Important feeding guidelines to extend your dog's life & why dogs pant at night
If you love your dog, you strive to be a dog parent extraordinaire and want your dog to live as long as possible.
An area that many dog parents have questions about is how often they should be feeding their pup, and what time of the day is best for feeding. This article will touch upon all the aspects of feeding, the physiological, the emotional, and the practical. I will also address the topic of what time of day to feed, and give you a few practical and potentially life-extending pieces of information.
Frequency of feeding from the perspective of canine physiology
Dogs are omnivores with a carnivorous preference, which means they generally prefer eating meat, bones, and organs but they also eat greens and other veggies, fruit, bugs and anything else they might find.
In practical terms, the roaming and hunting lifestyle of wild canines means that they have evolved on an irregular food supply. Dogs are capable of going without food and are capable of extended periods of fasting, lasting for days and even weeks if necessary, without any ill effects.
In recent years, fasting has been receiving increased attention from researchers as a means to improve health and extend lifespan in people.
Research has shown that fasting activates metabolic processes that allow the body to cleanse, repair, and slow down cell aging in general. In particular, intermittent fasting activates sirtuins, proteins responsible for metabolic regulation, and proper enzymatic function as well as cell and DNA repair.
Fasting also increases the levels of ketones in the bloodstream, which leads to the activation of detoxing and cell repair processes in the body making it more resilient to stress. The most dramatic health improvements noted have been the treatment and prevention of obesity, diabetes (regulating blood sugar), cardiovascular disease, neurological disorders, and cancer.
With repeated periods of fasting, the body is better at adjusting when challenges arise and will display a higher level of resilience to stress.
All of the above-listed benefits apply to humans and dogs alike, as they are equipped with identical metabolic and energy pathways. In practical terms, this means reducing the frequency of feeding to one meal per day provides undeniable health and lifespan benefits for your dog.
The emotional component of fasting
If you have lived with a dog for some time, I do not need to explain that feeding our dogs is a way of expressing our love and care for our canine companion.
Food makes dogs happy, and feeding our dogs makes us happy too.
The trouble arises when dogs, who have masterfully practiced the art of “the look” and “the eyes” for thousands of years, make us give them food and treats too frequently. In other words, dogs are capable of turning many humans into food dispensers providing food whenever they are asked.
You give a begging dog food once, and the habit will last a lifetime.
If a dog is used to getting fed two or three times a day, and also gets treats in between, their body will be ‘expecting’ food and skipping a meal will cause physical and emotional discomfort triggering a sense of food withdrawal.
Now that you understand the physiological benefits of intermittent fasting, it is in your dog’s best interest to gradually transition to one meal per day.
Two ways of transitioning to one meal per day:
- Start reducing the size of the extra meals and increasing the main meal until you end up feeding only once daily.
- Another option is to gradually bring the feeding times closer together until all of the daily meals merge into one.
Note: Ensure that your dog gets the same amount of food if they are at their optimal weight. If your dog is underweight or overweight, refer to my article on body weight here.
What to do if your dog is upset about reduced meals
You can choose to revert back to previous feeding habits, or, considering the health and longevity benefits of fasting, you can resist your dog’s requests and try taking them out for a walk or playing with them to redirect them from food.
As dog parents we have a choice about doing what is right for our dogs’ health and longevity, or not. I am certain that with firm love and perseverance, your dog will get used to the new feeding schedule quickly, and will be happier enjoying a greater degree of health. Frequent feeding and digestion preoccupy the body and limit its capacity for restoration, repair, and immune defence.
My personal experience with intermittent fasting helped me understand that the feeling of hunger by skipping a meal lessens in duration and intensity over time.
How often should I feed a puppy?
Because puppies grow extremely fast, I suggest feeding puppies an unlimited amount of food three times per day until approximately 6 months of age. Until they reach 6 months there is no real need to restrict food intake because puppies self-regulate food intake very well during this stage of development.
Starting at about 6-7 months of age, you may see your dog starting to skip meals. Generally, I recommend feeding your puppy twice a day between the age of 6-14 months, when you may transition to feeding one meal a day.
Note: Ensure that your puppy is getting a sufficient amount of food and refer to the body weight chart to learn when to increase or decrease the amount of food you give.
For more information on how much food to feed and how to create a balanced diet for your dog, click here to refer to the free Recipe Maker.
What is the best time to feed my dog?
You have plenty of flexibility with the time of day to feed your dog, however, there are a few things you should keep in mind for your dog’s safety.
Allow at least 3-4 hours between feeding and any vigorous exercise such as running, jumping, chasing, and intense play.
Gentle leash walks after a meal are fine, but beware of any jumping that could lead to bloat.
Based on my experience, feeding dogs after their morning walk is ideal. This will give your dog ample time to digest and rest before their afternoon or evening walk.
If you can’t feed in the morning after a walk, the next option is after their evening walk as early as possible. Digestion increases the metabolic rate and generates heat within the body, which sometimes leads to panting and night restlessness.
Should my dog’s feeding schedule be exact or random?
I often say that whenever we are unsure we should look at what nature does. Wild canines never eat at the same exact time day after day. Their food intake is random and depends on when food is available.
This is why random feeding within the span of a few hours makes the most sense from the evolutionary and also health benefits point of view.
I see many dog lovers adhering to a strict feeding schedule, which can be seen as an expression of care and love. However, an exact feeding schedule can be disruptive to the flow of your day if you need to be at work, run errands, or can’t feed your dog at the regular time.
Exact feeding also diminishes the flexibility and adaptability of dogs, and some can get very upset when they do not get fed. When I was a child, I remember our dachshund Gerda running around and slamming her food bowl on the ground demanding to be fed when the meal didn’t arrive at a particular time.
Dogs are no different than children, and a routine blended with flexibility makes them the happiest and most adaptable. There is no need to be enslaved by our dogs’ food addictions.
The final verdict
The best way to keep your dog happy and healthy is to feed them once per day, after the first walk, within an irregular period of several hours. If you have the courage to do so, fasting one or two days per week will add an extra benefit.
Thank you for caring for your dog, and sharing this article.❤️
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Dr. Peter Dobias, DVM has 30 years of experience as a veterinarian. He graduated as a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine in 1988 in the Czech Republic and obtained the Canadian Certificate of Qualification in 1995. He is currently licensed in the European Union, and his unique approach to healing and nutrition helps holistically minded dog lovers worldwide.
Dr. Dobias strongly believes that disease prevention, natural nutrition and supplements, the right exercise and a drug free approach to medicine can add years to your dog's life.
As a formulator of his all-natural vitamin and supplement line and co-inventor of natural, chemical free flea and tick control, FleaHex® and TickHex®, his unique healing system and products currently hold the highest independent five star customer rating. For more information click here.
Any general recommendations that Dr. Dobias makes are not a substitute for the appropriate veterinary care and are for informational and educational purposes only.