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Recently, I came across an infographic that popped up in a few of the online spaces I participate in. This image suggests that feeding your dog once per day is really the most ideal feeding schedule, carrying with it several health benefits over free-feeding and mutli-meal feeding.
Of course, I always recommend dog owners (actually: everyone, and for every topic) look into claims they see online rather than immediately taking infographics as fact. As is often the case, there is too much nuance on the topic of once-per-day feeding to capture in a single “fun-fact” type image.
In my article, Should I Free-Feed My Dog? I have already gone over the drawbacks to free-feeding dogs, which is why I so strongly recommend that dog owners take responsibility for the amount of food their dogs consume throughout the day.
But after you figure out how much your dog should be eating in a day, how do you know how often to feed your dog? How many meals per day is too little? And should you, as the infographic I mentioned suggests, really feed your dog just once per day?
Is It OK to Feed a Dog Once a Day?
It’s hard to argue that dogs like to eat as often as possible; it’s just how their brains are wired. However, in most cases it is still perfectly OK to feed your dog just once per day, as long as that meal contains sufficient calories and nutrients for the entire day.
At Lugaru K9 Training, for instance, dogs typically have one meal near the end of the day, but they are often hand-fed a portion of their daily food through training throughout the earlier portion of that day. Through their training, they have chances to get parts of their meal earlier, while also keeping their food drive high. Regardless of whether they are hand-fed or have multiple meals, though, the dogs are still eating the same appropriate amount of food.
I sometimes have clients worry that it might be abusive to feed your dog just once per day. This is definitely not the case, as again your are providing adequate care for your dog whether they have a single large meal or if they are free-fed throughout the day. If your dog is eating enough to sustain a healthy body, you are doing a great job.
Obviously, many dogs would prefer to eat multiple meals. Actually, many dogs would prefer to spend their whole day eating. But part of responsible dog ownership is controlling these resources and making wise decisions on behalf of the dog. Just as it’s on the dog owner to control how much their dog eats, it’s also on us to make a decision on how frequently is appropriate for you and your dog.
In most dogs, feeding once per day is a perfectly acceptable feeding schedule, assuming the amount and quality being fed is appropriate for the specific dog.
Is Feeding a Dog Once a Day Healthier?
There is some reasoning to suggest that dogs eating once per day is healthier than some other feeding schedules.
In Peters’ Der Eskimohund, it is noted that among the Inuit it is not uncommon to find much longer fasting periods of a few days at a time for working dogs, in order to accustom those dogs to the irregular feeding schedules that may occur during their work. These dogs remain fit, healthy, and seem to be happy despite their non-standard feeding schedule.
In these situations, dogs are feasted at their mealtimes, consuming enough to sustain themselves for days at a time. This feeding schedule in many ways emulates the eating patterns of wild dogs such as the grey wolf, as observed by Ketona dog food creator’s experiences studying them and described in his book Dogs, Dog Food, and Dogma.
Similarly, while the author of Der Eskimohund goes on to not recommend this prolonged fasting schedule for average pet dogs (and nor do I, for that matter), he does mention soon after that the adult dogs in his own kennel are fed only once daily, and compared their good health to their wild counterparts.
In Intestinal Absorption: A Search for a Low-Residue Diet, it is shown that, in dogs, a once-per-day feeding schedule results in fewer and smaller bowel movements. This suggests that in a single-meal feeding routine, dogs absorb more of their meal than if they are fed the same amount of food across multiple meals. Meaning, dogs draw more benefits from their food when fed just once per day.
Anecdotally, this is also seen across the raw feeding community, as it’s almost universally expected that a dog on a raw diet will absorb and utilize most of their food intake, resulting in smaller and fewer bowel movements overall.
In fact, feeding your dog just once a day may also help them lose weight by giving them a daily fasting period in which their body needs to adjust to having burnt through their immediate energy source: their meal. Intermittent fasting is a popular weight loss tactic in humans with some legitimate research behind it, and it may actually help overweight dogs who are otherwise metabolically healthy.
