
Puppies need to eat smaller meals more often. Why? They need to eat to support growth but only have so much stomach space.
Multiple meals can be especially important for small breed puppies. If meals are spread out too long, they can become hypoglycemic, which is caused by a lack of fat reserves.
While this can vary, the younger the puppy the more meals you’ll feed.
Here’s a good rule of thumb:
- Under 4 months: 4 meals per day
- 4 – 6 months: 3 meals per day
- 6 months to a year: 2 meals per day
- 1 year and older: 1 -2 meals per day
Body condition still applies here.
Puppies that are too thin may need extra food or meals. Likewise, if your puppy is at proper body condition and is not finishing meals, feel free to cut a meal.
With most things, how much to feed a puppy depends on the individual. Some dog owners believe puppies are quite resilient and that feeding more than twice per day is excessive. Either way, use common sense. If your puppy is energetic, at proper weight, and healthy, make a judgement call. And if more than twice per day feeding doesn’t fit with your schedule, go with an options that does.
The main point to remember: don’t overfeed.
A pup’s growth plates can only take so much weight. We want slow, consistent growth in puppies, not rapid growth. Why? Too much weight on your pup’s growing frame can be problematic. This is especially true for large breed puppies.
Aside from gaining weight, overfeeding your puppy can lead to:
- Hypertrophic Osteodystrophy (HOD)
- Osteochondritis Dissecans (OCD)
- Hip dysplasia
- And other skeletal abnormalities
Learn the difference in appearance for an underweight puppy and a healthy puppy. And if you’re unsure, consult with your veterinarian.
How Many Times a Day Should an Adult Dog Eat?
With adult dogs, feeding frequency is mostly personal preference.
No hard and fast rules exist here. For many, this is a matter of convenience and it’s entirely your choice. So, how many times a day should a dog eat?
The majority of adult dogs eat 1-2 times per day.
Here’s what I recommend:
Consider your dog’s preference. But choose whichever option works best for your household. If you’re having trouble making a decision, review the points below.
Twice Per Day Feeding Schedule:
In my experience, many dog owners feed twice per day because it makes them feel better. They just can’t bear to feed a single meal. And that’s okay. Feed your dog in a way that makes you comfortable. Feeding shouldn’t be a stressful endeavor – for anyone.
But valid reasons exist for utilizing twice-a-day feeding, some health-related. Here’s the rationale:
- Reduces Begging. Some dog owners report that feeding twice a day may help with begging behaviors. It also works equally as well for food-obsessed dogs who make a ruckus when they’re hungry.
- Better for Small & Toy Breeds. Since these dogs eat a small amount of food (and tend to be more fragile) they may do better eating twice per day. This is especially true for dogs prone to hypoglycemia. If your dog is not hypoglycemic, try both approaches and see which one works best.
- Good for Bilious Vomiting Syndrome. These dogs may do better eating twice a day as well. It’s best to feed right before bedtime and again first thing in the morning. This helps to avoid vomiting on an empty stomach.
- It May Help With Bloat. Feeding smaller meals can help with digestion, reduce gas, and decrease the risk of boat. However, bloat is more common in kibble-fed dogs and less common when feeding raw. Regardless, if you have a dog with a history of bloating, you may want to feed twice a day. Or, if you’ve ever lost a dog to torsion, feeding twice a day may be the only approach you’re comfortable with – and that’s okay.
- Weight Gain. When you’re trying to put weight on a dog, it’s recommended to feed smaller meals more often. For slight weight gain, you can try feeding twice a day, or you can increase to even 3-4 times per day if needed.
- Your Vet Recommends It. Other health conditions can cause a dog to lose weight. Or, they might warrant feeding your dog smaller meals more often. Listen to your vet’s recommendations.
Once Per Day Feeding Schedule:
A common question I hear is, “Is it ok to feed a dog once a day?”
In fact, once a day feeding is a great way to mimic nature. In the wild, wolves eat only when they can catch food. [Click to tweet]
Wolves and other wild dogs aren’t eating 3 times per day, or even 2 times per day. They’re lucky if they eat once per day. Instead, wolves and wild dogs are fasting for 18+ hours. And they do this while running around, expending energy looking for their next meal.
But don’t worry.
Like their wolf counterpart, dogs evolved with a superior capacity for fasting; they can handle eating less often. And many argue this is how we should feed them.
