Free Feeding vs. Scheduled Meals: What’s Best?

April 3, 2018


By Emily Hall

How often should you be feeding your pet? This is a question that all pet owners face at some point. There are a couple different schools of thought on this topic – free feeding vs. scheduled meals – and in this article I’ll help you decide what is best for you and your pet!

Free Feeding

Free feeding is a method in which you leave a bowl of food out for your cat or dog at all times. When it gets low, you refill it. Your pet has constant access to this food bowl and can graze and eat as often and as much as his little heart desires.

While free feeding is definitely a convenient and easy method of feeding, it has its disadvantages. For one, it can quickly lead to obesity, as both cats and dogs can get into a habit of eating more than they need to if given the chance. Also, if you have multiple pets, one may become dominant and not allow your other pet(s) access to the food bowl.

Another downside to the free feeding method is that it really only works if you feed dry food. Wet food doesn’t stay fresh for very long if left out, so it isn’t well suited for free feeding. Free feeding also makes it more difficult to monitor your pet’s eating habits; e.g., you won’t be able to determine how much food your pet is eating at one time, or if they get sick, how soon after eating the symptoms occurred.

Pros of Free Feeding

• Convenient – especially if you have a busy schedule and aren’t home much

Cons of Free Feeding

• Can lead to obesity
• One pet may eat all the food
• Limited to dry food diet
• Inability to monitor pet’s eating habits

Scheduled Meals

With scheduled meals, you feed your pet portioned meals at set times throughout the day. Each meal has just enough food for your pet to eat in one sitting. The amount of food you feed at each meal varies depending on several factors, such as the species (cat or dog), breed, age, size, activity level, number of meals fed per day, and other health factors. Your veterinarian can help you determine how much to feed your pet at each meal.

The meal schedule also depends on several factors, but the primary consideration is whether you have a cat or dog. Because of a cat’s natural predatory instincts, their ideal meal schedule is to have 3-4 small meals per day. A dog doesn’t need quite as many meals and does just fine with only 2 meals per day. Again, you should consult your veterinarian to come up with the healthiest feeding schedule for your pet.

While feeding scheduled meals isn’t as easy and convenient as letting your pet free feed, there are several benefits that come with this feeding method. With scheduled meals, you are able to control your pet’s food intake, monitor their eating habits more closely, bond with your pet, and you have more freedom with the kinds of foods your pet eats.

Pros of Scheduled Meals

• More control over diet
• Ability to monitor your pet’s eating habits
• Bonding
• More variety with diet
• More closely resembles your pet’s natural eating instincts/habits

Cons of Scheduled Meals

• Not as easy to keep up with

What’s Best?

Just a quick glance at the lists above shows that there are clearly more advantages to feeding scheduled meals than allowing your pet to free feed. Most pet-care professionals will also agree that feeding scheduled meals is the healthiest option for your pet. However, I understand that scheduled meals might not work for everyone.

There are some great products out there that can help make feeding scheduled meals easier for those who aren’t home during the day. If you would like to try scheduled meals with your pet but don’t have a work schedule that allows it, I suggest trying one of the many automatic timed feeders that are on the market.

Another option for those who might not be able to swing scheduled meals for their pet is to follow a combination of free feeding and scheduled meals. You can leave a small bowl of dry food out during the day while you’re at work, and then feed scheduled meals of wet food in the morning and the evening.

CANIDAE offers a wide range of both dry and wet foods for cats and dogs that are well suited for whatever type of feeding schedule you choose to follow. Just be sure to consult your veterinarian if you plan to make any changes to your pet’s feeding schedule. He or she can advise you on ways to make the switch, as well as come up with a schedule and proportions that work for everyone.

Read more articles by Emily Hall

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Comments

  1. Sarah Duncan says:

    So, obviously, this is highly pet dependent. My dog was a rescue who was seriously underweight, and yet NOT at all food aggressive. What works for us is this: twice a day I check her food bowl, if it is empty I put 2 scoops of dry food in it (4 scoops/day is her recommended allotment). If it is not empty, I don’t add anything. She is within ideal body weight range and doesn’t care if visiting dogs eat from her bowl.

    Two of my previous dogs ate what was put down (twice a day) whether they were hungry or not – we had to adjust amounts based on weight. Another one would only eat if no-one was around – he got fed separately, in isolation, for a specified amount of time, twice a day.

    Regardless of your choice, PLEASE do not overfeed your animals, the healt consequences are as dire as they are for humans!

  2. For some reason, free-feeding always has worked for my two dogs. They don’t overeat, don’t fight over food, and seem to self regulate their feeding habits. I’m retired, so it doesn’t really matter; I just thought they preferred this method.