Dogs, by nature, are creatures of habit. There are several reasons why establishing and maintaining regular feeding and toileting times is important for your dogs health.
The main reasons to keep your dog are:
- Routine brings security for your dog
- Preventing overeating
- Allows you to monitor your dogs habits
- Maintain regular digestive rhythm
- Prevent attraction of pests and insects
As most dog parents/guardians/owners have experienced, most dogs will want to let out at the same time every morning, whether you are ready or not. Waking you from a comfortable sleep isn’t the only motivation they get, they also need the routine as a part of their daily structure. Predictability and stability reduce stress in your dog, and keep them from having nervousness, and fear which can manifest into chewing, urinating indoors or other disruptive behavior. Part of a regular routine includes feeding at the same time and in the same location, regular walks, and providing the dog with a place of their own – to escape to in times of anxiety.
This means that the home environment should be as stable as you can manage; with the same people around, similar times going outside, predictable bed and waking times, and regular meal times. Most adults have a regular waking time, so including letting the dogs out and feeding should be part of most routines. You can use a dog door to allow unmonitored entry and exit if you have a controlled environment outside, and use of an automatic feeder (that will dispense dry bulk food in measured portions at programmed times) can alleviate some of the demands of a morning routine.
The two schools of thought on feeding methods include: free feeding, where food is available to your dogs all day in unmeasured quantities, or some method of timed feedings. One practice in use is to present half of the dogs daily food portion for 15 – 20 minutes (longer if the dog is a slow eater), then removing the food until the second of the two feedings. This establishes a feeding routine. Two benefits to timed feedings are portion control and the ability to monitor consumption. Dogs that have a very large appetite may be prone to overeating. By leaving an uncontrolled portion of food available, they may continue to eat regardless of their nutritional needs.
Presenting food twice a day at regular times allows you to monitor consumption habits. A change in the speed, quantity, and intensity of consumption can indicate changes in health and the consultation of a veterinarian may need to be sought. For example, a dog who refuses food or only eats a small portion may need to change food or may need to be put on a feeding plan by a vet.
A common digestive problem with dogs is constipation. Having a regulated flow of food going through can help keep their digestive tract active and functioning. Should you notice a slow down in bowel movements, this could indicate the beginning of, or a forming blockage. The American Kennel Club gives an extensive list of common treatments for constipation on their site. It is a very comprehensive article.
As an aside, Mercola has a great article, with video, including graphics of dog poop and what the structure of each deposit can mean. They also give suggestions how you can correct your dogs diet based on their fecal outcome, and also when you should seek the advice of a professional.
Finally, leaving food unattended can attract pests and insects to the dogs dish. In urban areas, this attraction can neighbors animals, and rodents. Dry food is less prone to bacterial growth through the day, but the addition of wet food, sauces, toppings, or moistening dry food can cause a build up of bacteria that can be toxic to dogs. Ensuring food is consumed in a timely manner, so nothing remains in the bowl; and regular cleaning of food and water bowls, can eliminate unwanted attraction.
Using an automatic pet feeder, such as the PetSafe Healthy Pet Automatic Feeder can help alleviate the burden of keeping your dog on a regular schedule, help control portions provided, and -with the proper programming- only dispense the amount your dog will eat to keep their bowl empty during the day.
Check out this post for what you should be looking for in an automated feeder.
Pets4Homes – Sticking To A Routine to Help Reduce Stress In Your Dog
Petfinder – How Often To Feed Your Dog
PetMD – Why Free-Feeding Is The Wrong Choice For Most Dogs
AKC – Dog ConstipationAKC – Dog Constipation
Image: Beagle On A Sofa by alex_ugalek