Here’s the rationale behind once-a-day feeding:
- Your Dog Makes the Decision For You. Not all dogs are food-obsessed. Many are not interested in eating twice a day. Others choose to fast themselves from time to time when a meal is presented. Honor this and don’t force your dog to eat twice a day if they don’t want to.
- Assist with housebreaking. Once a day feeding can lessen the number of bathroom trips and will allow you to control when your dog goes poop. This is especially important for dog owners who can’t let their dogs out throughout the day.
- It’s Ancestral. Dogs in the wild have long breaks between their meals. Feeding once per day better mimics this routine.
- “Feeding once per day keeps the doctor away.” Once a day feeding puts your dogs in a semi-fasted state. This allows the digestive system a rest and reset and comes with a whole host of health benefits. [Click to tweet]
How Many Times a Day Should a Pregnant or Nursing Dog Eat?
This varies by dog. But many dog owners feed 3–4 times per day.
Pregnant dogs need to consume a large volume of food to support their nutritional needs. It’s hard to do this in one or two feedings, especially with space crowded by growing puppies. Multiple feedings per day makes this easier on the dog.
Feeding frequency may be increased to 6 times per day before nursing. Then it tapers off through the weaning process.
But ultimately, how often to feed depends on the individual animal.
How Many Times a Day Should a Senior Dog Eat?
Same as adults, feeding senior dogs 1-2 times per day is fine.
Both adults and elderly dogs are comparable from a feeding frequency perspective. But keep in mind geriatric dogs may choose to eat less as age increases or as activity level decreases.
Let your dog make the decision, it’s natural for food intake to lessen as an animal ages.
Regardless of how often you feed, senior dogs appreciate comfortable and familiar routines. Continue to feed when they’re used to eating and when they expect it.
How Many Times a Day Should Workings Dogs & Canine Athletes Eat?
The amount of food needed is more important here. However, there are differing opinions on how often to feed this group of dogs.
Some dog owners believe canine athletes and working dogs should be fed twice daily.
They theorize this schedule helps the recovery phase, is less stressful to the body. Plus, it provides constant fuel for their dog’s system to work better. This is a popular option for most active working or sporting dogs.
Still, other dog owners feel the opposite. They believe feeding a sporting or working dog once per day will help them perform at optimal levels.
Brian Zanghi, a nutritionist with Purina agrees. While feeding twice per day will do no harm, he claims a once-a-day regiment may equal better performance.
Here’s what Brian believes:
It’s optimal to feed a hardworking dog after hunting, working or training for the day, and not before.
It can take 20-24 hours for your dog’s meal to be completely digested. Zanghi says, “Performance dogs should be fed a minimum of 10-12 hours before exercise.” This helps to ease problems associated with a full colon.
Brian Zanghi also explains:
“When dogs are fed six hours or sooner before exercise, the body’s fat burning enzymes are not optimized, which contributes to reduced endurance and energy generation.”
He goes on to say:
“Studies have shown that endurance performance can be as much as doubled when dogs run on an empty stomach compared to having eaten four or less hours before exercise”
With anything, how often to feed your working or sporting dog is a choice. It may be wise to test both approaches and find out what works best for your dog.
Remember, food quantity and feeding frequency will depend on:
- The individual dog
- Their metabolism
- Energy needs/requirements
- Activity and duration of exercise
What’s the Best Time to Feed a Dog?
The short answer is the time that works for you. But here’s some food for thought:
What Time Should I Feed My Puppy?
Puppies will be eating anywhere from 2- 4 meals per day, so it’s wise to spread them out.
If feeding 4x per day, morning, mid day, mid afternoon, and evening are acceptable times to feed. If feeding 3 meals per day, you can opt for morning, lunch and evening.
And if your work schedule is limiting, try feeding early in the morning before you leave for work. Then feed as soon as you get home and another small meal later in the evening.
Be careful not to feed too late…
If you do, chances are your dog will need to go to the bathroom again. This may disturb your sleep and lead to accidents during the night.
With puppies, what’s most important is determining how often they go potty and how soon after eating. That way, you can feed them on a schedule that makes housebreaking easier for you.
A similar schedule works equally as well for pregnant and nursing dogs.
What Time Should I Feed An Adult or Senior Dog?
If feeding 2x per day, it’s recommended to feed one meal in the morning and one at night. And if feeding 1x per day, it’s recommended to feed one meal either in the morning or at night.
With once a day feeding, what’s preferred – morning or evening? That’s your call though most dog owners opt to feed in the evening for several reasons.
- Evenings are a time most family members are home and are able to supervise mealtimes.
