Pros and cons
Free-feeding (leaving a bowl of kibble out all the time):
Easy for today’s busy schedules to just fill a big bowl in the morning.
Pro: Pups are less likely to gulp down their food if they know there will always be food there.
Gulping can lead to vomiting, possibly whole pieces of kibble, and all-around tummy issues. (I will address ways to help the gulpers another time.)
Con: Can lead to over-eating/obesity.
Some dogs can regulate how much they eat, no matter how much is available. Some dogs can’t. I learned this the hard way with my girl Vianni. I thought I was being a great dog mom by making sure she always had access to food. I didn’t want my poor girl to ever be hungry. Then I woke up one day to an almost 80 pound dog who should’ve maxed out at 65! (Tips on puppy weight loss will be coming soon.)
Con: You can’t monitor exactly how much they’re eating.
Whether it’s a regular check-up, or a sick puppy visit, the vet will invariably ask about the dog’s appetite. ‘Is she eating normal?’… ‘How much is he eating?’ They ask because loss of appetite is an early indicator of many health issues. It’s hard to even estimate how much they’re eating if food is just dumped in randomly. True, Fido could be visiting his bowl 12 times, he’s gotta be eating enough and have a normal appetite right? Without measuring, we may not notice that only a quarter cup is eaten each time (or less). Additionally, if everyone is filling the bowl, he/she could be eating three or four times the amount he should be. Or, the bowl is full every time someone in the house looks at it, so they each think someone else filled it, but the pup just isn’t eating any of it.
Con: Food can get stale/moldy.
Let’s face it, dogs slobber when they eat. If food is just added over food, there could be some damp/soggy stuff in the bottom that can be a breeding ground for bacteria and mold.
Multi-dog household Con:
With more than one dog, it’s even harder to measure intake, even if each has their own bowl. One dog can be eating out of both bowls, making it look like the other dog is eating. It could also lead to squabbles or even full blown fights if one decides the bowl is now theirs and theirs alone.
Pro: You know how much your dog has eaten.
When you start with a measured amount you can easily determine how much is gone.
Pro: Portion control.
The daily portion can be measured out in the morning and stored in a baggie or container. That way there won’t be confusion as to whether the dog has been fed already or not. (First weight loss tip: using this method lets you, and others, throw a handful of kibble in Spot’s bowl several times a day. Just like people, several small meals makes you feel like you’re eating more as opposed to two larger meals with hours between them.)
Pro: Training rewards!
If your dog enjoys their kibble, you can grab some for a training session and not worry about having to adjust their meals or exercise like you would if you use pre-packaged training treats.
Con: It does take extra time.
Someone has to measure out the kibble for the day. It also takes consistency so each person in the house knows who is doing the preparing so you don’t have everyone thinking someone else was going to do it.
Con: Gulpers will gulp.
If your dog has a pre-existing tendency to gulp, this probably won’t do anything to diminish it. The upside is, with less food in the bowl, there is less to gulp. (Tips on this subject will be in a future post.)
Having used both methods, I now measure the day’s ration for both dogs. I feel the ‘pros’ for measured feeding outweigh the ‘pros’ for free-feeding.
I do want to add that it’s good to check with your veterinarian as to how much your dog should be eating for their age, size, breed, health, and activity level. The amounts shown on the dog food bag can be exaggerated.