View Full Version : Free Feeding Dogs

Jan. 10, 2009, 09:09 PM
Does anyone else here do it?

Pros and cons, please.

Jan. 10, 2009, 09:14 PM
Does anyone else here do it?

Pros and cons, please.
When I got my pup several people told me to free feed her. We have always had cats so it made sense to me. That is till I told my vet. He told me it was better to feed meals so that you can predict elimination. Only a vet could say it like that, but I did agree. Predicting elimination seemed really important! Now that she is an adult and bullet proof
in the house I guess it doesn't matter. But we do leave every morning to go to the barn for the day, so it is better she eats breakfast and then we go. I guess it depends on your situation. The two meal system works well for us.

Jan. 10, 2009, 09:34 PM
We free feed but our dog eats like a cat. We had a lab to stay over Christmas, a dog that doesn't breathe until the feed bucket is empty, you can't free feed a dog like that. So, it all depends on the specific dog.

Jan. 10, 2009, 09:56 PM
I used to free feed my dogs - they would munch little bits throughout the day. Never pigged out hardcore. But even so, they all ended up getting quite round and chubby! Now are restricted to measured meals, and the weight is better. I think free-feeding is great for dogs with a fast metabolism, however.

Jan. 10, 2009, 10:02 PM
In my view, the biggest con, if free fed indoors, is overeating, which can lead to overweight dogs. Which of course can exacerbate any joint issues and all the other system strains of overweight. If feeding outdoors (say, in a barn aisle or tackroom), another big con is that you will attract critters you'd rather not. Raccoons and oppossum find dog kibble delightful, and early one morning at a friend's barn I ran a rat off her dog feeder. Squirrels, however, are more likely to sneak a bite at midday, I observed, and watch carefully for the dogs' absence first. :lol:

Jan. 10, 2009, 10:17 PM
I have a husky that we sort of free feed. He lives outside (he has a heated doggie mansion, so it's not like he freezes!) and he has never been a porker (dog food isn't his style, much prefers our food). We don't just leave a large amount of food out, but we fill his bowl whenever its empty. If he's hungry, he'll eat. If not well then, he won't. In the summer we put it out, and in the winter he comes in 5/6 times a day. He is almost 11 years old, and in incredible health, still acts like a puppy with just as much energy. Our vet says he is in fantastic health and we have never had any problems with him.

Jan. 10, 2009, 10:18 PM
I do.

It allows me to go away for the occasional, rare overnight. They are paper trained, so I put grain bags down, and leave extra water, and can escape for 36 hrs or so tops.

I started because of the Special Dog... and it's worked for all. <shrugs>

One trainer said BAD, Evil, <hsssss> Another said as long as they always have it, they don't gorge--and they don't.

Jan. 10, 2009, 11:31 PM
I think it depends on the dog. Our border collie was free fed her whole life and it was never a problem. We have corgis now and I'd never consider free feeding them-not an option!!

Jan. 10, 2009, 11:40 PM
Nope. Free-fed, persay, as puppies... as much as they can in in like 10 minutes a few times a day. Gradually decreased that to two meals a day. Both dogs are in AWESOME weight, shiney coats, nice muscle. Always get comments from the vet about what an awesome job I do keeping them in check.

Cats... nope, not free-fed either. One is a porker-wanna-be, so she's on a perputal diet. Did manage to get her to lose almost 3 pounds in four months. That's significant, considering that the cat was only 13.5 lbs... but still too chubby for her frame. Speaking of her, do need to see if we lost that one more pound... she looked so much better at 10 pounds then she did at nearly 14 pounds.

At the barn though, the cats are free-fed. I see no problem as long as they can moderate themselves. Some animals can, some can't. Plus, I like being able to see who's eating and how much. If something is off, I'll likely notice way earlier then if I free-fed them. JMHO.

Jan. 11, 2009, 01:41 AM
All of my dogs (even the Corgis) were raised with free-choice dry food. The house dogs may get a little pudgy in the winter when we (and they) aren't outside as much, but for the most part none of the dogs overeat. Sometimes a dog will eat a whole bowl of food, but most of the time they eat small meals thoughout the day.

