Dogs are treasured members of our families, and any caring dog owner will want to make sure their dog lives a long, happy, and healthy life. Healthy eating habits play a crucial role in this as unnecessary weight significantly affects a dog’s quality of life just as it does in humans.
Monitoring your dog’s intake can be a challenge in the busy world we live in, and many owners opt to feed their dogs one large meal per day.
Should dogs eat more than once per day? An adult dog should eat either once or twice a day, and most veterinarians recommend that they eat at least twice a day. For puppies, this is increased to at least three and varies according to breed. Other determining factors include the dog’s size, metabolism, and level of activity. The amount of food given per meal will also affect how often the dog should be fed.
While short-term feeding of adult dogs once per day might be okay, in the long-term it can cause serious health problems.
Health issues can include gastric torsion or hypoglycemia depending on the breed. In order to help you determine the proper amount for your pet, we will look at the various factors going into such a decision.
How Much Should I Feed My Dog Per Day?
Both canned and dry dog foods have feeding recommendation charts for daily portions. These averages can vary somewhat between brands. For canned dog food, serving recommendations for a 13.2 oz. can are about one can for every 10-15 lbs of body weight daily for adult dogs.
A cup of dry dog food is considered to be the rough equivalent of one can. If you are mixing both dry and canned food, make sure to mix it proportionately.
For example, you should mix every 1/2 can with 1/2 cup, or mix 2/3rds of a cup with 1/3rd of a can, etc. It is important to remember that these recommendations are averages per day and not per meal.
The amount that you will need to feed your dog will also have to be adjusted for your dog’s metabolism and level of activity (source). If your dog eats well below the recommendations, this is not a cause for concern in and of itself.
These recommendations are only averages, and many dogs eat only 60% to 70% of these amounts (source). A 10 lb dog might need anywhere from 1/2 cup to 1 ½ cups per day.
Make sure to take into account any treats that you feed the dog. Milk bones, in particular, are very high in calories (averaging 125 calories) and can be very fattening, being composed of wheat, bone meal, beef fat, and milk.
If you need help to determine the optimal weight for your dog, you can take them to your veterinarian. As a general rule, you should be able to see the dog’s waist while looking at them from the side or from above (it will help to have a look at this chart).
Ideally, you should not be able to see the dog’s entire ribcage, just the outline. If you cannot see the outline of the ribcage, and the waist is only slightly visible, then the dog is overweight (source).
Is it Okay if My Dog only Eats once a Day?
As long as the daily portion is about the same, it should be fine to feed a mature, healthy dog once a day for a short period of time. It may be necessary for convenience’s sake to feed the dog one large portion on occasion.
However, doing this over an extended period of time can result in digestive problems and should not be done with smaller breeds or puppies (source).
While some animal lovers say that it’s okay to feed your dog once a day, increasingly, vets are recommending that you feed your dog at least twice a day. Feeding your dog a large portion all at one time increases the length of time necessary to digest the food.
This means that the dog will tend to be sluggish for a greater portion of the day as they have to digest the food. Feeding smaller portions more frequently help to balance out their energy and caloric needs.
Not breaking up the dog’s meals on a regular basis can cause discomfort at best and life-threatening illness at worst. Your dog’s nutritional needs will depend on their breed, life stage, and size.
Some breeds, like giant breeds, are at a higher risk of severe stomach problems if consistently fed only one meal per day, and other breeds have trouble with their glucose level.
Considering the Breed and Size of the Dog
The number of times you need to feed your dog per day will vary greatly depending on the breed and size of the dog. Small and toy breeds range in weight up to 20 lbs.
Medium dogs weigh between 20 and 50 lbs, while large dogs weigh between 50 and 150 lbs. Among the larger breeds, giant breeds are regarded as weighing over 100 lbs.
Larger breeds will require a higher overall calorie intake compared to medium and smaller breeds but will need meals less frequently. Males will typically weigh more than females by as much as 30 lbs in the case of Great Danes.
Larger breeds include:
- Labrador Retrievers (Males 75; Females 65 lbs)
- Rottweilers (Males 115; Females 90 lbs)
- German Shepherds (Males 75; Females 60 lbs)
- Collies (Males 70; Females 60 lbs)
- Great Danes (Males 160; Females 130 lbs)
Border Collies are a common medium breed with males averaging 40 lbs while the females weigh around 35 lbs.
While larger breeds to not require meals as frequently as smaller breeds, you should not make a habit of feeding larger dogs only one large meal a day.
Large breeds and giant breeds can suffer from a dilation of the stomach if fed a large meal too soon before or after heavy activity. Over time, the stomach begins to twist, a process often referred to as gastric torsion. Gastric torsion can lead to such severe complications as “hypovolemic, endotoxic, and cardiac shock”.
Gastric Dialation Volvulus (GDV)
As a disease, severe dog bloating is known as gastric dilation volvulus (GDV), which is the second leading cause of death behind cancer for larger breeds.
Gastric torsion leads to decreased blood flow and can lead to a rupture if not properly treated in time. Possible symptoms of GDV include a swollen abdomen and frequent dry heaving (source).
The anatomy of especially large breeds makes it harder for them to release gases trapped in the stomach. Gas gets trapped as the dog wolfs its food down. If the dog is overfed on a regular basis, the stomach stretches and becomes floppy.
This floppiness makes the stomach more prone to close itself off and prevent the escape of gases. If such a loose stomach is filled with food, the added gas pressure can cut off blood circulation, producing GDV.
