Recently you have noticed that your dog doesn’t like eating during the day. Yes, he or she might take a few bites here and there but they won’t take time and eat the food in one sitting. The time they actually take out time to eat their food is late at night. This behavior seems to be the norm for your dog, and when you look at everything generally, nothing seems wrong with them. They seem healthy and active or are they? Because of this challenge, you seem to be unable to implement the healthy diet the professionals have advised and this seems to be keeping you worried. Is this behavior going to affect my dog in the long run? Why does my dog only eat at night? and what can I do about it?
Well, your dog is only eating at night because 1. You have allowed the behavior to persist for a long time 2. Food is easily accessible to your dog and 3. Because your dog has been doing it for some time, he or she has come to believe that this is the normal way of being and has formed a habit of it.
What exactly are you saying? some might ask, well let’s look at each of them in detail before discussing what we can do about them.
1.You have allowed the behavior to persist for a long time.
Simply put you have not taken up properly the responsibility of feeding your dog on a scheduled timeline and your dog has been doing this for himself or herself for a long time now. This is more evident for people who do free feeding for their dogs. Basically, the dog parent just puts food in the dog bowl any time he or she feels like it and leaves it there, whether the dog eats it up or not is not checked on. They just pile on food in the dog bowl whenever they find it empty. This behavior leaves the dog eating the meal whenever they chose to and leaving it when they don’t. The dog parents believe he or she is keeping their dogs feed, but in reality, all they are doing is leaving the decision of when to eat to their dogs. So the dog in this situation can decide to eat his or her meals only at night.
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2.Food is easily accessible to your dog
Another reason why your dog may be eating only at night is that they have access to food on their own. You see, one thing our dogs are good at is testing their boundaries. That means they will test once in a while whether they can follow you into areas you have restricted them from coming into, they test the boundary on how far they can follow you around, and yes they would test their boundaries on their access to the foodstuff in the house. Needless to say, dogs are known to be notoriously greedy when they start getting something they want so if they can get access to food late at night, they would make sure to take full advantage of that lapse.
3.Your dog has formed a habit of eating at night.
Dogs are creatures of habit, they like to operate in a particular sequence, this helps them to keep track of time and also have some control over what happens to them even if this control is an illusion. So if your dog is eating only at night, there is a probability that he or she has formed this habit for the reasons we mentioned above.
You see all animals including dogs operate on some sort of biological clock on a molecular level termed as the Circadian rhythm or clock. This is like a 24-hour cycle of things that try to influence the way living things behave throughout the day, this includes sleeping, waking up, moving around, eating, and more. The normal way in which this clock functions would be, exposure to light is time for engaging in physical activities, these include moving around, eating, etc. Exposure to darkness generally is time for rest, sleeping, etc.
So looking even though eating at night does not look like the normal thing, your dog using his or her mental will and dependent on the feeling they are getting from the environment of safety, calmness, security, etc. can decide that eating at night is better and safer and thereby continue in the newfound habit. This is especially more so with the first two reasons for eating mentioned above at play in the dog’s life.
So with all the reasons above why your dog might be eating their food only at night. “Is it bad to feed a dog late at night” or to keep allowing them to have access to food at night? Well, although there is no in-depth research to say that this is a bad thing. A general observation from dog parents and dog experts including vets, trainers, and behaviorists all point to more disadvantages doing this than the perceived advantage. The perceived advantage is not having to worry about whether your dog would eat or not as they would always have access to food and eat at their own time. The disadvantages which are more in number are listed below.
i.) Dogs that eat at night are prone to obesity.
Most dogs that eat only at night have a high possibility of ending up obese. As we tried to explain earlier when talking about the reasons why your dog would eat only at night. We mentioned the biological clock also known as the Circadian rhythm or clock. The normal cycle for this clock is to have our dogs feeding in the daytime and resting at night. Your dog eating only at night interrupts this cycle. This, in turn, disrupts the digestive process in their body and when food is not properly digested, it leads to fat deposits in their system which later manifests itself in form of obesity.
ii.) Dogs that eat at night are hard to housebreak.
Dogs that eat only at night are notorious for messing up the household, especially indoors. This mostly has to do with their digestive system cycle. On average, it takes about ten to twelve hours for the cycle to be completed and waste products removed from their system. So in this instance, a dog that eats at midnight would be ready to defecate around ten to twelve in the morning. Now if you read our article “Why Does My Dog Watch Me Poop?” You will understand that one very important thing for a dog while defecating is security. If for some reason nobody is around to housebreak them or they don’t have a housebreaking schedule, the safest place to defecate would be inside your house. Obviously, this is not a situation which you would want in your house.
