Why Does My Dog Only Eat At Night?

Is your dog a night time eater? ¹

Are you sick to the back teeth of waking up in the small hours of the morning to the sound of your dog eating? Or have you, yet again, had to clean up some dog mess first thing in the morning? 

If you are at your wit’s end with the problems that come from your dog eating at night, then this post is for.

Let’s dive straight in and look at why do dogs only eat at night?

Why does my dog only eat at night?

There are two main reasons that your dog only eats at night:

  1. food available
  2. it is habit

After rooting around in the forums, it seems that this can affect dogs who are being free fed and dogs that are on scheduled feeds.

What do I mean by free fed and scheduled feeding? 

Free feeding is when a dog has constant access to food, day or night. They have a bowl of food that is constantly topped up. 

Scheduled feeding is when a dog is fed at a set time (or times) a day. 

Looking in the forums, owners notice the same thing.

That their dogs just pick at their food in the morning and eat the majority of it at night.

In the next section I will compare free feeding and scheduled feeding in a little more detail.

Free Feeding vs Scheduled Feeding

Which is better free feeding or
scheduled feeding? ²

Free feeding is when your dog has access to food constantly, day and night. 

In its purest sense, the food bowl is constantly topped up and your dog decides how much to eat.

Free feeding pros 

Easy peasy: It’s (only) advantage is how easy it is particularly for people who lead very busy lives or who don’t have regular schedules- for instance they only work shifts. 

Free feeding cons

Obesity: Will your dog honestly limit the amount that they eat?!

Fussy eating: If food is available all the time, will dogs just get bored and become very fussy eaters?

Toileting: is there increased danger of dogs pooping indoors? 

Health indicator: your dog’s appetite can be an indicator of their health. Will you be as quick to identify a poor appetite if they are free feeding?

Multiple dogs: how do you make sure that one dog doesn’t food hog?

Restricted: Only really works with dry kibble

Scheduled Feeding Pros

Weight control: You have total control over the amount that your dog eats

Clean House: you have a much greater chance of keeping your house poop free because after each feed you can have “outside” time.

Indicator: you will know instantly when your dog stops eating and see if it develops into a pattern.

Multiple dogs: each dog gets their own portion. 

Flexibility: dry food, wet food or raw? The choice is yours

Scheduled Feeding Cons

More hassle: dogs like to be fed at about the same time everyday, which meas that you needto be home. 

Is it bad to only feed dog once a day?

How many times a day should a dog be fed? ³

In my experience, any issue to do with how we feed our dogs is very contentious.

People are very firm in their views, whether it be that dogs should have two set meal times a day or whether dogs should be allowed to graze. 

And in all honesty, there doesn’t seem to be any concrete evidence that a dog feeding only at night is damaging to its health.

I think that it is far more likely that your dog feeding at night is damaging your health!

By this I mean that your sleep could be interrupted if your dog is feeding in the middle of the night or you could be waking up in the morning and finding dog poop that you need to clean up.

Here’s my two penny’s worth. 

I feed my dogs twice a day at about 7.30 a.m. and 4 p.m. They are fed raw food and very rarely, if at all will they leave any food in their bowls. 

Having done a bit of research, I think that there are two reasons why dogs should have set meal times and that they shouldn’t be allowed to graze… 

Firstly, this is for behavioural reasons and secondly for biological reasons

Firstly let’s take a look at the behavioural stuff.

Meal times for dogs create a very motivating routine because obviously most dogs love food and it helps them to understand the flow of the day.

Feeding at least twice a day (as opposed to once) will improve your dog’s understanding because this highly motivating event is happening more often.

Routines are very important to dogs because they have very little control over their lives (because we as owners decide when things will happen.) 

Enjoyable routines (eating and walking) are very important for a dog’s general well being. 

which help a dog understand.

And then the biological reasons

Dogs should have more than one meal per day because after eating a meal, a dog’s stomach will gradually empty so that by about 10 hours after they have eaten, their stomach is empty and they are feeling hungry once more. 

Is eating at night bad for my dog?

Although many people would like to claim that there is hard scientific evidence that it is unhealthy for your dog to eat at night, the fact is that there isn’t.

