Dogs are known for being good eaters compared to other animals. Therefore, it's only natural to be a bit concerned if your pet seems less interested in his meals than other dogs. Some dogs pick at their food, while others only eat once a day instead of enjoying both meals you set down. Veterinarian Rebecca MacMillan looks at normal dog feeding behavior, some tips to increase appetite, as well as some cautions to keep an eye on.
Dr. Rebecca MacMillan
Last Updated: August 31, 2022 | 6 min read
This article was written by a veterinarian, but it should not serve as a substitute for a visit with a local vet.
Wild dogs and wolves are scavengers and eat when food is available because they don’t know when they might find their next meal. They adapted to eating vast amounts in one sitting, gorging while they had the chance. Leftovers (if there are any) are then buried in the ground to try and preserve them for a later time.
Domestic dogs have evolved considerably from their wild counterparts – a tiny chihuahua with its small stomach probably tends to graze a bit more daintily than a wolf, for example. Veterinarians recommend feeding your adult dog twice daily, with puppies needing their daily rations divided into three or more meals a day.This tends to help with satiety (the feeling of fullness), leading to less begging for food between mealtimes, as well as ensuring your dog is receiving adequate nutrition.
When you give your dog his meal, you should make sure he is somewhere quiet so that he can eat undisturbed and without competition or distraction from others. Fresh water should always be available too.
- What Should I Look for in a Diet?
- Is It Ok To Feed a Dog Once a Day?
- What Should I Do If My Dog Doesn’t Eat?
- When Should I Take My Dog to the Veterinarian?
- Frequently Asked Questions
- Final Thoughts
What Should I Look for in a Diet?
You should look for a good-quality commercial diet that’s suitable for your dog’s age and sizeto ensure he gets the right balance of nutrients. Select a food that is certified by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) to give you extra confidence. AAFCO is a voluntary membership association made up of individuals who regulate animal feed sales and distribution. It helps to define common ingredients and nutritional requirements for pet foods.
Dog food manufacturers ordered ingredients by decreasing amounts. A good-quality animal protein source (either whole meat or meat meal) should make up the bulk of the diet, with lower amounts of carbohydrate ingredients. A complete dry kibble should give your dog all of the nutrients he needs, but some dogs may find wet food a bit more palatable, so consider mixing this with his biscuits if he is fussy.
Is It Ok To Feed a Dog Once a Day?
It’s not ideal to only offer food once a day – veterinarians might recommend splitting your dog’s daily rations into two separate portions. This tends to keep dogs more satisfied and can help with weight control. We know that a healthy dog’s stomach takes around 6 to 8 hours to empty, which means that a dog fed in the morning is likely to be hungry by evening time. However, some pet parents like the convenience of feeding once daily.
It is worth noting that there is a slightly increased risk of gastric dilatation-volvulus (GDV)when feeding a dog one large meal a day rather than a couple of smaller ones. A large meal is more likely to cause gastric distension and bloating, increasing the chances of this serious condition occurring. However, there are other risk factors at play, such as the breed and size of the dog. Feeding one large meal doesn’t mean your dog will get a GDV, but it is something to watch.
Some schools of thought suggest that only feeding once daily could lead to a hungrier and more irritable dog, contributing to aggression or anxiety issues.
Don’t forget that it is advisable to feed young puppies even smaller meals, ideally splitting their rations into three or four portions a day. They wouldn’t cope well with one big meal, as their small tummies couldn’t hold all their daily rations in one go.
What Should I Do If My Dog Doesn’t Eat?
You could try the following tips to encourage him to eat better.
Feed Your Dog in a Quiet Place
Dogs are easily distracted and can struggle to concentrate on eating, especially if several other animals or people are around. Try and feed them on their own in a quiet area of the house where they can focus on their meal in peace.
Make Sure He Has a Good-Quality Diet
Ensure your dog has good-quality food with high protein and lower amounts of carbohydrate and filler ingredients. Foods that contain a healthy portion of animal fat rather than vegetable fats tend to be quite tasty to dogs too.
You might also consider adding a fresh, human-grade food like The Farmer’s Dog to the mix. It is prepared in a USDA-certified kitchen with real meats and fresh produce, then fresh-frozen and shipped to your door, based on the personalized recommendations for your unique dog.
Try Moistening The Kibbles
Some dogs prefer the texture of moist food. You could try soaking the kibbles in some warm water for a short time before feeding to soften them.
Feed Your Dog After Exercise
Exercise helps stimulate appetite, so consider offering your dog his food after he’s been out for a walk. Feeding after rather than before activity may also help decrease the risk of gastric dilatation-volvulus.
