The Health Implications of Once-Daily Feeding For Companion Dogs

Feeding your dog just once a day could be the key to optimal health and cognitive function, learn more in this research study from the Dog Aging Project.

The Health Implications of Once-Daily Feeding For Companion Dogs
They always seem to know when its dinner time.

When I first started reading into this subject my first thought was "there is no way my dog is going to let me get away with feeding her once a day", because she loves her meal times, she lives for her meal times, and she would have you believe that I starved her. My dog is, unlike me, the perfect weight and in good shape because I take care to feed her balanced portions of good quality food.

But I feed her twice a day, every day. Once shortly after we wake up, and then a lighter meal in the early evening, and I thought this perfectly normal until I started reading these feed your dog once a day articles, so I read the research.

Like any dog owner I want to make sure my dog lives the healthiest, best life they can live, and most of us work hard to shower them with affection, give them the best of care, and watch their diet. But over the last couple of years some interesting research studies surrounding the impact of diet on health and aging have become a topic of significant interest. The field has uncovered the possible benefits of intermittent fasting and time-restricted feeding, which have been extensively researched in laboratory animals and humans. but, the frequency of feeding in pet dogs, who provide an excellent model for studying dietary effects on large mammals in human-like environments, has slipped under the radar.

The Dog Aging Project

The launch of the Dog Aging Project marked a major milestone in research efforts aimed at understanding the interplay between biology, lifestyle, and environment in influencing healthy aging in dogs. This ambitious initiative, partly funded by the National Institute on Aging, brought together thousands of dogs of various breeds, ages, and sizes, making it an unmatched resource for understanding how different factors, including diet, shape a dog's health and cognitive ability.

A band of committed researchers and veterinarians founded the project with a mission to enhance our understanding of canine aging, and uplift the quality of life of our beloved furry friends, which is a mission we at Roch can firmly get behind. Through gathering data spanning multiple dimensions of a dog's life, such as diet, activity levels, medical history, and living conditions, the project seeks to uncover the key drivers of dog longevity and well-being.

Meals Matter: Scrutinising the Frequency of Feeding

One of the most interesting topics under the microscope in the Dog Aging Project is the frequency of feeding and its potential bearing on cognitive function and health conditions. Previous studies suggest that lifespan extension and health improvement may be achieved in lab animals through caloric restriction and intermittent fasting, but applying these findings directly to our dogs companions is easier said than done, requiring serious reading and learning.

Study Blueprint
To examine the association between the frequency of feeding and cognitive function, as well as health conditions in pet dogs, the researchers of the Dog Aging Project mined data from the thousands of dogs participating in their study. Their analysis centred around dogs aged one and above, since meal frequency often undergoes adjustment as puppies evolve into adults. The participating dogs included both mixed breeds, and different pedigree dog breeds.

The researchers employed two surveys for their data collection - the Health and Life Experience Survey (HLES) and the Canine Social and Learned Behavior Survey (CSLB). The HLES enabled comprehensive data collection about each dog's life, including details about diet, exercise, health status, and more. In contrast, the CSLB, a measure of cognitive function, provided insights into behaviors which could indicate, or be early signs of dementia in dogs.

The researchers took pains to ensure the reliability of their results, they controlled for potential confounding factors such as sex, age, breed (for purebred dogs), and body size (for mixed breed dogs).They also accounted for whether the dogs received daily omega-3 or other fatty acid supplementation, which have been previously linked to cognitive function and various health conditions.

Positive Findings: Cognitive Function

An exploration into the cognitive function of dogs revealed an intriguing finding, dogs on a once-a-day feeding regime posted superior average cognitive scores when compared to dogs that were provided meals more frequently. The pattern became clear as the data unfolded, dogs that ate less frequently seemed to exhibit a marked improvement in cognitive performance.

