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Mealtimes vs Free feeding?

May 4th, 2005, 11:14 AM
Just wondering if anyone can answer a question for me. NO one I've spoken to as yet has been able to offer a saticfactory explanation. Care to give it a shot?

Why are meal times considered better for your dog than free feeding?

For example I free feed my dog, and she does great. She has even assigned herself about 3 meal times per day, plus a couple of small snacks. Maybe this is why I don't understand.

Also, why is it recommended to mix your dogs food at first when switching brands? I've been told it can upset tummies, but why? What is so very upsetting about a new food. Personally I wouldn't feed my dog food that would upset her tummy at all. I don't see how slowly making her used to it helps.

I'd love to hear what others are thinking. Any thoughts, opinions anecdotes and especially facts would be great!

May 4th, 2005, 11:23 AM
Free feeding (leaving the food on the floor for "anytime" eating) leads the dog to believe that the floor is the source of the food, and not the person. It can also lead, in some dogs, to a weight problem. Some dogs will eat as much as is put in front of them.

Mixing food makes it not as much of an impact on the system, therefore, less of a chance there'll be poop problems (too runny), not so much for tummy problems. For instance, if you go from a crappy food, like Dog Chow (which is full of corn and other fillers) to a good quality food, such as Wellness or Solid Gold, then the poops change because the quality of food has changed. If you mix it, its not so much of a shock on the bowels.

Not the best explaination, but the best one I can provide given my current state of thought.

May 4th, 2005, 11:25 AM
Not really "health" related, so moved to General Forums.

May 4th, 2005, 11:37 AM
I believe a lot has to do with the temperment of the dog. I free-feed Phoebe, and she has done as the OP has said - assigned herself meal times. We always make sure she sees us filling her bowls, so she knows the food is coming from us (actually, I have the 5yr old fill the bowl, and make her "wait" before she's allowed to investigate it, so she knows she's lower on the pack order than he is - but that's another story for another thread ;) ). BUT, my brother's LabX and my sister's BernerX would never be able to free-feed because they're gluttons. :D Also, if you have a dog that has health issues, it's easier to monitor their food intake if you're feeding only at meal times. Finally, if you're still training your puppy, it's easier to know when they're feeding so you can judge when to take them outside for a potty break. :p

As for mixing food, I believe Trinity is right. If you're changing the quality of food, then it might be a bit much for your dog's system to handle all at once - kind of like if you've been eating a vegetarian diet all your life and then suddenly start throwing nothing but hamburgers down your throat. Also, some dogs are allergic to some food (like chicken), so it's a good idea to start slowly to see if there's a reaction before going all out.


May 4th, 2005, 11:50 AM
Free feeding and switching foods both really depend on the dog you are dealing with.

About 20 years ago, I had a collie that I free fed. She only ate when she was hungry and kept her girlish figure for her entire life. She had a delicate stomach though and any time we changed food over, we had to be careful.

If I free fed my current dogs - they would be obese in a week! They always act like they are starving to death and barely slow down to chew at meal time. They also have iron stomachs and can eat anything without so much as a burp.

May 4th, 2005, 11:57 AM
I learned the hard way about switching food,

my sam has a very sensative stomach to new foods it seems and when I switched him from a food his previous owner gave him to nutro the results were horrible diarreah and a vet visit.

all was wall after a 12 hour fast and a new slower start to his new food.

and it set his housebreaking back to square one.

some dogs probably dont get bothered by food changes, but some do and that is the reasoning for changing food slowly.


May 4th, 2005, 12:18 PM
I also agree that the decision to free feed or have designated meal times depends on the dog. I could never have let my corgi x free feed as she was already overweight. She didn't have a set meal time - I would just put half of her alloted food in the bowl in the morning, and the other half in the evening. As for the new pup - she eats like there is no tomorrow and if I free fed her, I would have no idea how much she is actually eating since she dumps her bowl out quite regularly and I end up throwing some of it away. She also likes having canned mixed in with the dry. Our last newf was allowed to just free feed - I kept her bowl full at all times and she seemed to do fine.

