How often should I feed my dog?

How often should I feed my dog?
Learn about dogs

If you’ve just brought home a puppy or adopted a new furry friend, one of the most pressing questions you’ll have is “how often should I feed my dog?”. We all know dogs love their food and thrive on routine, so getting their meal times right is key to a waggy-tailed pup. So how often should you pop a bowl of Pure down for your dog to enjoy?

How often should I feed my dog?

How often you should feed your dog will depend on your dog’s age, size and health. Generally, an adult dog of any size or breed will need 2 meals per day, one in the morning and one in the evening.

However, some dogs will need to eat more regular meals than this. Young puppies need to eat 3 to 4 meals per day because they require more energy throughout the day but can’t manage a big bowls in one sitting. Meanwhile, some dogs with underlying health conditions, particularly illness affecting their digestive system, might need to eat smaller meals more frequently.

Some people choose to divide their dog’s food into 3 meals so their dog can have breakfast, lunch, and dinner in a routine similar to us humans. As long as the dog is still eating the correct portion sizes, and isn’t being overfed with an additional dinner, they can eat 3 meals a day.

There are no strict rules about how many meals a dog should eat each day, it’s far more important to make sure they eat the right volume of food overall.

The amount of food your dog eats will vary according to their age, size, neutering status, activity level, and health. Portions must be carefully managed as too little food can lead to an underweight dog suffering nutrient deficiencies, while too much food will cause weight gain, and with it, an increased risk of health conditions like diabetes.

The only definite rule about how often to feed your dog is that you should not free feed them.

Free feeding is when you leave food out for your pet all the time. Most dogs do not moderate how much they eat, and if you provide an endless stream of food in their bowl, they will just keep gobbling it up. This puts them at risk of becoming overweight, which has a detrimental impact on their overall health. Even if you put your dog’s entire day’s worth of food out at once, they will probably wolf it down in one go and won’t leave any for later.

Dividing food into meals

Just remember, if your dog has been advised to eat “1 cup of food” or “200g of food” these measurements are per day and not per meal.

In terms of Pure, a 15kg adult dog should eat 4 scoops of food per day. That means those 4 scoops should be divided up to make their usual number of meals. For example, if your dog eats 4 scoops of food per day, and has two meals per day, they’ll need 2 scoops at breakfast and another 2 scoops at dinner.

You can see how much your dog should be eating using our handy feeding guide, or you can ask one of our Nutritional Advisors who will happily discuss your dog’s perfect meal plan according to their individual needs.

What affects how often my dog should eat?

The main factor that affects how often your dog should eat is their age. Growing puppies need more energy at more regular intervals compared to adult dogs, so they require more frequent meals.

Activity levels also dictate how often your dog should eat, as a highly active dog will require more calories. However, even a very active working dog will still usually eat twice a day, the same as a pet dog. A working pup will just have larger meals to boost their calories.

Neutering and spaying lower a dog's caloric need, however a neutered dog will still be fed twice a day similar to an intact dog. They instead need the volume of food they eat to be adjusted to meet their caloric needs and prevent weight gain.

Giant breed dogs need to eat a large amount of food, and they sometimes have 3 meals per day to make their portion sizes manageable and to reduce the risk of bloating.

How often should I feed my puppy?

How often you should feed your puppy will vary according to their age and whether they are weaned or not.

Puppies before weaning

Puppies below 3 weeks of age will be entirely reliant on their mother’s milk. They feed as often as they need, and won’t go longer than 3-4 hours without a meal.

Beyond 3 to 4 weeks of age, you can introduce small portions of soft food several times a day for your pup. As well as this soft meal, the puppies should still be feeding on their mother’s milk.

At first you must offer soft food, made with milk, water and puppy food to create a porridge-like meal. Once the puppies figure out this is food and learn how to lap it up, you can start to decrease the amount of water and milk in the mixture each day over the course of a week, so the food becomes more solid. You should then gradually increase the amount of food in the puppies’ diet as they age to gently wean them off milk.