Small and Toy Breeds
Among the more common smaller breeds are Chihuahuas (5 lbs), Pugs (16 lbs), Maltese (6 lbs), Yorkshire Terriers (7 lbs), Miniature Poodles (12 lbs), and Pomeranians (5 lbs). Toy breeds are specially bred smaller versions of larger dogs.
It is much harder for a smaller breed dog to eat enough in one sitting to supply their needs throughout the day, so you will need to divide their daily portion up into at least three meals a day.
Smaller breeds, especially toy breeds, can develop hypoglycemia or low blood sugar since they are not able to store glucose as well. The higher brain mass to body weight ratio of toy breeds requires that they have high levels of glucose to maintain proper brain function.
In the case of puppies, it is crucial that you feed them more than once per day. Puppies need to be fed more often since they are growing at a rapid pace. Feeding them in small portions three or four times per day also makes it easier for them to digest their food (source).
High levels of calcium are necessary for bone development in puppies. Insufficient calcium in their diet can lead to early-onset arthritis or metabolic bone disease.
The precise amount of food that they need can be hard to determine since their metabolisms can vary by as much as 30%. You will need to monitor them carefully for any changes and may prefer to seek advice from your vet.
Puppies are weaned off their mother’s milk at around age three to four weeks. The weaning process takes about the same amount of time, and weaning puppies should be fed three to four times per day.
Starting at four months old, you can begin to feed puppies solid food about three times a day. After they’re four months old, you should slowly transition them to two meals per day (source).
Toy breeds require four to six meals per day for the first three months, while medium to large breed puppies require three to four meals. The amount you feed them needs to remain consistent from age 4 to 12 months.
Why you should not Free-Feed your Dog
Free-feeding is the practice of leaving food out at all times so that the dog can feed whenever it wants to. Whenever the bowl gets low, the owner will simply fill it back up.
While it is common for many owners to do this, such free-feeding is not recommended by vets as it can lead to overeating (source).
Some owners believe that keeping a dog’s bowl full will prevent food guarding when they have multiple dogs, especially if one of the dogs came from a situation where food was scarce.
However, the practice may actually increase bowl-guarding since the dog feels they have to constantly guard what’s in their dish.
The Benefits of a Regular Feeding Schedule
Having a relatively consistent schedule for meals has numerous benefits over free-feeding. For one, having a regular feeding schedule can lead to a more consistent and predictable bathroom schedule.
Another benefit is that the food does not sit in the dish as long which attracts fewer insects and provides fresher, healthier food for the dog.
The timing doesn’t have to be exactly the same, but it is wise to do it within a relatively consistent window of time.
Having a regular meal schedule two or three times a day also provides opportunities for training. Meals can be used to teach the dog self-control and to enforce simple commands like “sit,” “stay,” and “come.”
Dogs can get very excited during mealtime, but you need to take the opportunity to train the dog to exercise self-control.
Wait until they’re under control, whether in there sit or stay position or whatever you choose before you deliver the food.
Perhaps one of the most important benefits to a regular schedule is the ability to better determine when a dog is off their food compared to when a dog grazes throughout the day.
If it becomes necessary to take the dog to the vet, you will be better able to give a more accurate report on how little or how much the dog is eating. This is especially true for households with more than one dog.
For a quick review, see video below:
Should I be Concerned if my Dog only Eats once a Day?
It is important to be able to monitor your dog’s eating habits since a low appetite can be a good indicator that the dog may be having stomach problems.
If your dog only eats once a day and under half the daily recommended amount, you may want to consider taking the dog to the vet.
When a dog refuses to eat, this condition is referred to as anorexia. Unlike anorexia nervosa in humans, this type of anorexia concerns a total loss of appetite.
While a loss of appetite may only be temporary and harmless, it may also be a sign of serious disease. In addition to gastric torsion or bloating, these can include numerous infections, cancer, kidney failure, or liver problems. Oral pain might be another factor caused by a bad tooth or even a tumor (source).
If your dog is sick, the vet may place your dog on a special diet. Such a diet may include a special nutritious blend of food that your dog may not take to, especially if they’ve grown accustomed to snacks and people’s food.
If the dog does not adjust to the new diet at first, don’t try to force them to eat the new food. Check back with your vet to see what can be done. In severe instances, the vet may try appetite-inducing medication or tube feeding.
More benign causes for a loss of appetite would be a recent vaccination, anxiety, or your dog might just be finicky. Appetite loss from vaccines is common and typically does not last very long.
For a picky dog that has left their food to sit a while, sometimes a little warm water helps to make it more appetizing.
Anxiety can contribute to a dog’s loss of appetite and can be brought on by new and uncomfortable surroundings.
If for some reason you made the mistake of hitting your dog out of anger, this might lead the dog to lose its appetite for a period of time. Likewise, the presence of a more aggressive dog can put them off of their food.
The last of these might be resolved by enabling the dog to eat in a separate area that the other dog cannot access. Additional training of the more aggressive dog will also be necessary.
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For a mature and healthy dog, while it might be okay to feed them their daily portion all at one time for a while, this can cause serious gastrointestinal problems over a long period of time.
Smaller dogs and puppies, in particular, require multiple meals per day spread out in order to help them digest their food easily. Smaller dogs and toy breeds are known to develop hypoglycemia if their nutritional needs are not properly met.
Don’t just rely on food labels; take into consideration the activity and energy level of your dog. The food labels are based on averages, and your dog’s personal needs will vary. Watch your dog closely and adjust their meals accordingly.
This takes time and effort, but of course, it’s worth it. If you have any doubts, ask your veterinarian for help so that you ensure the health and well-being of your furry friend for a long time to come.