Why Is Free Feeding Considered A Bad Idea?
Free feeding is considered to be a bad idea for a number of reasons.
Dogs stop feeling hungry when their stomach is full – this is when they are most relaxed and they also stop looking for food. The stomach is designed to process one large meal and then rest before the next meal.
The dog’s stomach is full of glands that produce digestive enzymes – those glands only start to work when they come into contact with food. As the stomach is elastic, when empty it folds to what almost appears to be an intestine and unless the stomach gets filled so that the folds are stretched out most of those glands do not get to touch food. Hence the dog’s digestive process is more efficient when it gets a large meal. Dogs that are being fed almost exclusively stomach-filling meals generally need 20-30% less food than dogs that are being fed many small meals. NB, the stomach can expand to contain as much as 7-8% of the dog’s body weight.
If food is left down, the dog effectively has multiple small meals, which in turn keeps it feeling constantly hungry. This means that the dog is more likely to be overweight – it ends up eating more to try to fill the stomach (it is not eating past the point of being full – it is never getting to the full stage).
You cannot tell how much the dog is actually eating, and you may not notice if they start to eat more or less than normal.
In a multi-dog household it is difficult to know how much each dog is eating. One could be eating less than it needs, but how do you know this, and if you do notice that not as much food is being eaten, how do you know which one is eating less?
It can encourage fussy eating habits. The dog will realise that food is always available so can pick and choose what he wants to eat.
The dog will not be regular with his toileting – he may not be able to go through the night depending on when he chooses to eat, and toilet training will be significantly more difficult.
If medication is OK to be given with food, it’s much easier to give it with a prescribed meal – you can give the medication in the food itself, taking away the stress of feeding tablets forcefully. With free feeding you cannot leave the tablet down with the food, so it has to be given separately, either ‘down the throat’ or by using some extra-special food to get the dog to eat it (and possibly encouraging fussy eating in the process).
Dogs aren’t meant to have food in their guts all day – gorge and fast is their natural state. Digestion takes a lot of energy. Hence with free feeding the GI tract is likely to be less healthy.