- If you feed outside, temperatures are cooler in the evening and pests are less bothersome.
- Dogs tend to mellow out and sleep well after a good-sized meal.
But again, this is entirely flexible. Figure out what’s best for your work routine and your dog’s potty schedule.
What About Feeding & Exercise?
Often, dog owners ask about their daily walks. What’s the best time to feed a dog, before or after the walk? Good question.
I prefer feeding after exercise, routine walks, or play sessions for two reasons.
- This Decreases the Risk of Bloat. You shouldn’t engage your dog in any rigorous exercise or play right after eating. This is especially true after a big meal or for animals that eat once per day.
- Make Your Dog Work For It. It’s in a dog’s nature to work for their food. They hunted for food in the wild and worked for their food once domesticated. By providing food after physical activity, we’re mimicking a dog’s natural instinct to work for reward. Cesar Millan, touts this “form of waiting” as a “psychological exercise that helps nurture a balanced, happy dog.”
Do I Have to Feed My Dog At the Same Time Every Day?
No. In fact, it’s recommended you don’t from time-to-time.
Some dog owners are stuck on the idea that they should feed at the same time every, single day. Its true dogs’ appreciate routines and a single feeding time may be better for your schedule (or your dog’s bathroom habits).
But understand you don’t have to feed at the same time every day. If your schedule allows it, try to change things up.
- Nature Varies. Animals don’t have a set feeding time in the wild. They ate whenever they caught food.
- Conditioning. Feeding your dog at the same time everyday conditions their body and their metabolism to expect food at that time. In response to this expectation, hydrochloric acid in the stomach begins to build. This could cause stomach bile vomiting or digestive upset. Imagine if you’ve only ever eaten at set times, then someone tried to change it up. You likely wouldn’t react well, emotionally and physically.
- Behavior. Schedules and routines may be necessary for the busy dog owner. But understand strict schedules (especially around meal time) can backfire. Many dog owners who follow strict routines end up having to plan their lives around their pets. Feed your dog on a schedule that works for you, but change it up when you’re able to. Even if that’s only on your days off or the weekends.
- Leadership. Too much routine can take away the leadership role of a dog owner, especially when it comes to food. Make your dog work for reward and be an active participant in your life. Remember, you’re the head of the family and the pack leader. You decide when it’s time to eat and what your dog eats. You’re not a vending machine that’s programmed to drop a food bowl out at present times.
Of course, schedules and routines can be necessary. They’re fantastic for busy dog owners and help most of us navigate through our seemingly hectic and stressful days.
They must be reasonable. Avoid rigid routines. Flexibility and variety (when it makes sense for you) will foster a more easy-going dog.
And that’s the ultimate goal, right?
A dog we can take anywhere or do anything with, not one that makes life more difficult for us.
Meal-less Feeding Strategies
Some raw feeders choose not to feed “meals.” Instead, they prefer a different approach.
Below are some additional feeding strategies you may have heard or seen before. While they aren’t for everyone, it’s worth reviewing regardless.
- Free Feeding
- Big Food Less Often (BFFLO)
- Self Regulation
- Self Selection
This is the practice of making food available to your dog at all times.
With free feeding, most dog owners leave a bowl of food out throughout the day. The theory is that your dog eats when he or she chooses. And it’s often touted as an easier and more convenient option for the dog owner
Free feeding is more commonly seen with kibble than raw. But new raw feeders inquire about it from time to time, so it’s worth discussing.
Free feeding has many drawbacks in my opinion, and is not recommended.
- It’s Not Natural for a Dog. Dogs are hunters, not grazing animals. They hunt, kill, and then devour their prey. When they eat, they gorge because they don’t know when their next meal is coming. As opportunistic feeders, dogs are hard-wired to behave this way. By design, they may not know how to “snack” or eat small amounts throughout the day.
- It’s Likely to Cause Weight Gain. If your dog can’t gauge when he or she is full and should stop eating, weight gain is inevitable. This can occur with any food but dogs are at an even higher risk of weight gain with processed pet food. Preservatives, palatability enhancers, additives, synthetic ingredients and other chemicals make it addictive. Couple that with a high carbohydrate content and we have a recipe for weight gain. A couple of extra pounds never hurt anyone, right? Wrong. It increases your dog’s risk for high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, osteoarthritis, and cancer. According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, excessive weight in pets can decrease life expectancy by up to 2.5 years.
