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Happy Dog Expert Tips: Feeding Behaviour in Dogs

Written by Patricia Darder, published on May 12, 2023

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Feeding behaviour in dogs – Should you be concerned about your pet’s behaviour?

You have probably noticed that dogs have different preferences and favourite foods or treats. You also may have noticed that sometimes your dog eats more or less than usual; or that they eat faster or slower. Sometimes your dog might eat things other than food. Many of these differences are often normal but they may also be due to specific disorders, or a medical problem.

Feeding behaviour in animals is closely related to their health and wellbeing. Changes in the amount of food eaten may be due to a period of stress or illness, nervousness or changes in the dog's environment. 

Indeed, changes in feeding patterns resulting from illness may in turn worsen the condition. An example of this is a reduced appetite caused by some tumours; this often occurs initially as an independent effect of weight loss caused by the tumour (called tumour cachexia). However, over time, reduced food intake will lead to malnutrition, which will promote further wasting away of the body.

Understanding the natural feeding pattern of dogs as a species – and that of an individual – is important in determining whether the behaviour that our pet is showing around food is normal or not. 

Dog feeding behaviour 

The origins of the dog as a species can provide many clues about its natural feeding pattern and the type of food that dogs need to live and develop properly.

The dog is descended from a carnivorous ancestor (the wolf) – and as such generally shows a preference for meat over other foods – but has a digestive system adapted to a more varied diet (like that of humans). 

This seems logical if we consider how dogs have been linked with people during their domestication; dogs approached human settlements motivated by the search for food (initially food scraps from people) and over time, humans ended up sharing their own food with them. Similarly, nowadays dogs can also be seen feeding on carrion or decomposing food remains; this behaviour could have been established in the early period of dog domestication and should therefore be considered normal. 

When considering the amount of food dogs need, we know that the wolf is an animal capable of eating a lot of food at once and can go for many days without eating. Although it depends on individual factors, with variations from dog to dog, we can also see that they are capable of eating a large volume of food per meal – some dogs will eat a whole packet of food given the opportunity! 

In the same way, dogs also have a remarkable resistance to starvation and can go for days without eating and not suffer serious health consequences - although you should never allow this amount of time to pass between feeds! A frequently recommended feeding pattern for dogs is to give them one or two meals each day.

Feeding and stress 

We should provide the optimal type of food for our dogs and use their natural feeding pattern. If we do not do this we can impact their wellbeing, but there are some other factors, that have been shown to strongly relate to stress in dogs, which can affect them.

For example, a change in the speed of eating food can be a sign of stress. Some animals will eat more slowly, while others will eat quicker when suffering emotional distress, just as is the case with humans.


Another important aspect is time spent foraging. Dogs are animals that have ancestrally hunted and scavenged to obtain food. Both activities take time, and involve a series of behaviours that facilitate them, such as exploring, sniffing, stalking, chasing, etc. 

These behaviours should therefore be considered normal and necessary activities for dogs. 

The dedication of time and effort to obtain food can provide a certain "protection" against the appearance of stress. This is why different ways to obtain food, either via games, puzzle or activity feeders can be used as part of environmental enrichment programmes to support dogs. 

Additionally, using ADAPTIL Calm Home Diffuser in the space where your dog spends the most time, can help to support them and provide a reassuring environment.

Are you interested in learning more about dog care and wellbeing? You can find our whole range of Happy Dog Expert articles online! And why not stay informed with all our latest guides, ADAPTIL product info, and Q&As by signing up to our newsletter?

Following our expert tips will help to ensure your bond with your dog goes from strength to strength.

Make sure to join our community for weekly advice from our dog behaviour experts as well as product offers and competitions. 

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