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Is It Cruel To Feed a Dog Once a Day? Feeding Times 101

Many dog owners are wondering whether or not feeding their dog once a day is beneficial or even cruel.

I was one of them.

My Rottweiler went from 3 to 2 feedings as an adult.

But then I read about the dog equivalent of “intermittent fasting” and wondered if there were any health benefits of skipping an occasional day or feeding once and then feeding more on the following day.

It did kinda backfire.

I found out that my dog has certain needs when it comes to feeding frequency and yours might have those too.

Feeding once per day can be great for some, but terrible for others, especially if your dog is suffering from medical issues.

FYI: The scientific jury is still out on whether or not feeding once a day is optimal. Despite the fact that there are some studies, there are no large-scale and peer-reviewed ones published in journals yet.

That being said, some dogs just can’t do it.

If your dog is vomiting continuously while being fed once a day, that’s a clear sign this feeding schedule isn’t made for your specific pooch.

My Rottweiler was vomiting when the time between feedings was too long (especially between evening and morning

Well, she always did love her food and rarely left a crump in her bowl.

My Rottweiler Amalia as a puppy sleeping head-first in her food bowl.
Photo by Pawleaks

However, some dog owners claim to have seen huge improvements after fasting their dogs.

It’s up to you and perhaps your veterinarian to evaluate whether or not your dog is the right candidate.

On one hand, a healthy adult large breed dog may be able to go for it or even prefer it.

On the other hand, if you have a puppy, senior small dog, or otherwise unsuitable dog, you may need to rethink the feeding schedule and stick to feeding 2-3x per day.

Let’s have a look at how you can determine whether or not feeding your dog once per day might be worth a try for your individual.

Is It Cruel To Feed a Dog Once a Day?

It is not generally cruel to feed a healthy adult dog once a day occasionally but that meal should be appropriately sized and balanced. Monitor the feeding schedule since many dogs don’t do well with once-a-day feeding.

Age is a huge component in whether feeding once a day is okay for your dog or not.

Puppies have shorter windows for when they need nutritional power and feeding a puppy once (or even twice) per day is not good for their health.

First of all, your pup probably can’t manage to eat the entire meal in one sitting.

Secondly, your pup will be missing energy in between the naps where puppies usually regenerate until the next burst of energy.

If your dog is a senior, he may also have trouble with one meal per day since he’ll lack energy for a major part of the day and will not be able to digest a large meal.

The same goes for dogs with pre-existing health conditions.

You may need to talk to your vet about that but generally speaking, if you’re unsure go with feeding your dog 2-3x per day and you should be good.

You should probably not feed your dog once a day if your dog fits one of the following criteria:

  • Senior or medical condition
  • Puppy (3-4x meals per day)
  • Feeding once a day already occurred multiple days in a row
  • Issues with a meal once a day (vomiting, lethargy, gut issues)

However, some of you just want to try out feeding once a day with a healthy dog or maybe you’ve done it in the past on busy days.

Let’s dive deeper into the pros and cons of feeding once per day.

Pros and Cons of Feeding Your Dog Once a Day

Some dog owners who feed once a day claim that their dog’s gut health or immune system improved as well as their appetite but there can be considerable downsides too.

Other dogs just gurgle up that white foamy vomit (the vomit color is actually essential to check the reason for the vomiting).

Puppy sits next to a small puddle of white dog vomit.

Firstly, the claimed pros of feeding your dog once a day:

  • Improved gut health
  • Stronger immune system
  • More interest in eating
  • Resembles feeding pattern of wolves
  • More convenient for dog owners

As mentioned above, you should note that gut health and immune system boosts are not scientifically proven beyond doubt.

That being said, your dog’s gut health may very well be positively affected as this feeding schedule is a lot more similar to what they’d do in the wild.

Others argue that dogs are not wolves anymore and domestication went a long way which includes their eating habits.

Improvements to gut health and immune system are strongly discussed among owners who fast their dogs for a full day.

Fasting doesn’t necessarily mean your dog needs fewer calories but even if the weekly nutritional supply is the same, intermittent fasting can have positive effects.

It’s working for many humans who are trying to lose weight and can be a great tool for overweight dogs too.

You shouldn’t go overboard and feed more in one session than you would otherwise over the whole day.

Some dog owners go as far as to fast their dogs twice a week.

Personally, skipping two days is definitely not for me and my Rottweiler.

All that is well and good but there are possible downsides to consider too.

The cons of feeding your dog once a day are the following:

  • Lack of nutritional balance for prolonged time
  • Vomiting can lead to other health issues
  • Dog might not be able to eat the whole meal
  • Wolfing down the meal may increase bloating risk
  • Can create confusion around the feeding schedule

Some of these issues such as nutritional balance and not eating the whole meal can be easily solved.

If you monitor your dog’s food intake and he does eat the meal without any issues, he’s probably okay in that regard (might still not be the best solution for you though).

However, vomiting is a bit harder to control and while it can just be the adjustment period, you need to monitor this closely and consult your vet.

A large brown dog inside a tent while camping. Trips can be a reason for only feeding your dog once a day.

Last but not least, your dog will probably be confused.

Think about it, nobody’s telling you anything and suddenly there’s a whole day without food. Will there ever be another meal? Will you starve? Have you been forgotten?

