Animal Medical Center of Southern California

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How to Feed Your Dog

The size and frequency of meals are fundamental aspects of nutrition that can have profound effects on health and longevity. Excessive energy intake has been associated with an increased incidence of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and certain cancers and is a major cause of disability and death in industrialized countries. On the other hand, the influence of meal frequency on health and longevity is somewhat unclear.  A better understanding of the neurobiological mechanisms by which meal size and frequency affect health may lead to novel approaches for disease prevention and treatment.

There is, however, an emerging consensus among veterinarians that feeding your dog twice or even three times a day is preferable to feeding your dog once a day. By dividing meal time into several events during the day, you reduce the amount of food per mealtime and balance out the digestive activity of your dog. By using multiple feedings per day rather than one single large feeding, you help your dog better align his caloric requirements with energy needs throughout the day. No longer does your dog go through one long cycle of digestion and energy conversion as he digests a huge quantity of food. Instead, your dog is more continuously digesting and converting food throughout the day, which is healthier and better for him or her. By breaking up the total amount of food into multiple meals you may find that your dog has more consistent energy and has more balanced behavior throughout the day.  What is important, however, is not feeding too soon before or after exercise. At the very least, this practice can cause discomfort, and it could lead to serious, even life-threatening complications.

As energy and nutrient requirements depend on the stage of life of your pet, the level and type of exercise, the duration of exercise, environmental factors, the presence or absence of underlying medical conditions, and individual variations, it is crucial that owners determine the dog’s individual food ration by closely monitoring the dog’s body condition and weight and adjusting food intake as appropriate. There is obviously no one best way to feed every dog considering their variations in size and conformation, age and activity levels. In brief, a dog’s lifecycle can be broken up into a number of stages (puppy, 6 month-1 year or juvenile, young adult, adult, senior). Additionally, in many of these stages the dog may be a professional working dog, a professional athlete, a weekend warrior, or going through gestation and/or lactation. Depending upon your pet’s stage of their lifecycle and activity levels, it is important to set and achieve weight goals and healthy meal planning. By understanding the nutrient requirements of your pet, you will be able to fuel their body correctly to maintain appropriate energy levels, a healthy weight and athletic performance efforts.

A few examples can illustrate why in most situations it’s best to feed your dog multiple meals per day.  Large and giant breeds of dog should be fed multiple smaller meals per day to decrease the incidence of “bloat” or gastric torsion, a medical and surgical life-threatening emergency. In these breeds, feeding a large meal immediately before or after exercise can lead to a dilatation of the stomach and its eventual twisting on its axis and ensuing hypovolemic, endotoxic and cardiac shock if not treated appropriately and aggressively. Small breed dogs may have a hard time eating enough food to meet their needs in a single large meal. Many toy or small breeds (especially when they are puppies) are predisposed to developing hypoglycemia because they are less able to store and mobilize glucose. Also, toy breed puppies have more brain mass per body weight compared to other breeds and therefore need more glucose for brain function. For these reasons, if you have a toy breed dog, it is better to feed them smaller more frequent meals a day to avoid hypoglycemia.

In summary, one of the most important ways to prevent a wide variety of dog diseases and conditions is through proper diet and nutrition. Just like with our own bodies, proper dog nutrition is a huge factor in disease prevention and overall well-being. What goes into your dog’s body directly affects his physical and mental well-being. While no one food or feeding regimen works for all of the animals all of the time, multiple meal feedings can help avoid some of the most common diet-related conditions. Finally, it must be recognized that nutrition is a dynamic scientific discipline, and the recommendations made today can change tomorrow. None the less, at the present time, feeding appropriately sized, smaller meals more frequently is preferable to feeding one single larger meal to the majority of the canine pet population.

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The Animal Medical Center of Southern California is devoted to providing the best medical, surgicalm and emergency critical care available in veterinary medicine. As important as our medical expertise is, we believe that excellent care combines state-of-the-art veterinary medicine and surgery with a focus on compassion and respect for your pet and for your family.

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