Free feeding Vs meal feeding your chihuahua

How you feed your dog is something that dog owners are passionate about. What, when and how much are some of the main questions that come into the blog. One hot debate is free feeding or set meal times.

Free feeding Vs meal feeding

Here is a quick rundown of the concepts.

Free Feeding is when you leave food down all day and your chi can help himself. Meal feeding is a set meal time at regular times of day. Adult dogs need two meals a day and puppies will need 3. Puppies also need food that is higher in calories until they are at least a year. (This differs for different dogs, so check with your vet)

Free Feeding Pros

Cons of free feeding

You can only feed dry foods that won’t spoil (or will it)
You don’t know how much your dog has eaten
Food may get eaten by cats
It can be harder to toilet train a puppy (eating will make them want to poop)
Greedy dogs like mine, will overeat and get fat
‘Pet Guide’ suggests that free fed dogs are less food motivated and this can make them harder to train.

Meal feeding pros

It is easier to monitor and control how much your chihuahua eats
You can feed fresh or wet foods
Dogs that resource guard can be fed separately
You can spot if your dog is off food and possibly unwell
It is easier to tailor meals to your dog’s nutritional needs

Meal feeding cons

It requires you to stick to schedule and can tie you down (you must get back for the dogs or arrange someone to go in and feed them)
It is easier to overfeed, chihuahuas are easy to overfeed as they are so small. Just slightly too much can pile on the weight.
Your chi inhales the food because he feels pressured to eat. (Competition eating)

Tailored meals

Meal feeding is the way forward for us, we home cook a lot of the time and like to tailor our food. We have a mixed bunch of chihuahuas and they all have different nutritional needs.

Minnie is a young and unspayed (at time of writing) and needs more calories than a spayed female. But she is also greedy and on a weight reduction programme.

Arlo, the puppy (18 weeks at time of writing) needs more calories and gets three meals a day.

Mika is an older neutered male. He needs less food than a complete dog. He is also prone to anal gland issues. Meal feeding gives us the opportunity to add a bulking agent to his food. This helps by creating larger, firmer stools that will express the glands as he poops.

Add in my own supplements

With meal feeding and using wet food, it’s easier to add in supplements. I have a couple that I use all the time. Calm-K9 as it contains L-tryptophan which has a calming action and helps reduce random barking. It also supports the gut and firms up stools which helps with anal gland issues. Read more about anal glands here. Not having to go to the vet every month is saving me a fortune.


I put this in to help with teeth cleaning. I add it in daily to their food for the day. Seaweed makes plaque fall off teeth and helps aid cleaner teeth. Read more about how to clean your chihuahua’s teeth without brushing.

Click image to go to the website.

Picky eaters

We have a lot of chihuahua owners who worry that their chis are not eating enough, often they are eating more than you think, but free feeding makes it harder to monitor. Here is some more on dealing with a picky eater.

Also, if you have a tiny chihuahua prone to hypoglycaemia making sure they have eaten regularly is vital. These chis often require smaller more regular meals during the day.

In the end, you must do what works for your family and your dogs. There is no definite right and wrong.

But there is a movement away from dry dog foods that are high in carbs and contain fillers. If you are free feeding dry food make sure you research and get the best one for your chihuahua. Read why you must stop feeding carbs to your dog.

About the author

Louise Kirby

My name is Louise Kirby and I’m a freelance writer and certified Pro Dog Trainer. I adore and train all breeds but have a special interest in chihuahuas and their rehabilitation. Chihuahuas are awesome little dogs, spunky, full of joy, loyal and tenacious. But some present with behaviours that make them a challenge to manage. I’m on a mission to restore the relationship between owners and their dogs. To help you get back the dog you always dreamed of. That’s why dog training is a happiness project!

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2 thoughts on “Free feeding Vs meal feeding your chihuahua

  1. shirley

    Very interesting article. Barney who is now one and a half years old is allowed to eat what and when he wants. Have dry food set up at both my house and my mums, in his caves. Water is available via bowl attached to side of caves. We monitor how much dry kibble he eats per day and he also gets shredded chicken and other small pieces of food in a day. He is slightly bigger in height and size than some chis I have seen but he is not overweight or in poor health. His long coat is in great condition as is he… Gets plenty of walking and is not getting carried as much now (only when he is tired or unsure of something). Great wee personality and would be lost without him now.
    I never fed my other dog, a Collie/Whippet cross, any wet dog food and it worked for her too, she had a great life living to 14 and 1/2 years. Hope Barney has as long and active life as she had.
    Keep up the great work with your articles. Have certainly helped me get to know what to do and expect from these small whirlwinds of a dog.

  2. Pat Tristrin

    For us, this has never needed to be a case of one or the other with feeding methods. Our chihuahuas have low calorie food available constantly, but we supplement this with the rest (e.g. meats, vegetables, specific dietary needs for individual animals, etc). I have found, with long years or experimentation, that this works best when dealing with animals who need to be rehabilitated. The constant food encourages good pack etiquette, leading to polite sharing and preventing aggressive food guarding. It also helps many dogs who are very ‘greedy’ (sometimes with the tendency to overeat to the point when they can actually be sick) to relax around food and stops their need to eat to compete. Of course, this would not work if we just left them alone. They are constantly monitored, so the specific eating amounts, and behaviour, is easy to measure (for us – not for every family perhaps).

    Equally, the food we give by hand is the ‘tasty’ part. It allows us all the usual benefits of training and offers us the chance to deal with the dietary needs of each dog. I know that food choices can be really difficult for pet owners, so it may be helpful to know that it is possible to combine the two techniques. I find it particularly interesting that much of what I discovered from working with ‘needy’ chihuahuas actually goes against the standard advice (i.e. the grazing part actually discourages competitive eating, reduces greed eating and does not diminish the food orientated training – under the right conditions). All of this further highlights just how complicated feeding can be – and how much potential for good there is in different methods too.

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