Free Choice Feeding vs. Scheduled Meals for Dogs


Dog with food

If you're a member of any dog related forum or discussion group you'll probably find some heated debates on the topic of Free Choice Feeding versus Scheduled Meals for dogs. If you examine the various arguments you'll probably find that there are some good reasons for both, That said though, it is important to examine each school of thought as a whole in order to determine whether it is appropriate and ensures the continued health and well-being of your dog.

Let's take a look at the two sides of the debate and weight up the pros and cons of each method:

Free Choice Feeding

Pros

  • Food is freely available so dogs do not feel pressured to eat when they are not hungry.
  • Some dogs will eat only as much as they need according to whether or not they are hungry this does not apply to ALL dogs however.
  • Feeding this way is more convenient for the owner as they simply need to top up the food bowl when it is running low.
  • Some proponents of this method believe that free choice feeding limits food related aggression but there is no real factual evidence to support this.

Cons

  • Free choice feeding can lead to obesity and obesity related diseases as many dogs will overeat when they are bored.
  • Owners cannot monitor the dog's eating patterns as easily as those feeding scheduled meals and may not notice that a dog has not eaten which is usually the first indicator of illness.
  • Free feeding puppies can make house training difficult as it is difficult to tell when the puppy eats and needs to go out.
  • Food may become less motivating when used in training it's freely available so there is nothing special about it.
  • If multiple dogs are present one dog may eat excessively while the others do not get adequate nutrition.
  • Free choice feeding may result in overeating and increase the chances of your dog experiencing bloat, which you may be home to detect.
  • Leaving food out in the open is unhygienic and may encourage insects and other pests to be snacking at your dog's food bowl, not to mention that food may build up bacteria and spoil if left out for too long.

Scheduled Meals

Pros

  • Meals and actual caloric intake can be measured; this helps with weight control and prevents obesity.
  • It will be immediately evident if a dog is sick and therefore doesn't want to eat, assisting you in obtaining the required veterinary care as soon as possible.
  • This can assist in house training puppies as you will know when they have eaten and can estimate when they will need to go outside to relieve themselves.
  • If you have more than one dog you can separate them if necessary to ensure that they all consume their own food and are not eating more or less than they should be.
  • Food and treats can be used as a powerful motivator during training.
  • Feeding revolves around you this creates a good bonding experience between you and your dog.
  • If your dog experiences bloat for any reason, you will more than likely be home to notice and assist in treating it.

Cons

  • You may unknowingly be over or under feeding your dog if you don't read the packaging labels.
  • It is a more rigid regime that requires the owner to take time out of his/her schedule.
  • Your dog may feel like he/she has to eat even though he is not hungry although this is limited by leaving the bowl down for an hour or so after meal time.

As you can see from the above, fixed meal schedules benefits far outweigh those of free choice feeding methods, which have some pretty concerning "cons". As a dog owner, it is your responsibility to always ensure the good health and well-being of your pet and if that means investing time and effort into monitoring your dog and what he/she eats in order to achieve that, then so be it.