I figure that dogs sometimes get hungry at odd times just like people do, and if they're hungry they should be able to eat!

My barn cats, however, do not have access to free choice food. It's not because I have any objections, it's because I don't have a good place to put it where the dogs can't get to it.

Jan. 11, 2009, 03:29 AM
Free feeding was a blessing for me. I had two dogs that I free fed from when they were puppies. Neither of them gained too much weight. I also fed them meat twice per day, so the access to the free choice kibble wasn't as appetizing to them!

The nice part about the free-feeding was that I could go away for a few days and not worry about them. They had a dog door from the house to the fenced-in backyard so they could get out to go to the bathroom, and I had an automatic watering system. The stable girl came over twice per day to take care of the horses, and only made sure that the dogs were barking at the gate. They were protection dogs, so she didn't have to go in to feed them.

In my opinion, there is no reason a dog can't eat like a cat. Both of these dogs lived well into old age without getting fat or pudgy. Now I have a new pup -- I don't leave her alone for long periods of time, but she has free choice food at all times. Again, I also feed meat twice per day so it makes the kibble less attractive.

Do what is right for you. If your dog gains weight by free-feeding, then it would make sense to go back to measurement feeding. If a dog starts out with free choice feeding, then I think it will be less inclined to pork out. It also depends on the activity level of the dog, and its food drive.


Jan. 11, 2009, 05:56 AM
My two freefeed. I know aproximatly what they eat per day, but I like that sometimes it changes. I'm used to their routines as far as eating goes, so I know when they will need to "eliminate." They get a scoop of kibble (almost said grain..LOL) in the morning that they snack at all day, then another at night when I come inside. I try to always have kibble in the dish.

At the moment they are a little round, but thats because its winter (ie freezing F*ing cold) and they have about as much interest in going outside for walks as I do (I can get on the elipticle, they can't). They tend to gain 2 or 3 lbs over the winter and it gets run off in the spring.

My vet is perfectly fine with them freefeeding so long as tehy aren't overdoing it and they maintain their weight well.

I would not freefeed a puppy though. I think it would make them too hard to housebreak, especially if I wasn't able to be there all the time. In that case one they were solid housebroke I would start introducing the concept.

Jan. 11, 2009, 08:58 AM
I think it depends on the dog. Our border collie was free fed her whole life and it was never a problem. We have corgis now and I'd never consider free feeding them-not an option!!

Yep, how you manage feeding depends on the dog and situation.
Puppies have to learn good eating habits, so they are better fed at meal times.

You definitely don't want to free feed where everything else has access to the food, like rodents, strays, etc.

If your dog eats little and is not getting fat, it is ok to free feed, but you won't know if your dog is off as easily as if you are putting the food down and your chowhound turns it's nose up, a good early warning signal that he may be sick.

One reason to free feed a little, as I am now, is because we have always hand fed, but there were several of us home, no animals would go long without someone checking in.

The last few years, living alone, it may be a few days if something happen to me before anyone comes by and takes care of my animals, so they are all where they have a few days at least of food and water, just in case.
In this situation, free feeding is a necessity, until that changes.
I also have a little dog that is not much of an eater and more of a grazer, so she can have a small amount of kibble out without eating it for a day or two sometimes.
A dog with a serious weight problem would just have to be managed differently.:yes:

Jan. 11, 2009, 11:29 AM
though many here seem supportive of free feeding, there are a couple of things to think about.

1. what is the first question your vet asks you when you go in? Is your dog eating and drinking ok? If you dog nibbles and you just add to the dish as necessary, do you know how much and when he ate last?

2. if your dog needs emergency surgery, the vet needs to know when and how much the dog ate last.

however, you also need to understand, voice drops to whisper I feed kibble. The evil kibble. And not Flint River or Solid Gold. So you might want to take this under consideration when reading my posts.