- Its Difficult to Monitor How Much Your Dog is Eating. Knowing how much your dog eats is important in case you need to adjust their diet. With free feeding, you’re in the dark on when and how much your dog eats. Plus, appetite is often an important indication of health. If you don’t’ know when your dog eats, how will you know if they stopped eating or something isn’t quite right?
- It May Affect Digestion. When a dog’s body signals hunger, hydrochloric acid in the stomach builds. In nature, this tells your dog it’s time to hunt. When stomach acid is at the appropriate pH, it’s better able to digest food. And it’s better equipped to handle high loads of bacteria without causing harm. Leaving the food bowl out all day doesn’t put your dog into the “hunt and kill” mode. In turn, it could affect digestive abilities.
- Makes Training Harder. If you don’t know when your dog is eating, it’s harder to judge bathroom habits. What’s more, if food is always available to your dog, they have less incentive to “work” for treats. When food is always available, you lose it as leverage. And this may make motivating your dog with food more difficult, or even impossible.
- Can Have A Negative Effect on Manners. If food is left out, it could breed guarding issues and cause trouble for multi-dog households.
- Hygiene is the Biggest Issue – Leaving any food out can attract pests. But leaving raw food out is flat out unsanitary. Raw food will spoil and begin to smell. It’s also not recommended to leave raw (or any pet food) out if you have small children in the house that could get into it. This is a no brainer.
For these reasons, I don’t support free feeding in any case: for kibble or raw diets. And other, well-known raw feeders agree. But there are similar, yet better options for raw feeders who want to feed differently.
See a few of them outlined below.
Big Food Fed Less Often (BFFLO)
This style of feeding is also called “Gorge and Rest” or “Gorge and Fast.”
It’s more common with whole prey feeding. And it’s especially popular with Prey Model diets. This style of feeding involves feeding several days of food in one meal.
Why do it?
- It mimics the way wolves and other wild canines eat in nature.
- It’s conducive for hunters or dog owners buy whole animals or large cuts of meat.
- It’s more convenient as there is no cutting, weighing, and bagging of food.
How do you do it?
First, your dog must work up to it gradually. You’ll feed bigger and bigger meals until you achieve the goal amount. But essentially you’d throw a whole animal or large carcass out and allow your dog to gorge. Then, you’d rest or fast your dog for a few days.
This differs from free feeding because the portion is still controlled.
You’re feeding your dog a specific amount. That amount may be 1-3 day’s worth of food, and then they’re fasting. But instead of feeding a specific amount daily, you’re feeding larger amounts every couple of days.
When fasting, water, recreational bones, and broth should be available. Some dog owners still feed snack-sized meals until it’s time to resume a normal feeding schedule.
Some people choose to feed this way regularly. Others take part in Gorge and Fast feeding for special occasions like after a hunt or for an incredible deal on an animal carcass.
Where does this BFFLO take place?
Usually outside in a yard, weather permitting. Others may choose to feed on a tarp inside a garage or basement.
Obviously, this feeding style is not for the faint of heart. And it’s not for everyone. If you prefer a more “civilized” or modern style of feeding, skip it.
Some raw feeders practice a feeding style called self-regulation.
It’s a term for dogs that eat an appropriate amount of food and stop all on their own. These dogs are able to tell when their body needs food and when it doesn’t. In other words, they self regulate their meals instead of gorging all the time.
Many consider self-regulation to be so close in comparison to Gorge and Fast that it’s hardly distinguishable.
How are they similar?
With both, the portions are still controlled. With raw diets, food is never available 24/7. Both of these options involve providing your dog either whole prey items or a large cut of meat.
How do they differ?
With Gorge and Fast, you’re controlling how much your dog gorges and how long they fast.
With self-regulation, your dog makes those decisions. From what you’ve provided, your dog will eat until he or she is full, then walk away. You’ll pack up what’s remaining and refrigerate until their next meal.
- This approach allows your dog to eat as much as needed instead of getting a set amount of food each day
- In theory, your dog would eat more food on exercise-heavy days. And eat less on the relaxing, uneventful days.
- Plus, you wouldn’t need to weigh or measure meals
Some dog owners practice this regularly; others feed self-regulating meals once per week and consider it like a reset.
Self-regulation is also popular with pregnant and nursing dogs. It allows expectant canine mothers to choose what their bodies need during pregnancy.
For many dogs, Gorge and Fast feeding helps teach them to become self-regulating. But don’t get lured into a false sense of security. Self-regulation does not work for all dogs. According to Gabriele Joy of Canine Ascension, Labradors for example, are notoriously poor self-regulators.
