It can start real early in the morning. It’s still dark out but your doggo is more than ready for some grub. Be it nails scratching on a floor or a low whimper, they’re (not-so-subtly) letting you know that it’s time to eat! As the day goes on, many dogs have a good idea when meals are approaching. If their dinner is 5 pm, some of those food-motivated pups will be hanging around the bowl a few minutes before, giving the owner the signal they’re ready.
Tick tock, mom/dad!
Here’s the thing – dogs don’t necessarily have to eat at a certain time of day. We adapt them to our own schedules but their brothers and sisters out in the wild didn’t exactly live that way.
“Dogs, while they are omnivores in terms of their nutrient requirements, they are what we call ‘facultative carnivores,’ which means they eat big meals and then fast for many days,” says Dr. Kate Shoveller, a companion animal nutrition professor in the University of Guelph’s Animal Biosciences department.
“If your dog doesn’t have any health issues, you can feed them just once a day.”
The frequency of how often we feed our dogs is one of many misconceptions pet owners might have. We not only need to do know when they should eat but also, what kind of food, how much, and why. And all of those factors depend on a variety of other things, like your dog’s health, age, activity level, and even breed.
One of the most important things to consider as we try keep our furry friends healthy is food intake. There is a ton of information available about how much protein, fat, and carbohydrates dogs should have.
But here’s a simple fact – overfeed your dog, and they will get fat.
“You should watch your dog’s weight and you should be mindful of what the recommendation in on the bag or can of food that you’re feeding them,” says Dr. Shoveller, who was a senior research and development scientist at the Iams Company before coming to the U of G. “That’s where you start. If your dog is gaining weight, you need to reduce that amount of food.
“I tell people when they’re starting a new food, feed to the recommended guidelines on the side of the bag for a few weeks and monitor whether the dog has gained or lost weight. If you don’t have a scale, it’s easy – you can take some measurements, like doing an abdominal circumference.
“If they’re gaining weight, reduce the food.”
Use Your Tools
Healthy body weight is what all owners should be striving for when it comes to their dogs. Like Dr. Shoveller says, the label on a bag/can provides plenty of information on what’s best for your particular pet. Food recommendations are based on body weight, catered from small to large breed dogs.
There is also some fantastic information available to owners online. Companies like Purina and Royal Canin have body condition scoring charts posted. You are asked to look at your dog from above and the side, with one of the main questions being ‘Can you see their waistline?’
“Do they have a figure or are they more of a tube?” Dr. Shoveller asks.
She notes that dogs are under our care and it’s our responsibility to reduce that food and be the strong one in the household.
“It’s not easy,” she says. “And we know there are dogs that do things like counter surf or get into the garbage. It’s hard to put a dog on a weight-control diet but you have to find other outlets for them. You can give them things to chew on like Kongs.”
Focus on fitness
A food plan is only part of the equation. If you have a doggie that needs to trim down a bit, it’s important to know that diet alone cannot result in weight loss unless it’s severely restricted. This is difficult to do in dogs so you have to exercise them to help maintain their health and well being.
“That’s a requirement for dogs just like it is for humans to have a healthy, happy, optimum lifestyle,” says Dr. Shoveller, also adding that the more active a dog is, the more nutritional requirements they might have.
She uses Olympic swimming legend Michael Phelps as an example. He ingested a ridiculous number of calories per day – but he had to.
“He worked out more in a day than some of us do in a month,” Dr. Shoveller says. “So it’s not surprising he needed a lot more food to fuel that energy-demanding exercise. With dogs who are active, they will require more food to meet those demands.”
Pups sure do love their snacks. And let’s face it, we love doling them out. But it’s important to be diligent and not just let our dogs go nuts when it comes to these supplemental calories. Dr. Shoveller has a few tips on the front, the first of which is avoiding energy-dense snacks. There are many items you can use for treats that limit those calories but can also help deliver micronutrients – apples (slices, not whole, and no core!), carrots, and cucumbers, to name a few.
“If you’re dog eats these and think it’s a treat, this is a great way to go,” says Dr. Shoveller. “They are almost entirely water. Apples and carrots also provide a chewing material. They are all low-calorie and can be entertaining.”
Be aware of how many snacks you’re providing, especially if you do end up offering one of those higher-calorie options.
“Another common treat I see in training is cheese,” says Dr. Shoveller. “It’s extremely energy-dense. If you’re using cheese as a training aid, on days when you use more, you should really decrease the amount of food that you give your dog that day.”
As owners, the goal should be to feed our dogs so that they stay healthy and happy. Weight should be monitored closely, though we have to understand that conditions do indeed change. And when they do, it’s up to the human to adapt.
“We might spend less time outside in the winter and our energy requirements go down,” Dr. Shoveller says. “It’s the same for dogs. If you’re feeding them the same amount but you’re taking them on shorter walks and staying inside more, they will need less energy and less food.
“It’s really about going up a little bit and down a little bit every time their weight fluctuates.”