Jan. 11, 2009, 12:00 PM
Border Collie/Heinz 57 mix mutt and an English Setter. Free feed Pro-Balance Performance. The BC female is neurotic as can be about nearly everything and always worried over her dish when I didn't free feed (not food aggressive, just preoccupied with the empty bowl). It took her a while but now she doesn't guard it and will even let Soap Dog (the Setter) eat out of it with her sitting beside it. He comes and goes and eats out of his own feeder as he wishes, and eats lot more than she does. In fact I never see her eating. She's very shy about things like that.

So if the dog can manage it, sure. If they overeat, fight about it, get hoggy, then no.

I don't free feed the cats. Too tempted to hog out. Only if we leave town do they get more food than they can eat, to last Friday-Sunday. They party it up then go on a diet when we get back.

Jan. 11, 2009, 03:16 PM
With our first black lab we free fed, and he never had any issues. But then came our first pound hound! After that we did twice per day feedings with a small snack mid day.

Now we have 4 dogs here (we did have 5 up until this week :( ) and I cook their meals so free feeding really isn't an option anyway. One has severe allergies so his food is totally different than the other three get...it's a carnival let me tell you :lol:

Jan. 11, 2009, 03:52 PM
We have five that we have free-fed for years, ranging from Bostons to a Rott. The only one that tends to get fat is the bulldog, but she is LAZY!! I have never had any issues with it.

Jan. 11, 2009, 04:06 PM
We originally had a pair of pound puppies. They were not related. One was half registered Blue Heeler and half traveling salesman; the disgusted breeder dropped off the puppies as soon as they were old enough. The other was a pure stray, an Afghan mix. We fed free choice outside on the porch because they were farm dogs, and they were going to eat free choice anyhow - especially rabbits! It worked fine and both lived well into their teens.

The replacement pound puppy is a different kettle of fish. His official breed is Large Stupid Dog. The only thing I've seen him succesfully catch are marmots, which are about the slowest of the slow. He has to come in the house at night as he is an infernal nusiance otherwise (will bark all night that the tree that had a squirrel in it - yesterday) so he only gets fed when he's inside.

When feeding free choice outside we seldom had a problem with other critters getting at their food; the heeler had a suspicous nature and kept a good eye on things. The only real exceptions was during the day in the winter. Did you know that birds like Purina One? The bluejay would divebomb the dish and make off with a piece. The red-headed woodpecker would come attack the bowl. And the male cardinal would sit in the middle of the bowl and chirp loudly to let the ladies know he'd found a great food supply for them!

Jan. 11, 2009, 04:34 PM
OUR dog? No. She's a beagle-basset mix and would eat until she exploded.

Other dogs? Might work.

Jan. 11, 2009, 06:56 PM
Does anyone else here do it?

Pros and cons, please.

I've free fed my dogs for decades. The only time I didn't was if I had to housetrain a puppy and the puppy either didn't have access to a doggie door or I was going to be out all day.

I've never had an overweight dog, never had a dog with bloat, never had a dog choke, never had dogs fight. I've had many different breeds of dogs, but mostly hounds.

Jan. 11, 2009, 10:53 PM
I free feed my clumber spaniel Darcy Wellness kibble and give him a half a can of Wellness wet food twice a day. He really eats very little kibble - and when he does he's funny to watch - he will lay there asleep with his chin on the bowl and wake up every now and then and take a mouth full chew it, then go back to sleep. I kiddingly call him my lazy eater. But eating has really been a problem for him since he was a puppy. Before I "discovered" Wellness (and he will only eat the lamb and sweet potato flavor) he would go days without eating anything. For the first couple years I would sit there and have to hand feed him and beg him to eat. He was so frustrating. We were trying to show him and the judges would always say he was too thin (they like the clumbers on the chunky side). I tried a RAW diet (he wouldn't touch it) and numerous other dog foods and he absolutely wouldn't touch them. Finally I tried the Wellness on the advice of a friend but almost passed that over because I tried the "wrong" flavors first and he refused to touch them. Now at seven years old he has finally filled out but he would never overeat through free feeding. He still won't touch any kind of doggy treat though or a lot of people foods. He is a funny dog...