You’ll need to determine if self-regulation is a fit for you and your dog. If it doesn’t suit you, skip it in favor for more traditional feeding schedules.
Have you heard of self-selection before? While not exclusively a feeding style, it has some similarities to self-regulation.
What is it exactly?
It’s the notion that animals instinctively know how to self-medicate. They will choose food or medicinal items that benefit them or that they need.
Here’s an example:
Jane Goodall was famous for her discovery made about chimpanzees in the wild. She learned chimps would choose to eat the same medicinal plants humans would to ease a stomach ache.
A popular documentary made about macaws in the Amazon rain forest had similar findings. These birds would flock in groups to eat clay. It counteracted the plant toxins that naturally occurred in their diet.
While it may sound far fetched, domesticated pets do the same. Its why your dog insists on eating specific blades of grass. Or why your cat rubs against peppermint plants. Even when dogs eat dirt and feces, it’s suspected they’re trying to correct some kind of deficiency. Change their diet and watch the behavior disappear.
This is self selection at work. It’s also called, Applied Zoopharmacognosy. And it’s a field “dedicated to enabling domesticated animals to select their own natural medicines.” These could be:
- herbal powders
- essential oils
Animals may eat, lick or rub themselves on these natural medicines.
This can be a complex topic so I don’t recommend you go rogue and let your dog ingest whatever they want. We both know that could be a disaster waiting to happen…
But this is another feeding style to consider learning more about if you’re interested.
Why Other Feeding Strategies Can Work With Raw Diets
Some of you may be wondering, why do dog owners bother using these other feeding strategies?
They better mimic nature.
All over the world, animals feed themselves.
Instinctively, they seem to know what their bodies need and when. You’ve seen it first hand if you watch Animal Planet, the Discovery Channel or Planet Earth.
With dogs, it’s no different.
Now, you might be thinking: “No way. The modern dog is not in touch with their natural instincts. They can’t possibly make their own food decisions.”
Sure, you’re right.
Dogs that eat processed pet food behave in the most unnatural ways. That’s because they’re eating the most unnatural foods. [Click to tweet]
But when a dog is eating a diet of fresh, REAL, raw foods and eating the way nature intended – many behave differently. Because raw diets are packed full of quality nutrition, many dog owners report that erratic, binging behaviors disappear.
We’re no different.
If you put a bag of cookies and potato chips in front of me, I would have no problem plowing through the entire bag. And I’d still want more. But if you put two chicken breasts and 4 cups of broccoli in front of me, I’d be lucky if I could finish half.
Real, high quality food provides the nutrition your dog needs and keeps them satiated.
While other feeding strategies are not necessary (I don’t use them myself) and they don’t work for all dogs, they can:
- Offer a different feeding option that may be less work (or more, depending how you view it)
- Allow your dog to eat in a natural way and can teach them to use their instincts
- Train your dog to listen to their body’s needs when it comes to food.
Consider This Little-Known Feeding Secret For Optimal Health
For the most part, the feeding schedules listed earlier are sufficient for most dogs. However, there’s one more I strongly suggest you consider and make part of your dog’s feeding routine.
And that’s fasting.
No, you’re not depriving or starving your dog.
Here’s how it works:
A strong immune system is a must-have for good health.
But every day dogs are exposed to a number of toxins. All of which present a challenge for their immune system, making them more susceptible to disease.
If you didn’t know already, 80% of your dog’s immunity is found in their gut.
Surprisingly, the gut does more than digest food. It can also identify and destroy viruses, bacteria, chemical toxins, parasites, damaged cells (including cancerous ones), and more.
When your dog is always eating and constantly digesting food, the immune system doesn’t have the time or resources for periodic house cleaning.
But when your dog stops eating, all the energy used to convert food into energy now goes into repairing the body instead. Fasting helps the immune system detoxify and restore balance. And with regular fasting, you can keep your dog in peak form. [Click to tweet]
Note: Fasting is for healthy, adult dogs only. Never fast a puppy.
Over To You
It’s your turn! Determine how often you’ll feed your dog a raw diet.
- Is your dog pregnant, soon-to-be pregnant or a puppy?
- Is your dog an adult or senior?
Dogs falling into the puppy or pregnant category eat multiple times per day. Adults and seniors eat 1-2 times per day (you choose which you’d prefer).
But remember: feeding frequency varies.
Ditch the idea that there is one correct way to do it. Several options are available to you. All can produce happy and healthy dogs – and carefree pet parents.
Leave a comment and tell us how often you feed your dog and why.