As far as slowly switching the food - I know that when my son tried to switch his dog's food, he did it all at once and the dog had diahrea (sp?) really bad for the first two days. I know that I feel really gross if I have diahrea, so I would think that it would be the same for a dog. I am in the process of switching the new pup from pedigree to nutro and I have been mixing the two, and will slowly increase the amount of nutro and decrease the amount of pedigree. So far, no pooping problems! :D

May 4th, 2005, 12:33 PM
I used to have assigned meal times for my mal but he would sometimes miss them because he was sleeping and too tired to get up and eat.

Now I sorta free feed him. I give him 4 cups of food in his dish. Some days he eats 3 cups, somedays 4. He weighs 70 lbs and the guide on the bag says he should get 4 cups.

May 4th, 2005, 01:07 PM
My beagle used to be free fed dry food and then she would get a little bit of canned food in the evening. Bad idea for her! She will eat and eat and eat... We had to switch her to eating at set times, morning and evening to prevent obesity. Some dogs do well on free feedings, some do not, like the others said it sometimes depends on the dog itself. Having set times does let the dog know that you control its food and makes you alpha whereas free feeding does not. Controlled feeding times also allows for easier potty training pups. If you feed at certain times, then the dog will potty at the set time as well.

As for switching the food all at once, this can cause a shock to the dog's digestive system especially if your dog has a sensitive stomach, this can cause diarrhea and tummy upsets. This apparently doesn't affect my beagle much because she has stolen other dogs' food and has never had diarrhea. I plan on switching her food soon and will be doing it slowly just to make the adjustment easier on her system though.

May 4th, 2005, 02:14 PM
I work in the premium pet food business and we always recommend when you start with a new pup to feed the 15 minutes down rule. Starting at three meals a day then down to two meals a day for life after six months of age. Why.......? Because you can't potty train a puppy who eats all day. And leaving food out all day leads to (in some dogs) finicky behavior. If they know the food is always there they tend to pick during the day often rather than eat the whole meal....use the potty (yard) and then move on. Dogs are basically opportunistic feeders. They eat when the eatings good. And so true what you all said, most dogs don't have that thing in the brain that signals the belly....that says I am FULL NOW. They would eat till there is no tomorrow. Many times people who write here and say my dog won't eat, I have tried dozens of brands of food etc. Ask if the dog was every free fed or controlled fed? Most have been trained to be finicky by free feeding them. I believe in only dry food. I don't do canned food. Its like giving a kid McDonald's for a week and then saying okay now we are only going to eat chicken and green beans this week. No way mom! :D

May 4th, 2005, 02:33 PM
I actually do know a couple of dogs that can free-feed and keep their weight normal. I can personally guarantee that Beagles, mini Dachshunds and American Eskimo dogs do not fit into this category. These breeds are seriously food driven. My Eskimo is fed breakfast, sometimes lunch, dinner and of course his cookies. He also gets selected people food - not the variety of my former hounds though due to a more sensitive tummy. We divide his recommended food allowance over his many feedings and so far at just over a year his weight is perfect. Somehow my hounds kept their weight down as well - but free feeding would have resulted in very tubby doggies.

Re changing food perhaps it is easiest to understand if you compare how your body responds to a change in diet. Say extra fibre - fruits, vegetables etc. Or the reverse. Same thing applies.

Cactus Flower
May 4th, 2005, 04:13 PM
Raj and Chloe are free-fed, and have pretty much just set their own schedule. They eat a little snack in the afternoon. Before I got to bed, they eat their full meal. Neither are overweight, and neither have any trouble remembering who put the food there in the first place. In fact, if the bowls are empty, they just come to me and stare until I understand what the problem is :) .

I definitely agree that it depends on the dog.