Jan. 11, 2009, 10:55 PM
"They" say there are two kinds of dogs...those who "eat to live" and those who "live to eat". My Border Collie/Jack Russell, Pyrenes and Pappilon cross are in the first group, the two German Shepherds are in the second group!!! The Shepherds would kill 50 pounds of food in a hurry and/or explode...whichever came first!! We feed three times a day and everyone is happy!!

Fancy That
Jan. 12, 2009, 12:00 AM
OUR dog? No. She's a beagle-basset mix and would eat until she exploded.

Other dogs? Might work.

I'm with you, DancerOnIce :) We have two PIGLET Rat Terriers that would eat themselves silly if given a chance.

But, we also have a Rottie that's not "that into food" and before he came to live with the Ratties, he was free-fed just fine. Didn't pig out at all....stayed nice and lean/fit. In fact, when he came here, because we couldn't free-feed him - and he wasn't a real foodie - we had to ENHANCE his food so he'd eat it all in one serving (twice/day) What a spoilded Rottie!

My parents' poodles were always free-fed. They aren't piggy either.

Just depends on the dogs! (oh, we always have a doggie door from house to big yard....)

Jan. 12, 2009, 12:44 AM
I free feed my two, always have. They don't overeat and are not overweight. I wait until the bowl is empty (so I can wash it) before refilling so I have a pretty good idea how fast/much they are eating.

I free feed the cats, too. In that case, I do feed them a lower calorie dry food because one of them does get fat if I don't.

I suppose if I had an animal that needed emergency surgery that might be a problem, but I've had these dogs for nine years and had no issues yet. The times either of them have been off their feed they showed other symptoms.

Jan. 12, 2009, 01:18 AM
I free feed my barn dogs. The get a huge rubber horse feeding tub filled with Diamond Low Fat dog food with joint supplements already in the mix. They have always been feed that way and they do GREAT! My farm dogs are labs and a fuzzy medium size mixed breed. Ages: 5, 12, & 18 The Pomeranian feels it is OK to free feed on dry cat food in the house :( He is 3 and also eats the dry dog food with the barn dogs. With the exception of the 12 yr old yellow lab - who was morbidly obese when we adopted her 6 years ago - they are all svelte and muscular. The yellow lab doesn't over eat, she has hypothyroidism and is on medication for that.

Down side? The chickens love the dog food too. :o

Jan. 12, 2009, 02:34 AM
we(my family and me) have alays free fed our dogs for as long as we've had dogs and never had trouble with anybody getting to fat.

with that dogs(and cats) we just fill the bowl whenever its empty and none are overweight.

my dog whos a border collie/german shepherd cross gets fed twice a day but thats cuase she an out door dog...she get her bowl filled in the AM and again in the PM and both times the bowl is never completely empty so i know she doesn't pig out on her food

i would like to find her a higher protein/fat food as she always been lean...and sometimes too lean cause of her high energy and would like to find a food that'd keep her at a more consistant weight.

Jan. 12, 2009, 10:21 AM
Yups... Just about the only way to keep weight on our two "snackers". Surprising even to our vet who constantly asks how we keep them in "a good healthy weight". Both Hounds ~ 1) a 6 year old ~ 12# Dachshund who just likes little snacks throughout the day, and is pretty much pure muscle with no fat on her. 2) a 3 year old ~ 65# Bassett who sits down to eat for about 2 minutes at a time throughout the day.

They get their food bowl filled 1x a day (about 4 cups dry) - at night during the summer and in the morning during the winter. And it's usually just about empty within 24 hours. Once a week we do put out a separate bowl with a can of food - now THAT they will sit down and eat right away :lol:

During the winter they are inside at night, thus why we put their food out in the morning. And to help the Dachshund in the winter we do add about a 1/2 cup of canned food that we make available to her in the house overnight. The Bassett is crated at bedtime in the house, while the Doxie gets the run of the house.

My old boy was a "monster dog" - at his prime weighing 218lbs muscled. He was a Bull Mastiff / Rott / Newfoundland mix. But he would ONLY eat overnight - regardless of when you put food out, and he would only eat about half his bowl...so we free fed him as well and just tossed whatever he left before the next feeding. Sadly he had several health problems from his orginal owners letting him get obese as a young pup, but he lived to be 8 before a massive heart attack took him.


