Are you constantly woken up in the early morning hours to the sound of chomping? Have you wondered why your dog refuses to eat when you give them their food, but when the clock strikes twelve, there is a sudden surge of hunger? Are you always waking up to a kibble mess to clean? Some dogs sure have strange habits when it comes to eating.
So why is your dog only eating at night? The two reasons for this are that a) there is food available and b) your dog has (subsequently) gotten used to eating whenever they want. Dogs inherently are creatures of habit, which is luckily something we can use to our advantage. If your dog is eating in the mid-morning hours and you would rather have them eat earlier, you could introduce different eating patterns, as long as you do it correctly.
You may have been feeding your dog late at night for various reasons, including work, your busy schedule, or simple forgetfulness. This could become inconvenient, especially if your dog needs a toilet trip shortly after eating, which could demand you to sacrifice sacred sleep to let your dog go outside.
Your dog might be awake at night because he is eating too late and is full of energy, making him eager to play, interact and go to the potty. To avoid this, their feeding needs to take place at least three hours before bedtime. On the other hand, if your dog wakes you up for food in the middle of the night, it might be that your second mealtime is not big enough. Perhaps try to increase the meal size or give your dog a snack before going to bed. This should prevent your dog from asking for food in the middle of the night, therefore shifting their eating patterns a bit earlier. It is also worthwhile to check the quality and nutrients of the food you are giving your dog. Are they getting all the appropriate calories, vitamins, and minerals for their size, age, and life stage? Your dog might also be bringing in a bit more exercise than the average dog. This will increase their energy demand, and in this case, you can adjust their portion size accordingly.
A dog’s stomach anatomy is simple like a human’s. Once it is filled with food, it will start to digest and move on to the intestines within 8 – 10 hours. This is why it is recommended to feed your dog at least two meals per day since a dog will start feeling hungry once its stomach is empty. It is also not recommended to feed more than 12 hours apart. If the dog’s stomach is empty for extended periods, it can cause the acid level to become too high and cause nausea. This is why it is not recommended only to feed your dog once a day. But, because of your busy schedule, it is understandable that you have had to feed him late at night. It might take some extra effort to ensure that your dog is fed in time. So when should you feed your dog to prevent him from being up late at night?
The truth is that there is no ideal time for your dog to eat. However, having a set routine and schedule builds security and confidence. The eating routine can be a beneficial coping mechanism for your dog in times of change, like when it is time to move to a new home or when a new baby arrives. Just like the rest of your ups and downs as a family, changing your dog’s eating routine also needs to be something the whole family engages in. Change cannot occur if the effort is made by one person only. If you consider having a set time when your dog is not allowed to eat anymore, make sure that no one is giving them snacks or treats any longer. This could extend your learning period and could make the change much more of a struggle.
If you are free-feeding, you might just want to remove your dog’s food at a certain time in the evening to allow them to stop eating during the night. If you are doing scheduled feeding, it becomes a bit more complicated. Note that free-feeding is not recommended for puppies. This can cause over-eating, which could lead to discomfort and, in the long run, it could lead to obesity. Certain dogs will not do well with this as they simply do not have an off button.
If you are adamant and have decided to change your dog’s feeding times, the key to success is gradual change. Never make abrupt alterations to your dog’s diet. If you would like your dog to start eating earlier, the way to approach this is to move their dinner time earlier very gradually. For example, if you are currently feeding at 10:00 PM, then move dinner to 9:30 PM. Slowly and gradually, continue to adjust feeding time until your dog eats at the time you desire. If your dog is a grazer and you would like to experiment with schedule eating, try putting the food bowl down about an hour before eating time, but only for a minute or two. This will help your dog understand that feeding does not last for an undetermined amount of time. Then, when you would like them to eat, put down the food and only take the food away once your dog completely stops eating. During these experiments, you will need to take note of your dog’s behavior and see whether they adapt or not. Many owners have noted that their animals do not enjoy scheduled eating and that they do exceptionally well when allowed to graze (provided they do not wake their owners in the wee morning hours). You will realize soon enough if your dog does not enjoy the scheduled eating in the evening. In this case, what would your alternative be?
To allow your dog to take in all the nutrients they need, you could introduce larger portions in the morning and make the evening portion smaller so that they do not continue eating late at night. Use a measuring cup to measure out their day’s food, and then split it into portions. This will help ensure that they are getting all their nutrients for the day, and your only job will be to break up the portions. What if your dog does not want to eat in the morning? Well, if they have been eating late into the night, they might not be hungry enough. It might take some time to adapt to the new rhythm, so be patient with your pet. Do not worry too much if they miss a meal – they will most certainly eat if they are hungry.
There are a couple of approaches you could follow to help your dog to start eating more in the morning.
- Gradually adjust portions. Increase the portion fed in the morning while decreasing the amount provided at night.
- If this is not working, make one evening meal very small. This will help your pet be hungrier in the morning.
- If your dog is still not keen on eating in the morning, add some wet dog food to dry pellets to make the food more appetizing.
Although there are many approaches available, it is perhaps best to change one thing at a time, i.e., if you are moving dinner time around, don’t adjust portion sizes at the same time. Allow your pet to adapt gradually. If your dog has stopped eating or is not finishing its food like it used to, this could be a sign of illness. Take care to observe changes like this and consult your veterinarian if you suspect any illness.
It might take some time for your dog to adapt to a new way of eating. It is worth it to put in extra love and care during this time of change. Give all the necessary patience and kindness until your dog has adapted and is happy in its new routine. It will surely be worth the effort, and pretty soon, you should get back all your sacred hours of sleep.