Not enough research has been done on the impact that night time eating has on humans, let alone dogs.

An often cited piece of research was carried out back in 2009 on mice. 

Half of the mice were fed only during the day and half were fed only at night.

It is important to remember that mice are nocturnal- they sleep in the day and are active (and eat) at night.

The mice who were fed in the day (when they should have been asleep) gained weight far quicker than the mice that were fed at night. 

As far as animals are concerned, that is about it.

In terms of research carried out on humans, this Washington Post article makes for fascinating reading. 

It looks at a few different studies involving people eating at night.

If people eat at night, the body is more likely to store these calories as fat instead of burning them off as energy. 

All of this, to me, raises an interesting question about how eating late at night or during the night affects our sleep.

A topic that I will look into in more detail, next.

Is eating at night bad for sleep?

I have spent a couple of hours doing some research on this and I’m quite surprised by what I have found- or rather what I have not found.

Which is that there is no real evidence that eating late at night affects how we sleep.

I couldn’t find any studies specifically relating to dogs and so I have had to stick to studies on humans.

And none of these findings are relevant to dogs in any case. 

For instance, there is real proof that drinking caffeine and smoking just before bed can result in lost sleep. 

But this is (hopefully) irrelevant for our dogs.

Another risk of eating immediately before going to bed is heartburn, which is when stomach acid backs up from the stomach into our throat.

And this is because humans rely on gravity to keep our food in our stomach, not our throats.

Again this is irrelevant to dogs because there is nothing that they like better than to sleep after a meal. 

How to stop free feeding dogs

After reading all of this, if you want to make the transition from free feeding your dog to feeding them according to a schedule then I am going to provide you with some tips on how to do it successfully.

But please at all times be patient with your dog- any change will take time to complete successfully.

And the longer that the dog has been free feeding, the longer it might take them to be perfectly happy with scheduled feeding.

Or your dog could take to it like a duck to water- you never can tell because each dog is an individual!

The first step is to decide how many feeds to have during the day. As I said earlier, two feeds a day works well for me.

The next is decide a specific time or times and then stick to it.

After this you need to check how much you should feed your dog.

The packaging of your current food should offer you guidelines or you can use this calculator.

When you feed your dog, only leave their bowl down for a maximum of twenty minutes before taking it away again.

If your dog doesn’t finish most of the food, you should look for ways to make the food more attractive.

How to stimulate a dog’s appetite

It seems to me that most dogs that are picky eaters are on dry kibble. 

There are some easy ways to make dry kibble more attractive. 

For instance, simply mixing it with a bit of warm water will make it more appetising because by adding water the kibble will smell stronger. 

Something that takes a little bit more time and effort is to add some diced raw veg into the mix- try a little bit of cabbage or sweet potato.  

And if you want to guarantee that the plate will be empty, try making a bone marrow broth and adding that to the kibble. 

All of this talk of spicing up your dog’s kibble leads me nicely onto the next question. 

How do I make my dog eat more in the morning?

For all of you who want your dog to eat more in the morning than they currently do, I would suggest that you try some of the ideas that I have outlined above.

Or make time before you feed your dog to take them out for a walk.

Many dogs who just pick at the food in the morning are being given their food before they have had a proper walk.

Walking your dog before feeding them is an excellent way to improve their appetite for three reasons:

  1. They’re exercising and burning calories.
  2. They are also spending extended time with you 
  3. Their day is being “broken up” 

For some of you this just won’t be possible either because of the time that you start work in the morning or the demands on your time in the morning.

But if you can, try it. 

Of course, it is much easier in summer than winter!

Closing Thoughts

If you are struggling with a dog that is eating at night, the good news is that there is no firm evidence to suggest that your dog is doing themselves any long term harm with this strange habit but if you want to change the times that your dog eats then hopefully I have provided you with some inspiration.

What time should I feed my dog at night?

Should I leave food out all day

Should you leave food down for a puppy

What time should I feed my dog at night?

How long to leave food out

Photo Credits 

¹ Photo by Alex Jones on Unsplash

² Photo by Kabo on Unsplash

³ Photo by Daniel von Appen on Unsplash