As much as we all love our dogs, there are times when we unfortunately have to leave them home alone. Whether you have to stay late at work one night, or your dog walker calls in sick, it can be tough on both you and your dog to be apart — especially when your pup’s dog bowl is empty and their tummy is rumbling. But there's one thing we can do to help make life a little bit better for them: get them on a regular feeding schedule with the help of an automatic feeder.
Eating at the same time every day is healthy for your dog. It allows them to feel taken care of and secure, making the separation from you a little easier. Regular schedules also help prevent pet obesity because it allows you to control their caloric and nutritional intake every day.
Most dogs need to eat at least twice a day, but some dogs have medical issues or special dietary needs — and if you’re late feeding them, it can affect their health.
Regular feeding schedules can also make your life easier as well. After all, a dog that eats on a schedule poops on a schedule — meaning you’re less likely to come home to an accident. Regular eating also helps you notice if something is wrong with your dog’s health because often the first sign that your pup is sick is a lack of appetite.
This is where automatic dog feeders come in handy. They will allow you to set up a routine that keeps your dog fed at the same time every day — regardless of whether you’re home or not to give them their favorite dry food.
Plus, some dog feeders allow for portion control, so you can decide exactly how much or how little pet food gets dispensed, whether you have a little dog or a large dog with a big appetite. If your dog tends to eat too quickly, you can also program a smart auto feeder to dispense food in small increments over a period of time to make sure they don’t gobble down their meal too quickly.
There are four main types of automatic dog feeders: gravity feeders, programmable models that release a set amount of food at a set time, plate feeders, and smart feeders that can be controlled from your phone.
We left gravity feeders out from this list because they don't really automatically feed your pet. This type of feeder is basically designed to keep the food bowl full at all times, refilling whenever your pup eats so their dog bowl is never empty. This is essentially a recipe for keeping your dog overfed, which isn't great for your pup's health because it can lead to obesity and other health issues.
The other three types are better options for automatic feeding. Programmable models with a timer allow you to select the amount of food and dispensing time. Plate feeders require you to portion out the food into multiple compartments (which gives you control over the exact amount) and then they rotate to reveal one section at a time. Smart feeders give you full remote control, allowing you to set feeding times, amounts, and more through a smartphone app. You can even dispense pet food if you’re running late and forgot to schedule the feeder before you left the house.
It depends on what kind of automatic dog feeder you’re using. Most pet feeders can dispense dry kibble and round or small-ish treats with no issue.
However, programmable plate feeders can also serve wet food to your pup because they have lids that seal the plate of food until feeding time. You’ll have to remember to fill these plate feeders each morning before you leave the house though.
Chances are, if your dog is food motivated, training them to use an automatic feeder shouldn’t be too difficult. In fact, the sound of the feeder dispensing food might be music to their ears, waking them from a dead sleep to run over for their dinner.
But if your pup is fearful of loud or unfamiliar noises, as some shelter dogs tend to be, you might need to desensitize them to the feeder over a period of time.
A good way to do this: feed them in their regular dog bowl, but put the automatic pet feeder right next to the bowl. This will get them used to seeing it.
Then, once the presence of the food dispenser no longer bothers them, program it to just dispense their favorite treat around the same time as mealtime while you’re around. This will help them get used to the meal while you’re home and realize that good things — aka treats — come from it.
Eventually, remove their old bowl and just feed them from the automatic feeder, even when you’re around.
Take stock of your current feeding schedule and routine. Are you usually rushing home to feed your pup? Do they prefer smaller meals throughout the day or 1-2 large meals? Are you a fan of digital systems vs. automatic timers that release food? Is having a manual option important? Do you have multiple dogs to feed? Is your dog a large breed? And does your dog prefer dry dog food or wet food (or both)? The answers to these questions will all impact which automatic dog feeder is best for you and your pup.
For example, if your dog won’t touch dry food, then you’re better off with a plate feeder because it can seal off and keep wet food fresh. But if your dog is all about the kibble, a programmable might be better. Smart feeders that can be controlled through apps, meanwhile, are great if you tend to forget to do things (like program a feeder) in the morning or if your schedule is unpredictable.
Bonus features are good to take into account, too! Some dog feeders come with a whole host of other perks to make being apart easier for both of you — from video cameras, to phone status updates, to fun food games that keep your dog entertained.
You should also consider your dog's diet before pulling the trigger on an automatic feeder. If your pooch needs to lose a few pounds, relying on an automatic pet feeder that portions food out by itself isn't the best option. Many feeders tend to release a bit more than the programmed amount, so it's easy for a dog to eat more than the recommended serving size. The solution to avoid overfeeding with an automatic feeder is to get one that allows you to pre-portion your dog's food, like the PetSafe EatWell 5-Meal Automatic Pet Feeder.
Whether you’re just looking for help to keep your dog fed every day or you want something special that delivers more, there are plenty of options out there. Peep our top picks for 2022 below.