How often should I feed my puppy?

By the time the puppies are 4-6 weeks old, they should be able to eat solid puppy food, but they will still be feeding on their mother’s milk. Once the puppies are 6 weeks or older, you can feed them small meals of puppy food up to 4 times a day while they continue to drink their mother’s milk.

Weaned puppies

Once puppies are over 8 weeks old, they are usually weaned and ready to go to their forever homes. At this point they should definitely be eating solid food and eating small meals of puppy food 4 times a day, reducing to 3 meals a day once the puppy is 3-4 months old.

Once a puppy reaches 6 months old, they can eat 2 meals per day, and this routine will continue for the rest of their life.

However, if you have a small breed puppy like a Yorkshire Terrier, you might continue giving them 3 meals a day for a few more weeks. This is because small breeds are at risk of becoming hypoglycemic (low blood sugar) and need to keep their energy up. Although a good quality dog food with complex carbohydrates and fibre that provides slow-releasing energy should help to prevent this problem by keeping pup’s energy and blood sugar stable throughout the day.

Once your puppy reaches 12 months old, they should be eating 2 meals per day and should transition to adult dog food.

However, some giant breeds take longer to reach maturity and need to eat puppy food for longer, but they should still eat 2 meals per day once they reach their first birthday.

As with many things, your pup’s feeding schedule will vary depending on their individual needs, lifestyle, and the quality of the food they eat. You can talk to one of our expert Nutritional Advisors who can provide a personal mealtime schedule and portion size to suit your dog’s specific needs.

How often should I feed my old dog?

Once your puppy is eating 2 meals a day, this routine will usually remain for the rest of their life. Even a senior dog will typically eat 2 meals per day, following the same routine they had as an adult.

How often you feed your old dog will depend on their appetite and habits though. Some old dogs might not have a big appetite and leave some of their food behind. If they do, just take their bowl away and offer them the remaining food later to give them a chance to finish their meal.

Alternatively, you can adjust your old dog’s meals and offer them smaller but more frequent portions of food to make sure they’re eating enough to stay healthy and active.

Old dogs have lower caloric needs compared to adult dogs, and you should reduce the number of calories they are eating to prevent weight gain. This means adjusting the volume of food they eat or switching to a diet formulated especially for elderly dogs. They should still stick to their regular meal times though.

Are regular meals important for dogs?

Dogs love routine, and a regular meal time is no different. Having regular meals does more than keep your pooch happy though, it helps to provide a structure to their day, prevents anxiety, and helps to regulate their bodily functions. As you can expect, eating a meal kickstarts their digestive system and it often means your pooch will need the loo afterwards.

This is especially true for puppies, who usually toilet within 15-20 minutes of eating. Giving your pooch regular meals aids toilet training because you can predict when your pup needs to go, and you can take them outside and avoid any accidents.

How long can dogs go without food?

Dogs can actually go up to 3-5 days without food, given that they're drinking enough water. However, if your pet is on a hunger strike, don't wait this long before consulting your vet as there might be a serious reason behind why your pooch has lost their appetite.

Recap

Overall, it's agreed that around 2 meals per day is the best frequency for feeding a healthy, adult dog. However, every dog is different so work with your pup and the vet to find the best feeding routine to suit you both.

Dr Andrew Miller BVSc MRCVS

Written by: Dr Andrew Miller MRCVS

Andy graduated from Bristol University in 2010 and sees nutrition as a foundation for our pet's wellbeing and takes a common-sense approach. We are what we eat, and it shouldn't be any different for our pets.

Sources
  1. Portion size and meal consumption in domesticated dogs: An experimental study Physiology and Behaviour, 204, May 2019, 174-179, doi:10.1016/j.physbeh.2019.02.034
  2. An observational study of pet feeding practices and how these have changed between 2008 and 2018 The Veterinary Record, 186, (19), doi:10.1136/vr.105828

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