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How Much to Feed Your Dog and How Often

1 of 7 in Series: The Essentials of Dog Care for a Healthy Pet

The label on the bag of dog food provides a guideline on the amount of food recommended for your dog. It’s just a start, though. Dogs who are highly active, pregnant, or nursing puppies have higher requirements than the average couch-potato canine.

You need to feed puppies more frequently than older dogs — three or four times a day, depending on their age. In the wintertime, indoor dogs often need less food because they’re less active, while outdoor dogs need more because staying warm burns calories.

A good guideline is to feed two-thirds of the daily ration in the morning, and the remaining one-third in the evening. Since dogs have a tendency to sleep after meals, this technique is especially useful for animals that have to stay alone all day — a sleepy dog is less likely to chew or bark. (If you’re working a night shift you want to turn this around and feed the larger portion at night, before you head for work.)

Another reason to divide your dog’s daily ration is that doing so helps your dog avoid gastric torsion, otherwise known as bloat. This potentially lethal medical emergency can hit many larger breeds and can be triggered when a dog wolfs down a huge meal

Some people can get away with letting the dog decide when and how much she eats. Keeping a constant supply of kibble available (known as free-feeding) works in some cases, usually in single-dog households where there’s no competition for food.

If your pet can maintain her own weight and you aren’t having related behavioral problems like house-soiling, then free-feeding is fine. But realize that you will not be able to pick up on some subtle changes in your pet’s eating habits that may be an early indicator of health problems.

You also won’t be able to use giving your dog food — after she sits — as an effortless way to reinforce your role as pack leader. Also, it’s hard to keep kibble fresh when free-feeding, and the constant availability of food may attract other animals through the doggy-door.

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