Taking responsibility for sharing your life with a pet brings about many decisions that must be made. Among these decisions, pet owners must choose what to feed and how much to feed. Kibble or raw, with or without grain, free feed or serve meals only at a certain time? This is a common question that many pet owners have differing opinions on.
Free feeding is the practice of making food available to your pet at all times. Some people who free feed offer the pet’s daily ration at the beginning of the day, while others ensure food is available to their pet at all times, and the dog or cat can eat whenever he/she chooses.
The number one reason pet owners choose to free feed is convenience. Choosing to be a responsible pet owner means doing what’s best for your animal, even if it isn’t the most convenient option. Most pet care professionals agree that meal time is the most beneficial feeding option for your pet. The Whole Dog Journal gives us five reasons not to free feed your pet:
- Meals help teach and maintain clean house habits. The downside to allowing your pet to ingest food at any time is that you never really know when the food will come out! This is especially important when training a puppy or a shelter dog, but should remain consistent throughout the pet’s life.
When dogs are fed on a consistent schedule, it’s easier for you to develop a bathroom routine. Consistent routines will put less stress on your pet, since he or she can expect to be fed and taken out at the same time.
- Appetite is an important indicator of health. Lack of appetite is often the first sign of a pet not feeling well. If your pet has grazed throughout the day, it’s difficult to determine whether your pet is not eating because he is full, or because he isn’t feeling well.
In contrast, if your pet has been conditioned to eating at a certain time, his appetite allows him to readily eat when food is presented. If your pet turns his nose up at dinner-time, you will have a better indication that he is not feeling well. This behavior may also indicate that it is time to switch your pet’s diet if you have been feeding the same food for a long period of time.
- Meal manners for multi-pet households. In homes with multiple dogs, it can make it nearly impossible to monitor each dog’s food intake. It can also create situations where assertive dogs are able to intimidate housemates into surrendering their food portion. If food is continually in the bowl, eating can become a competition between housemates, resulting in an excessive food intake that leads to obesity.
When dogs are fed meals at a particular time of day, it is easier to remind them to mind their business at dinnertime and keep them concerned with their own bowl rather than a housemate’s. This also makes the pet owner’s life easier when feeding different diets to different pets.
- Meals are more hygienic and prevent unwanted pests. If you free feed and have not experienced a pest problem, consider yourself lucky. Leaving food out day to day is an open invitation to ants, mice, and rats. Food should be kept in a sealed container to prevent pest-related issues.
- Meals can be used as valuable opportunities to learn life skills. Feeding rituals do not have to be intense training sessions. Feeding meals at consistent times teaches your dog to come when called, and can also be a good opportunity for you to control your dog’s excited impulses. Delivering the bowl to calm, well-mannered dog rewards his controlled behavior and not over-excited behavior. When a dog is motivated to eat, earning a bowl of food is a powerful reinforcer.
With a little tough love, it is pretty simple to transform your pet’s daily grazing into a pet that eats meals when they are offered. To read more on how to switch your dog from free feeding to meal time, please visit The Whole Dog Journal.