Pair that with a calorie deficit diet of a low-carbohydrate dog food like Ketona Chicken or Salmon recipe, and very overweight dogs can end up burning through a lot of their body fat reserves much quicker than you might by reducing calories alone.
When Should You Feed a Dog Once a Day?
As mentioned earlier, I feed most of my own personal dogs once per day near the end of the day. I do this in conjunction with hand-feeding for training purposes throughout the day, and I end up recommending this schedule to a lot of my clients. I like the timing of this because it keeps food drive high throughout the day, and gives dogs a long rest to digest any leftovers as their main meal.
This schedule works well for me, and has helped many of my clients with getting more engagement from their dogs, but that doesn’t mean once-a-day feeding is universally right for everyone.
How do you know if a once-daily feeding schedule is right for you and your dog? It all comes down to exactly that: you and your dog. By this I mean that your feeding schedule should be determined by your specific needs and the needs of your companion.
If you are someone who has a busy schedule and feeding once per day is most convenient for you while not negatively impacting your specific dog, this is a perfectly adequate reason to pursue this kind of schedule.
However, there are some considerations to keep in mind when deciding whether or not to feed your dog once per day that I like to remind anyone considering changing their dog’s feeding schedule.
Firstly, how much does your dog need to eat? I have one personal dog who eats twice per day because of the absolute quantity he needs to take in during the day. This dog, Milo, has a muscular frame and a very high metabolism, and he usually eats twice the recommended amount for a dog his weight to sustain his mass. If you have a dog that needs a whole lot of food, it may be better to spread feeding out slightly to prevent digestion issues and discomfort.
Similarly, the shape of your dog may come into play when deciding how often to feed. This is another reason Milo, a doberman-bully breed mix, eats twice while my other dogs eat once. Given his breeds, Milo has a very tucked waist and a very deep chest, which puts him at a higher risk for bloat.
Bloat is a condition when a dog’s stomach fills up and ends up twisting. Bloat is common in dogs with deep chests, such as Great Danes, Setters, and yes Dobermans like Milo. This is always considered a medical emergency, and is something I’d actively like to avoid putting Milo through.
So, given how much Milo needs to eat in a day and the possibility of him getting bloat if it’s fed that volume all at once, I instead chose to break up his food into a second meal to ensure he gets enough while also staying healthy.
Some dogs won’t have an issue quite so extreme, as again Milo has a pair of circumstances that make once-daily feeding not as ideal. However, you may also consider a slow feeder bowl, which Milo also uses to reduce the likelihood of bloat occurring. This is my favorite slow feeder bowl, available here on amazon.
Lastly, you may need to adjust your feeding based on how your dog reacts. For example, in my article Why Does My Dog Throw Up in the Morning? I talk about my experiences with another personal dog, Grimm, who initially had a problem of throwing up early in the morning from drinking too much water.
He was on a dry food at the time and was being fed right before bed. This meant that any undigested dry food was mixing with all the water he drank in the morning, which upset his stomach and resulted in morning vomiting. While I still kept him eating once per day, I added some moisture and moved his feeding time to a little earlier in the evening, which fixed the issue entirely.
These are the same considerations to keep in mind for your own situation, and depending on you and your dog you may need to pivot slightly as you change your routine. If your dog can comfortably eat once per day and it is easiest on you, there’s no specific reason to feed multiple times per day. If your dog has minor issues with a change of schedule, it may still be worth it to pivot like I had to with Grimm in order to make it work for you.
However, if your dog has legitimate health reasons why less frequent and larger volume meals are not ideal, it is in their best interest to feed at least twice per day, even if it is inconvenient for you to do so.
For situations where you are very busy and can’t get away to deliver a second or third meal to your dog yourself, consider employing help or even investing in a timed automatic feeder which can help automate the process for you. My favorite timed dog food dispenser is the PETLIBRO feeder, available here on amazon.
At the end of the day, it comes down to your (and, of course, your dog’s) specific needs. It is your prerogative to experiment with different schedules to find what works for you!