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When you set your dog’s food bowl down in front of him, how long does it take him to eat it? Does he take his time to chew each bite or does he wolf it down, seeming to inhale it without chewing at all? Many dogs have a habit of eating very quickly and few dog owners realize just how dangerous this can be for their pet. Not only can eating too fast lead to choking or gagging, but it can also cause a dangerous condition called gastric dilation volvulus, or bloat. In this article you will learn the basics about why letting your dog eat too fast is bad and how you can change his eating behavior.
Why Eating Too Fast is Bad for Dogs
If your dog wolfs down his food in a matter of seconds it is very unlikely that he spent much time chewing it. Not chewing can increase the risk that your dog will gag or choke on the food. In many cases, eating too fast is a behavior that is also associated with food aggression or resource guarding in dogs. Food aggression is characterized by aggressive behaviors (like growing, snapping, or lunging) when someone approaches as the dog is eating. Some dogs will merely growl or stiffen their bodies when someone approaches their food bowl, but others will go so far as to snap or lunge at the person. This can be incredibly dangerous, especially for children who may not understand the dog’s behavior. Food aggression is a problem that must be addressed.
Not only does eating too fast put your dog at risk for choking, but it can also lead to a very dangerous condition called gastric dilation volvulus (GDV), or bloat. When your dog eats too fast, he gulps down extra air along with the food. Both the food and the air fill his stomach, causing the stomach cavity to dilate, or swell. When the stomach begins to expand, it can twist on its axis – this makes it impossible for anything to pass from the stomach into the intestine, a condition which quickly leads to shock and puts the dog at risk for sudden death. GDV is also called gastric torsion and though it can affect any dog, it is more likely to happen in large breeds that have deep, narrow chests. The top 15 dog breeds with the highest risk for gastric torsion include:
- Great Dane
- Saint Bernard
- Irish Setter
- Gordon Setter
- Standard Poodle
- Basset Hound
- Doberman Pinscher
- Old English Sheepdog
- German Shorthaired Pointer
- German Shepherd
- Airdale Terrier
- Alaskan Malamute
- Chesapeake Bay Retriever
The most obvious sign of GDV in dogs is, of course, a distended stomach caused by the belly filling with air. Other symptoms may include retching, unproductive gagging, restlessness, shallow breathing, and profuse salivation. Once the dog starts going into shock he may develop a weak pulse, rapid heart rate and pale gums – he may even collapse or go into a coma. If you suspect GDV you must seek veterinary attention immediately or your dog could die.
Training Your Dog to Eat More Slowly
In many cases, letting your dog eat his food too quickly will not cause him any problems. There is, however, the potential for serious problems like choking or GDV. This being the case, it would be in you and your dog’s best interest to train the dog to eat more slowly. Below you will find a list of tips to help you train your dog to eat more slowly:
- Keep mealtimes relaxed – Dogs love to eat so mealtimes can be very exciting but if your dog becomes overly excited he will be more likely to eat too fast. Before you offer your dog his food, ask him to sit and wait until he is calm before putting the bowl down on the ground.
- Keep your dog out of the kitchen during meal prep – Letting your dog hover underfoot while you prepare a meal for your family could contribute to his overexcitement about food. Many dogs start to fixate on food when they are allowed to be in the kitchen during meal prep so try to keep your dog in another room when there is a lot of food around.
- Work on your dog’s impulse control – When it comes time to feed your dog, prepare his meal in another room and then bring it to him. Do not let your dog follow you around and hover nearby while you prepare the meal or he could become overly excited. Teach your dog to wait for permission to begin eating, giving him an “Okay” command after you put down the bowl and make him wait a few seconds before he begins eating.
- Avoiding feeding scraps and treats – While it can be tempting to give in to your dog’s begging behavior when it comes to treats and table scraps, giving in to your dog’s begging behavior will lead to problems. If your dog learns that begging gets him what he wants he will start to feel like he is in control. You need to maintain control of your dog’s feeding and stick to a routine so he knows that he will only be fed at certain times.
Following these tips should help to reduce your dog’s fast eating, but some dogs may need a little bit of extra help. In the next section you’ll find a collection of special dog food bowls and toys that will help your dog to eat more slowly.
Special Dog Food Bowls
Sometimes training your dog to eat more slowly will do the trick but, for some dogs, you need to get a little bit creative. If training doesn’t work, try switching to a special dog food bowl that makes your dog work for his food. A traditional dog bowl makes the entire portion of food available at once which makes it easy for your dog to scarf it down quickly. Using a special dog food bowl or toy will reduce the amount of food your dog gets at once, forcing him to slow down. Below you will find recommendations for some special food bowls and toys to try with your dog:
Outward Hound Fun Feeder Slow Feed Interactive Bloat Stop Dog Bowl
This plastic dog food bowl features a design made with various ridges and mazes that breaks up your dog’s food portion. As your dog eats, he will push the food pieces around the maze, slowing him down. The Outward Hound Fun Feeder will keep your dog engaged for up to ten times longer than a traditional dog bowl – this will help to improve his digestion and reduce his risk for problems like GDV. This feeder comes in a variety of different colors and sizes so you can choose the one that is right for your dog.
PetSafe Busy Buddy Kibble Nibble Meal Dispensing Dog Toy
This dog toy combines meal time with play time, engaging your dog in fun-filled activity during meal time. The PetSafe Busy Buddy Kibble Nibble Meal Dispensing Dog Toy is made from heavy-duty plastic in an egg-shaped design that holds up to 2 cups of kibble. As your dog plays with the toy it dispenses small amounts of food which encourages him to keep playing. You can use this toy to give your dog a little bit of extra exercise, to keep him occupied when you leave the house, or to feed him his meals so that he is forced to eat more slowly.
StarMark Bob-a-Lot Interactive Dog Toy
This interactive toy is designed to dispense small amounts of food or treats at a time. The StarMark Bob-a-Lot Interactive Dog Toy features a rounded bottom so the treat will bob back and forth as your dog plays with it, encouraging him to keep going. The toy holds up to three cups of food and it has adjustable openings so you can regulate the difficulty level and therefor the amount of time it takes your dog to eat his entire portion. This toy is great for giving your dog a little extra exercise or you can simply use it to feed him his meals so he can’t eat too much at once.
Your dog’s habit of eating too quickly may seem like a cute little quirk, but the truth is that it can be very dangerous for him. To protect your dog from the risk of choking and developing gastric dilation volvulus, do what you can to make him eat more slowly.
My German Shepard used to gulp her food in seconds, but we got the maze shaped bowl, and now she happily takes her time. We also make her work for her food. She has to show us a couple of her tricks and then wait for our okay before she starts eating.