The Impacts of Free Feeding
Have you ever wondered if you should keep your dog’s food down all day or put it down only during meal times? This topic stems to fuel a debate amongst pet owners and definitely an understandable one. This concept is called Free Feeding and has some cautionary concerns that come along with it.
When a dog feeds throughout the day, this gives them access to food anytime they want. In fact, when I visited my local pet store, I found a bowl with a gallon jug attached to it. Just as one would fill a water jug, the owner is responsible to only feed the dog when the gallon gets low or empty. Although this makes things easier for a pet owner, is it the most beneficial for the dog? Let’s take a look into 3 important categories that highly impact a dog’s life.
Let’s look up the facts from a medical standpoint. Free feeding increases the chances of your dog overfeeding. According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP), a study conducted in 2018 shows that an estimated 60% of cats and 56% of dogs in the United States are overweight or obese. “Obesity is the number one health threat pets face, and the most important pet health decision owners make each day is what and how much they feed,” Dr. Ernie Ward, founder of APOP states. This means pets are more at risk of developing skin disorders, orthopedic disease, cancer, metabolic and endocrine disorders, respiratory disorders, kidney dysfunction, chronic inflammation, and have a reduced life expectancy or quality of life.
In fact, The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) leading more than 4,500 veterinary practice teams in the US and Canada, states that pet obesity is an epidemic. “Researchers found a higher percentage affected in 2019 than previously reported, with 51% of the more than 1.9 million adult dogs seen at Banfield classified as overweight,” Tony McReynolds content editor for AAHA reports.
Besides pet obesity, a dog could be taking a blow nutritionally as well. Once a pet owner opens a bag of dog food, the clock starts ticking on the remaining shelf life. Oxygen is the main contributor to taking away valuable nutrients and replacing them with toxins that can harm or, much more, kill a dog. Most kibbles, if it’s a good bag only last roughly 2 weeks.
Although many food companies put antioxidants called mixed tocopherols to slow down oxidation, fats and Omega-3 fatty acids are at serious risk. Once these become damaged, they become rancid - meaning spoiled. Not only do rancid fatty acids increase the risk of heart disease, but it can also cause atherosclerosis and blood clots.
Additionally, animal studies have found that pets show deficiencies in vitamins, protein, and fat because of rancid fat, according to Nutrition Blogger Rodney Habib. This means when a dog food goes from an opened package of dog food to sitting in an opened bowl, the likelihood of the dog food having any of the health benefits the dog food claims on its package is highly unlikely.
Free feeding a dog carries many behavior concerns such as increasing the likelihood of food guarding, lack of impulse control, lack of motivation that can be put in teaching environmental structure. Food guarding is seen to be more popular in owners that free feed their dogs in a multidog household as opposed to those that feed on a strict schedule in separate rooms. Veterinary Behaviorists, Sophia Yin writes, “While this behavior may seem odd for owners who provide plentiful amounts of food for their pooches, anyone who’s watched free-roaming and stray dogs in developing countries such as Bali or Costa Rica knows that this type of behavior is common. These street or village dogs have to search for their food and never know if they’ll have enough. As a result, they may defend food with the vigor of a dog whose life depends on it,” and goes on to state, “Pet dogs can develop the same behavior starting in puppyhood, especially if they experienced strong competition for food.”
More so dogs that were seen to only eat at certain times increased their desire to want to eat their food as opposed to leaving it sitting. To increase their enjoyment during food times, some trainers encourage to make it like a game. This can be accomplished by feeding out of an interactive food puzzle, use it as a training reinforcement during sessions, or use it as a reward when your dog accomplishes a certain activity.
Monitoring a dog’s food habits will likely impact their future vet visits and life longevity, keeps the ingredients in their food fresh, and builds yours and your dog’s relationship. Let your dog enjoy their feeding time and get creative in the process. Pick up the food bowl!