Nurturing a dog or cat is not as easy at it looks from the outside. Suddenly, you find yourself fretting over collars, shampoos, treats... Once you have finally picked the right food, then you have to decide which method of feeding you are going to use. There are two main methods, both of which have their own benefits and drawbacks.
Free feeding is when you fill a bowl and leave it out for your pet, allowing her to eat as much as she chooses when she chooses to. This method works best with dry foods, since they do not spoil as quickly as wet foods. One of the obvious advantages of free choice feeding is that you do not have to worry about making it home in time for meals, a challenge for people with very busy schedules or who are confined to the vagaries of commuter traffic. Also, if pets were given the option, it seems apparent that they would choose to have food available whenever they wanted it. It could also serve multiple pets' needs, since they would be able to eat from the same bowl throughout the day.
Of course, there are disadvantages. One being that in multiple pet homes, one pet might hoard and bully over the bowl, not allowing the others to have a turn. There is also the risk of the animal becoming overweight from eating too much. Some breeds of cats and dogs are particularly known for eating well beyond the feeling of fullness.
Scheduled, Portion Controlled Feeding
If you have a predictable enough schedule that you can depend on being home at meal time, the scheduled feeding method works well and is the healthier method, since it limits the amount of food your dog is taking in at each meal. There are variations on this method. You might fill the bowl with food and take it away after a reasonable time has passed, allowing the dog to eat his fill. Ten to twenty minutes is generally enough time. Or, you may choose to measure out a portion of food at each meal time and then leave it for your dog to eat at his own pace.
It almost goes without saying that dogs that have been placed on a prescription or weight control diet have to be given controlled portions of food. This method also works well for dogs that need to be given medications mixed with their foods. For other considerations, such as conditions that might make feeding time a struggle, weight loss that needs to be regained, or illness, measured and scheduled feeding times can allow you the opportunity to monitor your dog, making sure that he is eating all of his food. With scheduled meal times, you can use this time of day to bond with your pet.
A major disadvantage to scheduled feeding is that you will need to feed your pet multiple times during the day. This can be especially challenging when caring for puppies, which even under normal circumstances need to eat smaller and more frequent meals than adult dogs.
Weigh Your Options
If you cannot decide which method will work best for you and your pet, talk to your veterinarian for suggestions. There may be age and breed considerations that you need to consider, or you may want to think about arranging for someone to come into your home to help with the scheduled feedings. There are also mechanical food bowls that can be set to feed your dog small portions at specific times of the day.
In the end, remember not to base your decision solely on convenience, but on the long term health of your dog.
Image source: jaroslavd / via Flickr