As pet owners, we are always looking for ways to make sure our pets are getting the best possible care available. From what they eat, to what they play with, to when they need to visit their vet, there is a ton of information out there to help us make decisions. However, on the topic of feeding, one key area that owners often struggle with is when and how to feed their pets - what is the best feeding method? Two key feeding methods stand out - free feeding and scheduled feeding. The short answer? We have a recommendation, but it depends on you.
Free feeding vs. scheduled feeding
The fundamental differences between free feeding and scheduled feeding are as their respective names may suggest. Free feeding is the practice of leaving food out for your pet in a bowl or container for an extended period of time, instead of only at your pet’s predetermined feeding time. On the other hand, scheduled feeding is the practice of sticking to a feeding routine, where pets are fed according to a strict schedule.
The answer to when and how we need to feed our pets really depends on several varying factors - dependant on you and your pet. Here a few determining factors that would influence your feeding technique:
- If you have a busy schedule and are away from home for long periods of time, then a free feeding schedule would be the most ideal approach
- The type of food/formula you are feeding your pet (wet or dry foods) would significantly swing your preference in favor of opting for scheduled feeding
- Your pet’s age and health needs would also influence the type of diet/feeding habit required towards a more scheduled approach, given that the needs would be more specific
The good and the bad…
With all this information in stock, all of us naturally want to know the simple answer - what’s good and what’s bad. Keep reading...
If you use free feeding, some of the core advantages are that your pet’s feeding cycle will not be dependant on your busy schedule. So if you leave early and work till late, all you would do is leave an excess of pet food out so your dog(s) or cat(s) could eat when they need to. This obviously would only be suitable for dry foods and dry snacks, since they would take longer to spoil.
There aren’t a lot of overwhelmingly positive attributes behind free feeding, however the negatives do wrack up. For example, leaving food out in an uncontrolled and unsupervised environment may result in your pet overeating, which in hand increases the risk of obesity due to said overeating. It’s important to note that not all pets stop eating once they are full, resulting in an unbalanced intake of food and nutrients. As a previous piece we wrote highlighted, maintaining that nutritional balance, is critical in ensuring your pet’s health.
Another main disadvantage of free feeding is that food put out for long periods of time will spoil faster and this method is highly unrecommended for wet foods, some of which may provide more nutrients and greater hydration to your pet(s).
Another owner-highlighted disadvantage of free feeding is that in homes where multiple pets co-exist, leaving food in the open, unsupervised and uncontrolled, may result in a situation where one pet bullies and dominates the other pets into eating their share of the food, leaving both groups of animals malnourished. In a supervised environment, as pet owners, we would have the ability to control the environment and prevent such domination and bullying from occurring.
With scheduled feeding, the main advantages would be a lower risk of spoiling, due to the fact the food will be prepared and taken away according to a pre-established scheduled. One of the resultant benefits of this is that wet foods now become viable, giving you the ability to choose from a greater array of nutritional options instead of depending solely on dry foods.
Another advantage, with nutritional value, is that scheduled feeding makes it easier for us to ration out quantities that match the unique dietary needs of our pets. Instead of leaving a larger quantity out throughout the day, without any control over when and how it is consumed, scheduled feeding gives us the ability to maximize and optimize the nutritional intake per meal. On average, a pet would take 20-30 minutes to complete a meal, therefore being in control of that time would hinder and avoid overeating.
Another valuable component of having a pet, is the ability to interact and bond with them. While free feeding may solve the basic requirement of feeding, scheduled feeding promotes the valuable and necessary element on bonding between you and your pet. Feeding your pet(s) at regular intervals strengthens the owner-pet relationship, which would be beneficial to both groups. The final benefit of scheduled feeding we would like to highlight is that it is significantly more ideal for sick and pets with special needs who require a controlled diet - the lack of a controlled diet would only result in undernourishment.
The main disadvantage of scheduled feeding is that it is significantly more difficult to follow if your schedule is typically busy. However, this disadvantage is largely dependant on our availability as pet owners, and, less so, on the technique itself.
Scheduled feeding is naturally the more ideal technique for feeding your pet, however, this is predicated on your availability to do. If you are uncertain as to whether you can provide regular meals and regular intervals, the most suitable option would be to utilize free feeding dry foods. If nutrition is a priority, however, then it is advisable that a scheduled feeding approach is utilized, given that proportionate and specific nutrition is essential to your pet’s well being.
If you’re in search of a good pet food product to buy in Australia, check out Black Hawk’s Chicken and Rice formula. Stay tuned to this feed for the latest information and tips on how to enhance and improve your dog’s life!