May 4th, 2005, 04:22 PM
Marty and Minou have a small dish of dry food (about 1/4 cup) for nibbling

But they get their wet food meals twice a day, once before Colin goes to work, and once after our dinner.

But then again, they are cats - and that could be another kettle of fish . . . :crazy: :crazy: :love: :love:


May 4th, 2005, 04:33 PM
Depends on the dog. Some dogs will eat until they die, others will control themselves and only eat when they are hungry. I don't believe neither is bad but either can be bad if the dog gets more and more overweight.

It all depends on who is better at controling the weight, I guess. Is it you or can your dog handle it?

As for switching, I think it was already answered but it too depends on the dog. Some dogs do ok with a 4 day switch others need over 2 weeks. Depends on the sensitivity of the doggie's belly.

May 5th, 2005, 08:32 AM
Well it seems to me the general consensus is: depends on the dog, when in doubt...mealtimes. I had been given the impression that you fed mealtimes, or you were taking terrible care of your dog, and I couldn't make sense of it.
Thanks, for the explanation and stories. (and by all means continue - I love reading it)

I guess my girl has never had a problem with free feeding because thats all she's known. So to her there is no need to eat all of her food at once, because it is always gonna be there. In fact when she runs out she comes to tell us she needs more food, so she definitely knows it comes from us, not the floor.

But I can see how a dog could make the "it comes from the floor" mistake. I had never heard this reason before, and it makes a lot of sense.

So does the reason for potty training. We never even thought of this because Kes is not house trained in the conventional sense. She uses pee pads indoors, so we had to teach her only where to pee&poo, not when.

The reason I wanted to know is because she went to the vet for an upset tummy (new treats - they looked like they are made from plastic, not food :yuck: welcome to the garbage). Anyway our normal vet was not in so we saw someone else. He told us right out he didn't like how we were feeding her, and we should switch to mealtimes, but the only reason he he gave was "it promotes nibbling", so we went home, tried it and Kes got terribly upset with us, so the food went back down.

We have since decided that the vet we saw is a butthead, he couldn't even give us a decent explanation, so as I see it he either doesn't know much, thinks he shouldn't have to explain himself, or that we are too stupid to understand any explanation he might give.

Sorry for the long post, I am cursed with infrequent, but giant posting technique.

May 5th, 2005, 08:52 AM
With Daisy, we started out with meal times, and started noticing that her dish wouldn't be empty for the next day. We were concerned at first, but the vet said she was fine. I always thought dogs were "gourgers", but we've found out (and as seen above), this isn't always true. Now, we fill Daisy's bowl when it is empty. She'll go to her bowl, eat a few mouthfuls then leave it. If we get home, and forget, usually by 7:30 pm, Daisy starts knocking her bowl against the wall until we fill it. People still ask us if she's underfed, so we know there isn't a weight problem with her grazing. And I keep an eye on her to make sure she knows where she stands in the pecking order (she's behind me, and I'm behind my wife's cat).

And the stomach thing is absolutely true. I've had dogs that could eat shoes for lunch, and come back for the socks for dessert. Then there's Daisy, who can get sick from my Grandpa feeding her a piece of cheese under the table. (usually that's how he gets busted, when it's time to go clean up after her).

May 5th, 2005, 09:06 AM
Raj and Chloe are free-fed, and have pretty much just set their own schedule. They eat a little snack in the afternoon. Before I got to bed, they eat their full meal. Neither are overweight, and neither have any trouble remembering who put the food there in the first place. In fact, if the bowls are empty, they just come to me and stare until I understand what the problem is :) .

I definitely agree that it depends on the dog.

I agree with you, too funny Blaze will do the same thing to me if the dish is empty..I've never feed any other way and my dogs have never been the type to eat it all up and want more, they eat when they want but there is always food down.. the bag will last about 10-11 weeks they don't eat alot. I will give supper just for BLaze to take his meds but food is there all the time. :)