The barn cats on the other hand - they get dry food put out once a day, and a can of wet every now and then for the variety (and to keep the oldest one happy). But they are done with that in a few minutes. Not that they are starving the goal is to feed them enough to keep them healthy, but not enough that they have no interest in their jobs of keeping it mice free around the farm.

Jan. 12, 2009, 10:33 AM
my husbands hounds are free fed, they live outside 24/7 in what used to be my riding ring, he fenced it in and built them a house, they have 2 50 lb food feeders out there, they are very fit ad don't have any food issues, it doesn't get extremely cold in the part of virginia where i live
i think they look fitter than my indoor pet dogs, all of whom are fat and a major feeding production number in the morning, who can eat with who, making sure everyone gets fed in the right order and right place

Jan. 12, 2009, 10:54 AM
I have a Lab and a JRT who are certain that they are starving all the time. I think if I set the 35# open dog food bag down in front of them, they would never come up for air until it was gone. So no, free feeding in my house won't work.

Jan. 12, 2009, 11:45 AM
I have always free fed all my dogs and cats that I have ever owned and have not had a problem with a single one. They are all healthy and happy. It really upsets me when I see people only feed their dogs/cats once a day and they literally attack the food. Can you imagine only eating once a day?!?! If people can't free feed them, please at least feed them twice a day!!!!

Jan. 12, 2009, 02:32 PM
I don't free feed any of my three (two corgis and my BigBlackDog).
We have breakfast and dinner, and if someone doesn't finish eating in 10 minutes, well, that's it until the next mealtime.
I think it's really important to know what and when the dogs eat - with my crew, loss of appetite is a very clear symptom that something is wrong. Another reason for me is because I train obedience and agility - I need to know when the dogs ate, because it just isn't fair to them to ask them to run around an agility course on a full stomach, and also because I do use food as a reward when we train.

And the big dog needs to stay lean, as his hind end isn't the best, and the corgis just don't need to carry extra weight, either - those long backs and funny front ends certainly don't need any additional (and avoidable) stress!
Oh, also because everybody gets a slightly different mix - the big dog gets a little more fat than the air fern corgi because he's a bit older, and the little girl gets more protein and fat than everybody because she burns more energy (she's not quite 3 and way more active) than the other two, and the bigdog gets his joint supps in pill form, and the air fern gets hers as powder ... and so on, and so forth.

Can you tell I'm a little obsessive about my dogs? ;)

Jan. 12, 2009, 02:56 PM
This is my first dog that free feeding worked on. All my priors were ones that would sit there until it was gone and all the enamel was successfully removed from the bowl. They were all on the twice a day plan and strictly outdoor guard dogs (don't worry I live in CA, and the coldest it ever got in the winter was high 30's and I am talking big hairy poochies). Then we got Syd, he's your delicate flower type of guy. He is a constant grazer, and when we tried to feed him in meals would go days without eating because he wasn't hungery when we wanted to feed him. He used to be chronically underweight (nothing healthwise but very high energy) and nothing put the weight on, he doesn't like table scraps or wet food. We finally switched to free feed and he maintained himself in the 34-38# range (he is a australian shepherd/kelpie), he was hit by a car and lost a leg when he was 5 so then still free feeding stayed right around 40# (finally didn't look emaciated), and now that he is 15 is the heaviest ever weighing in at a whopping 43#. Unfortunately now he has put on the weight because he has a harder time walking around and we believe has cushings but he is still very thin and trim. I would say a dog his size should really weigh in the upper 40#-50# range.

Jan. 12, 2009, 02:58 PM
I have always free fed and never had a problem with a dog overeating. OK, the Pug is a little chubby. But that's not from free feeding. That's because his mommy shares too much people food with him. Shame on me, I know.

My vet is a big advocate of free feeding, as well.