Moreso, unless you are going to create a housebreaking schedule around this timeline which means you are ok with your dog eating only at night, your dog would continue having a messy house for a long time.
iii.)Dogs that eat at night are more prone to health problems.
This is evident, from obesity to stomach problems and more. Since eating good food and proper digestion is essential to the healthy function of any dog, lack of eating properly and poor digestion is a major contributor to health problems in dogs like stomach bloating, heart diseases, poor musculoskeletal development, and more.
iv.) Dogs that eat at night are usually tired and lethargic during the day.
Most dogs who eat at night are tired during day time. Looking back at the Circadian rhythm or clock, your dog eating at night is like trying to reverse the normal flow of their biological clock, this on its own will cause a disruption in the normal functioning of their body leaving them weak, tired, and lethargic during the day time.
v.) Dogs that eat at night are burdened with excess energy which they need to burn at night.
When your dog eats late at night, his or her body is forced to store up so much energy which needs to be dissipated somehow. If they eat during the daytime, there is a high probability that you and them will engage in some form of play, obedience training, or exercise routine. This would help to significantly burn a major portion if not all of the energy that their body has. Switch this scenario to the night time, when they eat during this period, the energy built up would probably not allow them to sleep leading to them being active when they are supposed to be sleeping. Now, this can be a problem for you especially if you are trying to get some rest at that time. At the end of the night, both of you would be too tired to face the next day.
So we can see all the disadvantages that come with your dog eating at night. Now maybe, you have a situation where you are a creature of the night. In that situation, you should work more to make sure your dog’s biological clock fits into your schedule so that you two can always manage the challenges of eating at night and enjoy your moments together.
But if you have a situation where your dog eating only at night does not suit you, and you need them eating in the daytime to feed your schedule, here are things you can do.
a.) Stop feeding them at rampart periods/hours.
You need to deal with reason number one “You have allowed the behavior to persist for a long time” and take back control of your dog’s feeding schedule. Normally, it is recommended that you feed your dog twice a day, even though some would still do well eating once a day. So how do you start? Well, you can start by deciding which time you want your dog. If you want to do it twice a day, a good example would be eight in the morning and seven in the evening. Make food available for your dog to eat at these periods for about an hour and if your dog doesn’t eat them the food disappears.
This would help your dog to understand that his or her feeding is available for only a limited window of time and if the opportunity is missed, they would have to wait for the next schedule. It will also help them to start realigning their biological clock.
2.Remove access to food.
There is a big possibility that the food your dog is eating at night is one to which he or she should not have access to. You should make sure that they cannot reach such foodstuff and the only chance of them eating is the one you provide for them. Do a thorough check of your household and make sure that they can’t get access to what you don’t approve of.
3.Start rationing their food.
This is also very important, you will need to liaise with your vet doctor to determine what amount of food you need to be giving your dog daily. For example, if you are feeding your dog twice a day and the required amount of food for your dog is one cup per day. Then, you will need to give your dog half a cup of food for each scheduled time. It might seem harsh at the beginning but what you are doing here is making sure your dog does not overfeed and thereby reduce the possibility of obesity and the health challenges that come with it.
4.Make the change gradual.
This can only be possible if you have the time to engage with your dog on this level. If you don’t you might need to engage someone else or pay someone to help you out. So it goes like this. You notice that your dog eats at midnight, you can start by making the food available thirty minutes after twelve. Your dog would not feel the change much but after four or five days, you change the timing to an hour later, you do this progressively till you are able to get your dog to start eating in the morning. Now, this method requires a lot of persistence and patience as you are trying to change your dog’s habit gradually.
5.Keep on a leash at night.
Keeping your dog on a leash at night is only a way of making sure that he or she is unable to go out on their own and find some food stash to continue in their habit. Some dogs would try to resist earlier on by barking at night or even trying to avoid the leash when you start the process. You can always ignore the barking, when they don’t get a response they would adjust to the new norm. To attract your dog to yourself, you can use treats or some other dog obedience training method.
We have delved into all aspects of why your dog eats only at night and how you can handle it. Even though it is advisable for you to change this habit of your dog. You can still carry on with it, but at least be aware of what you are doing and what’s going on with your dog. So what will you do now? The ball is in your court!
Hi, I am Charles Nwankwo Editor-in-Chief, Mydoggything.com. Gleaning from Professional Dog Trainers, behaviorist, Registered Veterinarians, and Breeders. We are passionate about making dog care easy for you. My job is to make sure that you get the best-updated dog care information to understand and take care of your dog or dogs.