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Should You Eat Before Your Dog?

Written by Anna Hollisey


Bernese mountain dog waiting for his dinner

Over the years dogs have shifted from just being a pet to being a loved member of the family. It’s perfectly understandable when we wonder how many human sentimentalities we should extend to them. In polite society we wait until everyone is ready to eat together. In some households, you might be guaranteed a quieter meal if your dog has already eaten (and isn’t therefore begging for your food). Some schools of training say the human should eat before the dog - it’s all very confusing. 

In this article, we set the table for a culinary exploration, unraveling the nutritional, psychological, and cultural threads that shape our human dining habits and that of our pets. We'll explore canine nutritional needs, human diets, and the psychology of shared mealtimes in our quest to answer the question: should you eat before your dog?

Dog’s Nutritional Needs

For dogs to thrive, they need a balanced diet/learn/dog-food/how-to-choose-a-complete-and-balanced-food-for-your packed with nutrients that support their overall health. Essential components like proteins, fats, vitamins, and minerals are required to keep their coat glossy, their bones strong, and their energy levels high.

For dogs, the concept of balance isn’t just down to what’s in their food. It also extends to mealtime routines. Unlike humans, who may graze throughout the day, dogs often prefer a couple of hearty meals. This harks back to their wild ancestry, where survival depended on efficient consumption.

From puppyhood to their senior years, your dog’s nutritional needs evolve, meaning that owners need to take a flexible approach depending on their pet’s stage of life. Canine dietary requirements also differ significantly from humans – no chocolate or grapes in their treat jar – and understanding these distinctions is critical for safeguarding their health.

Human Nutritional Needs

Human dietary requirements encompass a broad spectrum of ingredients, from proteins that repair our cells to carbohydrates that fuel us day-to-day. Humans often adopt a varied meal pattern, with the key meals of breakfast, lunch, and dinner often being interspersed with snacks and drinks, particularly on days where we’re active or participating in sports.

As such, balancing our dietary needs with our pets requires a mindful approach. While most humans prefer a diverse array of foods, some may pose health risks for our furry friends who are usually happy to eat the same nutritious meal over and over again. 

Maybe your dog goes wild at the smell of your cooking, or maybe you’re wondering whether they could benefit from the healthy meals that sustain us as humans. Either way, before you share meals with your pet you must make sure you’re aware of all the nutrients they need, and the human foods that could have catastrophic effects on their health.

The Psychology Of Mealtimes

Mealtimes aren’t just a biological necessity; they’re grounded in a psychology that resonates with both humans and dogs. For us, it's a moment of connection, where families gather, stories are shared, and bonds are strengthened. Dogs, too, view mealtime through a psychological lens, associating it with comfort, routine, and the joy of receiving ‘treats’ from their humans.

Routine and ritual play are important elements that contribute to the psychology of both human and canine mealtime experiences. Humans find solace in the predictability of meal schedules, and dogs, creatures of habit, thrive on the reassuring regularity of feeding times

For both of us, they represent stability and comfort. But while humans can generally change their mealtimes day to day, and even add or skip meals if they need to, disrupting mealtime routines for dogs can have consequences beyond hunger and an upset stomach. 

Dogs may experience stress, anxiety, or confusion when faced with unexpected changes, which can in turn have a negative affect on their overall wellbeing. So if you’re considering eating at the same time as your dog, make sure it is you who adapts to their feeding times and not the other way around. 

Social And Cultural Perspectives

Cultural attitudes toward sharing meals with dogs vary widely. In some cultures, dogs are much-loved companions, and sharing meals as cherished members of the family might not seem strange. Others may maintain a more traditional divide, with dogs having their designated dining spaces away from human foods. 

Societal norms and cultural expectations influence how we think about our pets, and also how we think about mealtimes. Balancing this with the wellbeing of both humans and dogs is an important consideration when it comes to eating at the same time as your dog. 

While some believe that humans should eat before dogs to maintain their place as the alpha and pack leader (which comes from dominance theory in dogs which has been dismissed for several years now), others find that the times that their dog eats does not align with what works for the rest of the family. If this is the case, it may not be healthy to move your dog’s mealtime back or human mealtimes forwards just to accommodate matching mealtimes. 

Making Informed Decisions

Making informed decisions about your dog's dietary needs, your own health requirements, and the dynamics of your household are key to deciding whether or not eating before, after, or at the same time as your pet is feasible for your family. 

Assessing the timing of meals and understanding when your dog is most comfortable can contribute to a harmonious shared dining experience. But only if it works for everyone. Bear in mind that there is no evidence to suggest that eating at the same time as your dog is necessary for strengthening your bond. If this is your goal, be sure to give your dog plenty of attention and positive reinforcement throughout the day, not just at mealtimes.

To maintain a healthy balance, establish routines that work for both human and canine needs. Always make sure that your dog's meals align with their dietary requirements, and be mindful of potential hazards like toxic foods, only feeding them human ingredients if you know for certain that they are safe.