As you watch your pooch gulp down its dinner, consider the expression “wolfs down its food.” Your dog, its relatives and all of its distant wolf ancestors have at least one thing in common: They love to eat. At mealtime, you are your pet’s waiter, busboy, chef and cleanup crew all rolled into one. Unlike a restaurant, which must go through health inspections, your makeshift doggy diner has only you for quality control. Here, American Kennel Club spokesperson Lisa Peterson offers suggestions for setting up and running the perfect pet-feeding station for your favorite canine customer.
Shopping for China
The first step in setting up your dog’s feeding station is choosing its “china,” aka water and food bowls. Since the bowls that you select could affect your dog’s health, this step is critical. Usually bowls come in four basic materials: plastic, rubber, stainless steel and ceramic. Each has advantages but possibly some major disadvantages, too.
- Plastic As a lightweight material, plastic is easy to move and transport. Some plastic bowls can also go into the dishwasher, making cleanup a snap. However, Peterson, also an experienced dog breeder, says that “Many dog owners have reported that their dog’s nose changes color after the dog often eats out of a plastic bowl.” Debra Eldredge, DVM, a veterinarian at Burrstone Animal Hospital in Vernon, NY, suggests plastic may very well be the culprit, as it appears to turn some dogs’ noses a pinkish hue. While it’s unclear if the color change hurts dogs in the long run (and no firm cause for the phenomenon has yet been established), it’s possible that some canines are allergic to plastic, which is an oil/petroleum-based material. Peterson advises to pass up the plastic.
- Rubber Like plastic, rubber is lightweight. It’s also more durable, bouncing back into shape after dings. Dr. Eldredge indicates that, as for plastic, it may also lead to allergic reactions. This is particularly true for synthetic rubber, which is made from a bunch of chemicals. It’s best to give rubber the rub and choose something else.
- Stainless Steel “It’s durable and doesn’t dent easily,” says Peterson, who believes stainless steel isn’t a bad option. One downfall is that some steel bowls fare better than others after going into the dishwasher. Since she advises to clean bowls once daily, you might have to manually wipe such bowls clean, rinse them and then let them air-dry.
- Ceramic Ceramic is Peterson’s material of choice for dog bowls. It has all of the benefits of stainless steel, in addition to being dishwasher safe. “Plus, it’s heavy,” she says, “so it doesn’t move all over the place when your dog is trying to eat.”
Peterson advises all dog owners to begin feeding their pets inside their crates. This serves as training, so that whenever you need to transport your dog, it will “be anxious to go right in,” she says. Once your dog learns to associate happy mealtime with the crate, you can then place the water and food bowls in their permanent position.
Since dogs will eat almost anywhere, Peterson says you have many feeding-station placement options. The kitchen floor works well for most owners, since cleanup is usually easier there, and dogs can possibly share mealtimes with owners. Pantries and even bathrooms, preferably with a tile floor, also work well. She did, however, share the following three bowl placement no-no’s:
- Don’t put your dog’s feeding station in a high traffic area. This could disturb your dog, family and guests.
- Don’t locate your dog’s bowls in places frequented by young children. Peterson says, “Kids may bother the dog and might even try to eat its food!
- Don’t feed your dog near your garbage can or other potentially hazardous materials. Your primed-to-eat dog might be tempted to sniff around your garbage, not realizing that a tasty meat scrap could be covered with old ink or some other harmful, disposed item.
Free-feeding is another no-no, according to Peterson. She instead advises the following feeding schedules, based on your dog’s stage of life. Refer to your dog food of choice for recommended daily portions, since these depend on multiple factors, such as breed, weight and activity level.
- Puppies Young pups should be fed 3-4 [style: three to four?] small meals daily, or preferably, they should eat every couple of hours. “Remember that if they were with their mother, they’d have access to her milk all day long,” she explains, adding that pups also have small stomachs, which cannot hold a lot of food at one time, hence the tiny, multiple portions. Additionally, puppies need to eat frequently to keep their blood sugar in balance.
- Dogs, Six Months to a Year Peterson says that when puppies reach the age of six months, they should be fed around two times daily. When you feed is up to you, but she suggests treating them as a member of your own family. “I like to feed my own dogs at breakfast and dinner time so they feel like they’re eating with us,” she says.
- Dogs, a Year and Older Adult dogs should be fed once or twice daily. You could even feed your dog more often, so long as the daily portion remains the same. For example, if your dog should consume 1 cup of food each day, but you’d like to feed it three times daily, serve three meals consisting of about 1/3 cup. Peterson says it’s also very important to take treat consumption into consideration. “This is especially true if you’re trying to cut back on your dog’s calories,” she says. “Always keep in mind the calorie and nutritional content of treats that you feed your dog, and calculate these into the daily total.”
Make Mealtime Fun
Treats to a dog can be like dessert to us. By their very nature, treats are a tasty reward associated with good behavior and good times. Kathy Miller, director of ForPaws Corgi Rescue online, advises that you buy nutritious treats, formulated especially for dogs, instead of feeding people food. Better yet, “We use the dog’s regular food as their primary treat!” Peterson also does this with her own pets.
Feeding time can be training and playtime all at once. Miller, for example, begins by asking her dogs if they want a “yummy dinner.” Her dog Bart knows what this phrase means “and goes nuts.” Miller then runs him through a short battery of basic commands, such as sit and lie down, before Bart gets to chow down. The routine reinforces good behavior with good food, which benefits both dogs and owners.
To avoid boredom, Peterson also sometimes hides her dog’s kibble around the house. “I place it under the sofa, behind the TV, just anywhere where my dog can easily retrieve it but will face a little challenge finding the food.” The edible hide-and-go-seek serves as behavioral enrichment, stimulating your dog’s natural food-finding skills.
While dogs have their own special needs, at the end of the day, they want what you desire from a memorable meal: good food served on quality dishes; clean and sanitary conditions; friendly, reliable service; and most of all, fun. You needn’t take your pet to a five-star restaurant, though, to experience such a meal. If you’ve set up the feeding station properly, chances are your home is Michelin Guide-worthy to your dog.