Every dog is different and, depending on factors such as breed, size, age and health, their particular dietary needs may also be different, including what you should feed them and how much.
But what about frequency? A new study that evaluated more than 10,000 dogs offers startling insights into the apparent links between feeding frequency and canine health — and the key takeaway is certainly food for thought.
According to research, adult dogs that are fed only once a day tend to score significantly better on several health indicators, compared to dogs that are fed more often.
“Controlling for sex, age, breed and other potential confounders, we found that dogs fed once a day rather than more frequently had lower mean scores on a cognitive dysfunction scale and a higher likelihood lower to have gastrointestinal, dental, orthopedic, kidney/urinary problems, and liver/pancreas disorders,” says the research team, led by first author and canine health researcher Emily Bray of the University of Arizona, in the new article.
The findings are drawn from data collected by a large, ongoing canine health study called the Dog Aging Project.
Although you shouldn’t rush out and change your feeding routine just yet, the results suggest that the kinds of benefits apparently provided by time-restricted feeding – mostly seen in lab experiments involving rodents at this day – could also extend to companion dogs.
Not that the results aren’t something of a surprise – even to the scientists doing the research.
“We weren’t at all convinced that we would see any differences in dog health or cognition based on feeding frequency,” said lead author and biostatistician Kathleen Kerr of the University of Washington, when preliminary results were announced in December.
“I think we would have been delighted to see an association between eating frequency and health in just one domain. I was surprised to see associations in so many domains.”
While a feeding frequency of one meal per day was associated with better outcomes for dogs in some areas, in other areas it was not so clear. Measures of disease risk in terms of heart, skin, and neurological health, as well as cancer incidence, did not show statistically significant effects.
Beyond that, the researchers recognize a number of limitations to keep in mind in their study. All feeding data was self-reported by dog owners – meaning it is subject to errors of memory and interpretation – and the study was unable to distinguish the possible influence caloric restriction (which was not measured in the study) feeding frequency.
Still, despite the limitations, the team say this is the largest feeding frequency study to date conducted in companion dogs, and there’s clearly something going on here to suggest that feeding your dog just once a day is linked to certain health benefits.
As to what it is, exactly, remains unknown, and the researchers point out that the results only show an association, and do not demonstrate causation – meaning we cannot conclude that a frequency Lower feeding actually leads to better health in dogs.
For example, there could be many reasons why less healthy dogs might be fed more frequently than healthy dogs (extra meals for taking medication, for example), as Bray points out.
Until much more is known about the mechanisms underlying this apparent phenomenon – and further research can somehow further explain the results – no one should change how often they feed their dog on the basis of this study alone, the researchers say.
“However, if supported by future studies, it may be prudent to revisit the currently prevailing recommendation that adult dogs should be fed twice daily,” the team concludes.
“The rationale for twice-daily feeding in dogs is unclear…and our study suggests that more frequent feeding may, in fact, be suboptimal for several age-related health conditions.”
The findings are reported in GeroScience.