That’s what my Rottweiler’s eyes are conveying, even if I’m just skipping one meal.

On another note: It rarely happens but when I’m on a road trip with my dog, skipping the morning meal may actually be beneficial.

This way, you avoid the risk of your dog vomiting in the car as well as bloating if you don’t have much time in the morning to ideally wait 30-60 minutes after the meal.

The worst thing that can happen is bloat when you’re exercising your dog right after eating and if you have to choose, I’d go without a meal or just provide a really light one.

Best Time To Feed Dog Once a Day

The best time to feed your dog once a day is when the last meal was given 12 hours before and the next meal is given 24 hours after or vice versa (most likely morning or evening) or distribute the time between meals evenly and feed mid-day.

This schedule assumes that you’ve been and will be feeding your dog twice a day before and after that day where you only feed once a day.

If you feed your dog only once a day as part of your regular feeding schedule, just choose a time such as noon and stick to it every day.

A couple of examples (assuming 2x meals on Monday & Wednesday):

  1. You feed your dog 8 pm on Monday, then 8 am on a Tuesday morning, and again 8 am on Wednesday morning
  2. You feed your dog 8 pm Mon, then 8 pm Tue, and 8 am Wed
  3. You feed your dog 8 pm Mon, then 2 pm Tue, and 8 am Wed

If you feed once a day, stick to 2 pm every day, for example

Your dog’s specific feeding schedule will of course vary a lot.

When you go to bed and wake up will decide what time your morning and evening meals should be served and not everybody can feed their dog in the middle of the day.

Can I Feed My Dog 3 Times A Day

Yes, you can feed your dog 3 times a day and for puppies, seniors, and dogs with some health conditions it’s actually the recommended feeding schedule.

Even if you have a healthy adult dog, you can still opt for feeding three times a day if your doggo thrives on that.

Some dogs just can’t go the whole day without a meal and for some time, I’ve given my Rottweiler a treat in the middle of the day to avoid her stomach growling.

Beware of a bloating risk if your schedule doesn’t allow 3 feedings with sufficient time to eat and settle afterward.

Also, don’t let those puppy eyes fool you into giving a third meal if it’s not necessary. Especially not if it’s an additional meal on top.

Best Time To Feed a Dog

The best time to feed your dog depends entirely on how often you feed your dog but you need to make sure the time in between meals isn’t longer than 12-24 hours at the max.

The mentioned feeding schedules above can act as a starting point for you.

Most dog owners will opt for feeding right in the morning and in the evening.

Make sure it’s not right before going into bed though and give your dog the chance to go potty.

Should You Feed Your Dog Before Or After Walks

If possible, avoid feeding your dog before walks for around an hour and let your dog calm down for a short period after walks to properly digest the food.

Since the risk of bloat and other issues is more prevalent with feeding before walks, I’d personally recommend feeding your dog after the walk.

How To Change Dog Feeding Schedule

Every dietary change – and that includes the feeding schedule itself – should be slowly changed and closely monitored. Take a step back if your dog is not doing well.

It’s not wise to go from 3 feedings a day to 1 meal the next day and your dog will likely vomit or show other signs of hunger.

Try providing two meals instead and once your dog is fine with that (a couple of days or perhaps weeks), make the second meal lighter.

At some point, you’d be able to feed just a snack as the second meal. Soon, you could transition to just one feeding.

Whether or not one meal per day is ideal for your dog is totally up to you and if you’re unsure, consult your vet.

The science is not entirely on one side or the other so it’s up to you, but cruel isn’t the appropriate word as long as the diet is balanced and your dog gets all his calories.

Trust me, my Rottweiler wouldn’t let that transgression slide, and perhaps your dog will show clear signs of what feeding times are best for him too.

Disclaimer: This blog post does not substitute veterinary attention and does not intend to do so. I am not a veterinarian or pet nutrionist. If your dog shows any sign of illness, call your vet.

About Danielle

I am the founder of PawLeaks where I share weekly tips on dog training and behavior. Sharing a passion for dogs and helping owners to solve problems through understanding canine behavior and modification is my number one goal.

Mikey Mike

Wednesday 15th of June 2022

Uhhhhhgg! When did people get so crazed about their four legged pals? Starting from childhood, I have owned dogs all my life; now I am ten years past a half century old. I have had various breeds of dogs, German shorthaired pointer, cockers (both English and American), Dobe, Poodle, and silky. I have always feed my dogs once a day with the best quality premium food I could afford. My dogs have led healthy lives. No illnesses. Cruel would be not feeding your dog at all. How many portions you break up your dog’s daily meals should be of no concern to anyone who isn’t footing your doggy bills.

Danielle

Friday 17th of June 2022

Hi Mike, I understand what you mean and have also stated that feeding a dog once a day can be fine for some dogs.

However, this article is not to scold dog owners, it's there to inform those of us who just want to know what kind of feeding schedule is healthy and appropriate.

Puppies generally don't do well when fed just once a day. Seniors or those with illnesses might also benefit from 2-3 feedings.

It's important to notice signs that this schedule is not good for your dog. My Rottweiler isn't performing well with a once-a-day feeding, for example.

Cheers, Danielle