Should You Always Keep Food in the Dog Dish?

Free-feeding promotes overeating.
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Keeping your pup's food dish full all the time allows him to eat as much as he wants during the day, saving you the worry of feeding on a schedule. Unfortunately, "free-feeding" can result in a portly pooch if he gorges on all that tasty chow.

Free-Choice Feeding

Leaving out a full bowl of food or a gravity feeder that's filled with kibble for your pooch is known as free-choice feeding or free-feeding. This method relies on your pooch having the ability and self-restraint to properly regulate how much food he eats throughout the day. Free-choice feeding basically allows Fido to determine his own portion sizes and feeding times, according to Iams. Unfortunately, some pups become so enticed by all that delicious kibble that they will overeat to the point of becoming obese. Other dogs simply become bored during the day and will eat to entertain themselves. While a full bowl might make Fido happy and keep him from barking at you to fill his dish, it could do more harm than good by packing on the pounds.

Daily Portions

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals recommends that dogs be fed twice a day in specific portions rather than be free-choice fed. The average pooch needs only between 20 and 30 calories per pound of weight each day, according to the National Research Council. Most dry dog foods contain around 350 calories per cup, according to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention. This means that about 3 cups of food will satisfy a 35-pound dog throughout the day. Unfortunately, a bowl kept full may provide Fido with much more food than this throughout the day.


Active dogs, pregnant pups and young puppies all require more calories than other dogs, up to twice as many calories in some cases, and may benefit from free-choice feeding because of their increased caloric needs, the National Research Council recommends. Other pups, unfortunately, may develop issues with obesity. Obesity in pets is a serious problem that can result in medical issues like orthopedic problems, diabetes mellitus, heart disease, urinary issues and reproductive problems, according to the "Journal of Nutrition." To prevent such problems, avoid keeping your pup's bowl filled, instead feeding him in controlled portions or placing the portions in a puzzle toy so he can "hunt" for his food during the day.


When you free-choice feed your pooch, you can't really keep track of his appetite to notice if it waxes or wanes. Because subtle changes in your pup's appetite can indicate an illness, it's important to monitor him when he eats during mealtimes. A bowl or feeder kept full won't help you do that unless you keep track of how much you add as you go. While you can leave out kibble with no issues, leaving out canned food too long can cause it to spoil or attract icky insects. If your pup eats food that's gone bad, he could get sick; so never leave canned food out for free-feeding.

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