Jan. 12, 2009, 09:14 PM
I free feed everything: dogs, cats and children :winkgrin:

Jan. 12, 2009, 09:35 PM
I free feed my dogs inside they are indoor dogs. I give them one large bowl in the morning and one at night about 3-4 pounds a day. If they eat it all fine if not fine too. Most of the time it will sit for an hour or so without anything in it. Then I refill.
My chihuahua likes to eat only when she is ready so it is the only way. Of course our doberman likes to lay down and eat so having food out when he is ready suits him fine. Now we have a newbie that just showed up at our house a jrt mix and he is still nervous so having food out all the time makes it easy for him to get some when he gets up the nerves to go.

Not all dogs can be free fed as some will practically inhale the food until they pass out. Most will not over eat if free fed and usually will not get fat because they only eat when they are hungry and not while fighting over it all at once.

Plus leaving food outside all the time causes bugs and other pesky critters to hang out like raccoons.

Go Fish
Jan. 13, 2009, 04:07 AM
My Corgis could never be fed free choice. The two little food addicts would have to join Weight Watchers.

If you work full-time and are away from the house for extended periods during the day, feeding twice a day allows you to control the dog's elimination times. Something to think about...

Jan. 13, 2009, 08:54 AM
Yup. Have done that for the 3 dogs I have had over the past 13 years or so. I leave out a bowl of dry kibble and they nibble here and there. We have never had overweight dogs. Now I know there are some dogs that are total pigs or get overweight on minimal food and that would not work.......but has never been a problem here. FWIW we do not feed wet food....only free choice dry kibble and the occasional after dinner table scraps for a treat. (The cats...both house and barn........are also free choice fed with the bowl up somewhere high/the cats have to jump to get it.....otherwise the dogs would prefer the cat food!) . The Golden we just put down was 16 years old......

Jan. 13, 2009, 12:41 PM
I have to free feed, as it is the only way Stella will eat. You set a bowl of food down in front of her and she looks at it, then looks at you as if to say "Yeah. OK. What am I supposed to do with THIS?" She is a horrible eater, very finnicky (only dog I have EVER met that has to sniff a piece of steak before gingerly taking it then chewing it thoroughly before swallowing), and really is very uninterested in food. So, she has a big bowl at the barn that she picks at, and big bowl at home that she may or may not pick at. I know how much I put in each time, so I know that most days she will eventually consume 3 to 4 cups of food. Occasionally, she'll get some bug up her butt and polish off a bowl in no time flat (and because she's skinny, I usually fill it back up). She'll also eat a bit more consistently if she has "competition" (she used to eat almost all her dinner when I would feed her at night with my old roommate's dog). But most of the time it is pick, pick, pick.

I really prefer that they have set meal times, as this is the way I've always done it, but if I did that, Stella would never eat (trust me. I tried the whole leave it down for 15 minutes then take it back up until the next meal time thing...she'd rather starve then conform to my timetable :lol:).

Jan. 13, 2009, 10:22 PM
I never used to free feed until I was exposed to hunting dog packs. A young man came to live in my back yard guest house and had a small beagle pack, and he had a dry feeder in their pen for them. Then I volunteered occasionally at a foxhunt who also fed their dogs (multiples in different pens as well) from feeders. There were very few food fights, and the dogs stayed svelte. So I decided that kibble feeders, a dog door, and occasional days of fasting were an okay way to go. I've been very happy with the results with my dogs. Right now I have four spayed bitches, who, one would think, would tend to obesity. But they haven't. None of them pig out; they all seem to eat a little often. There are no feeder fights, but there is some growling/dominance behavior at the feeder at night just when I go to bed. They ARE farm dogs and get lots of exercise, and one is almost hyperactive. I've been very happy with free feeding, but I think it might work even better if a puppy was raised on it.

Jan. 14, 2009, 12:54 AM
I free feed everything: dogs, cats and children :winkgrin:

:lol: Me too! Even the horses are on self service all you can eat round bales :lol: Now I need to back away from the trough :lol:

Jan. 14, 2009, 02:26 AM
We have 4 dogs and complete free feeding. The bowls are filled in the mornings. They pick during the day, no fights, no illness, all in great shape, no pigging out, no hassle.