Add Some Wet Food
If you have already tried the other tips above, you could try adding some wet food to his kibble to encourage him to eat. Many dogs find wet foods quite palatable, and they contain a high protein content. However, they come with the disadvantage of being a bit smellier and messier to feed.
Establish a Routine
By setting a routine, you can help your dog know what to expect from his day, and he can start to anticipate mealtimes. You should put your dog’s food down, and if he doesn’t eat it within 15-20 minutes, then you should take it away again. Offer him his next bowl of food at the next scheduled mealtime, when hopefully he is feeling a bit hungrier.
Don’t leave food down all day as it establishes poor habits and can lead to your dog picking and grazing. This makes it harder to monitor his intake. Dogs are also not very good at self-regulating, so weight gain could occur.
When Should I Take My Dog to the Veterinarian?
You should always take your dog to the veterinarian if you have any concerns, especially if it’s unusual for them to have a reduced appetite. Many dogs often only eat one meal a day, whereas, for others, this could be a new behavior indicating ill health.
Other symptoms that would indicate a problem include:
- A painful abdomen
Your vet will start by taking a more detailed history from you and performing an examination of your dog to check him over. If your vet has any concerns, they may recommend further tests to pinpoint the cause of your dog’s reduced appetite. This could include blood and urine samples and diagnostic imaging like x-rays or ultrasound.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the best time to feed a dog?
Vets recommend feeding your dog twice daily if possible, usually in the morning and evening. But, make sure he doesn’t eat too late because dogs need a few hours to digest their food and go to the bathroom if needed before bedtime.
Should I feed my dog before or after a walk?
It is thought that feeding your dog after a walk has several benefits. Exercising your dog on an empty stomach may help reduce the risk of bloating and gastric dilatation-volvulus. Additionally, walking him before mealtimes may help stimulate appetite and make him more likely to eat when he gets back home. This can be helpful with picky eaters.
What is the best feeding schedule for dogs?
You should feed adult dogs two meals a day, one in the morning and one in the early evening. This is usually before and just after work for most people. Puppies need an additional meal around lunchtime. Fresh water should be available at all times.
Should I leave food out for my dog all day?
No, it is best to try and establish set mealtimes for your dog. Try setting his food down for 15-20 minutes, and if he hasn’t eaten it in this time, then take it up and offer it again at the next scheduled mealtime. Leaving food out all day makes it harder to monitor how much he is eating, plus it might attract pests, especially if he is on a wet food diet.
Is it bad to feed a dog late at night?
It’s not ideal, as your dog may not have time to go out to the toilet following his dinner. He is much more comfortable overnight if he’s had a chance to digest his food and pee and poop before going to sleep. Giving your dog an energy boost late at night is not ideal either, so try and feed them around three hours before bed.
In most cases, only eating one meal a day is just a sign that your dog is a bit picky or fussy with his food. By trying some of our tips, you may be able to encourage him to move to two meals a day, which tends to be the regime recommended by most veterinarians. If your dog is showing any signs of ill health, get them checked over by a vet to confirm no underlying issues that might affect appetite.
Above all, feeding a complete, good-quality diet that is high in animal protein is the best way to meet your dog’s needs. And, as a bonus, it also encourages them to look forward to mealtime.
The information provided through this website should not be used to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease; it is not intended to offer any legal opinion or advice or a substitute for professional safety or care advice. Please consult your health care provider, attorney, insurance expert, or product manual for professional advice. Products and services reviewed are provided by third parties; we are not responsible in any way for them, nor do we guarantee their functionality, utility, safety, or reliability. Our content is for educational purposes only.
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October 15, 2022 at 12:18 am
My dog is 8 years old now but he rarely ever eats more then 1/4 a scoop a day. I try to get him to eat two scoops he did it for like two weeks when I changed his food bowl location but now it’s back to how he used to eat. I feed him very high quality kibble and mix in freeze dried beef liver he eats all the beef liver but let’s the kibble sit there for hours until I mix something else into it again. He has always been like this for as long as I can remember really however I don’t remember much from when he was a puppy, but as he’s getting older it’s starting to concern me more. We have switched around from dog foods when we was younger but now I only feed him limited ingredient high quality kibble since he has skin allergies. My parents also used to feed him human food as well but I have put an end to that in the past two years. I have tried mixing in wet food in the past but it gives him awful diarrhea everytime. Any tips
April 22, 2022 at 6:35 pm
My dog wants to pick what she eats. I cut her treats way back but she only wants to eat certain things and not what she needs.
March 5, 2022 at 10:51 am
Hello my dog Kobe is going on two years old I notice that he does want to eat Breakfast in the morning but he will eat a healthy Snack at 3:0cock in the afternoon and he eats his dinner at night should I werry about it that he don’t want Breakfast thank concern parent