However, it's vital to note that this study does not assert causation, it merely illustrates a correlation. Still, the observations resonate strongly with preceding research conducted on humans and rodents, these earlier studies have put forth the hypothesis that diets with defined feeding times could potentially enhance cognitive function. The alignment between the findings of this study and previous research sparks an interesting conversation, one that suggests a potential pathway to boosting canine cognitive health via diet restrictions.

Delving Deeper: Health Conditions

In the next phase of their research, the team looked at the association between feeding frequency and an array of health conditions. These conditions were segregated into nine broad categories for the purpose of this investigation, and the categories covered dental or oral diseases, skin disorders, gastrointestinal issues, occurrences of cancer or tumours, kidney or urinary problems, cardiac disorders, neurological maladies, and liver or pancreas disorders.

As the researchers sifted through the data, the results that emerged were genuinely exciting, and deeply interesting. The dogs that were given a single meal per day displayed a significantly lower propensity for developing a host of conditions. Specifically, these dogs exhibited fewer instances of gastrointestinal, dental, orthopedic, kidney/urinary, and liver/pancreas disorders compared to their canine counterparts who were fed more frequently.

In light of these findings, the researchers deduced that a once-daily feeding regimen could potentially be highly beneficial to the overall health of a dog. This was not just limited to one aspect of their health but extended across multiple facets. The evidence points towards a fascinating hypothesis, that feeding frequency could play a vital role in promoting the health of our dogs.

Caveats of the Study

While these findings may sound quite exciting, lets start talking caveats for a moment, this study, like a snapshot, looked at a specific moment in time. It didn't follow the same dogs over many years to definitely say 'this' caused 'that'. So, while we see a strong link between once-a-day feeding and better health, we can't be sure yet if one directly causes the other. This is often the way with research studies, they end up asking many more questions than they answer.

Some dog owners involved in the study might have started feeding their dogs once a day because of existing health issues, rather than the once-a-day feeding preventing these issues in the first place. This situation is a bit like putting the cart before the horse, known as 'reverse causality' in research terms. To clear this confusion, future studies need to follow the same dogs over a longer period and monitor changes as they happen. This study also didn't look at how many calories dogs were eating each day, and caloric intake is an important part of the puzzle.

It's not just how often you eat, but also how much you eat that counts, so for us to get a full picture, future studies need to track both feeding frequency and calorie count. While the findings are promising, it's best to wait for more research to fully understand how we can best use this information with our dogs.

While this study provides compelling insights into the potential advantages of once-daily feeding for dogs, particularly with regard to cognitive function and certain health conditions, any changes in a dog's feeding regime should be approached cautiously, and preferably in consultation with a veterinarian.

Every dog is unique, and individual factors such as breed, age, weight, and specific health conditions play a crucial role in determining their dietary needs, customised feeding approach, tailored to your dog's specific needs, is critical for ensuring their overall health, happiness and longevity.

Future Directions: Diet Research for Dogs and Beyond

The Dog Aging Project and similar research projects represent a monumental leap in our understanding of aging and health in dogs, as researchers continue their data gathering and analysis, we can look forward to some enlightening discoveries about the effect of diet on canine health.

As we deepen our understanding of the influence of diet on health and aging, it becomes increasingly clear that feeding frequency is a pivotal player in ensuring the wellness of our dogs. While once-daily feeding appears promising for cognitive function and health conditions, approach this topic carefully.

The Dog Aging Project and its passionate team have offered insights into the potential benefits of once-daily feeding for our canine companions. But I personally think that much more research is needed to fully grasp the causal link between feeding frequency and health outcomes. I am not about to start feeding my own dog once a day because of this research, even if I tried am not sure that my dog would let me get away with only feeding her once a day, I work from home and can imagine the distraction she would be.

Until we have a clearer picture, prioritize your dogs' health by ensuring a balanced and nutritious diet, encouraging regular physical activity, and scheduling routine veterinary check-ups, as the quest for promoting longevity and well-being in our beloved four-legged friends continues.

This article provides my own analysis of the Dog Aging Project's findings on feeding frequency and its effect on the health of dogs, but I am not a scientist. Read the original study yourself here.