When's the best and healthiest time for feeding dogs? Our vet advises

Q: I was told that you should 
not feed a dog before a day’s shooting. I typically feed my dog around 6.30am and we do not start the first drive until around 9.30am. Do you think that is long enough? 
I have never had any problems.

A: Dogs need sufficient energy to last them throughout the period of any intense activity, but at the same time an active dog needs to have time to digest its meal well before that activity starts. This applies not only to working dogs, but to any dog that might be subjected to any form of enforced exercise, such as dogs that go for a long walk or a morning jog with their owner. Rough play should also be avoided shortly after eating.

Feeding dogs before exercise

There is no scientifically established “safe” time, but in general I tend to advise the longer the better. I would suggest allowing at least one and a half to two hours before any strenuous exercise, so the three-hour gap you describe should be sufficient.

The problem with feeding your dog before strenuous exercise is the risk of a condition called “bloat”. Bloat is also known as gastric dilatation and volvulus syndrome, whereby the stomach swells and then twists upon itself, causing a painful, life-threatening blockage. The blood supply to the stomach is severely compromised and a dog can die of the ensuing state of shock within a matter of hours unless the condition is treated. This is one of only a relatively small number of real emergency situations where a dog requires urgent veterinary attention.

Large, deep-chested breeds of dogs, such as setters and curly-coated, golden and Labrador retrievers, are known to be more at risk of developing this condition. Though vets tend to warn owners that the dog may not survive their attempts to rectify the problem and/or that it may recur, recent studies indicate the success rate is higher than was previously thought. But evidence shows that after correcting the displacement and stabilising the stomach, about 20 per cent of cases recur.

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