Gulp. Inhale. Swallow it whole. For some pets, wolfing down food is standard eating procedure, which frustrates owners who worry about their canine’s nutrition, health and behavior. The problems associated with eating food at the speed of light range in severity from relatively minor issues to serious life-threatening health risks.
Literally, for a dog, biting off more than it can chew means it is not grinding up food into smaller pieces. This can lead to choking and gagging as the pet tries to move pieces too large down his esophagus. Regurgitating the trapped food and stomach contents can also occur, which is often an inconvenience for both the pet owner and the animal.
Speed eating can also lead to increased burping and passing gas for the animal because it is swallowing lots of air in its food dash. Though not deadly, the end result makes close encounters with the pet less appealing.
Food Bloat/Gastric Dilation Volvulus-GDV
For pets that eat too fast, bloating and a condition called GDV pose the most serious, potentially life-threatening health risk.
Though usually associated with larger breed dogs with deep chest areas (small dogs can also acquire it), it is caused by quick food consumption and the excessive air, fluid and food entering the stomach. This can swell the stomach area (dilation) and cause bloating. As the stomach enlarges and bloats, it can twist in such a way that nothing can pass from the stomach to the intestines. It cuts off the blood supply to the stomach, causing permanent damage to the stomach and/or death.
Dogs with GDV or serious bloating must be seen immediately by a veterinarian. Only an x-ray will determine the severity of the problem.
Finding a Cause
There are several reasons that may cause a dog to gulp their food. A savvy dog owner will need to do a careful analysis of the pet’s environment to find the trigger or underlying factor for the behavior.
Competition for a meal from other pets or perceived threats may force a dog to “hog” as much food as possible. Survival mechanisms may also be in place from having to fight with littermates for nourishment.
Some underlying health problems like worms or parasites might also play a role in food gorging. If these bodies are robbing the animal from the food it needs to survive, the dog could be on a mission to eat in order to fill this gap.
Consulting a vet for some options about the underlying cause of the rapid food consumption might also help lead to a solution.
For a concerned pet owner, who wants to keep his/her canine from harm’s way and slow down the chowhound, a wealth of strategies can be applied. Owners must keep in mind finding a solution may take a couple of tries, but there are ways to gain control of the situation.
Re-thinking the Bowl
One of the most consistent recommendations is to make the pet work around a large object in his food bowl. People have placed large rocks in the center or a ball or a toy. This forces the animal to eat around the object to pull out the food and be more deliberate in the process. Owners can also place a smaller inverted bowl in the middle of a larger bowl for the same effect. One idea is to divide up the meal in the cups of a muffin pan, forcing the dog to work more to get to the food, slowing down the speedy eater.
Several products are available to help dogs slow their eating. The Brake-Fast Bowl, a non-tip bowl, with knobs in the center, compels a dog to chase its food.
Puzzling and Playing Games
Other suggestions for gaining control of the situation are to embrace the use of treat and kibble dispensers that tip or rock, so the dog must slow down and tackle those mobility issues to eat. Some owners have spread small amounts of food around in several bowls so the animal must find the locations. The gap between the meals slows down the gulping. Still others have spread the food out over a large area or on a cookie sheet or large platter or rug so the dog must pick up each piece individually to eat it.
For some owners, feeding happens several times a day, thus limiting the mass buffet offering the dog is used to receiving. A few even hand-feed the animal to slow its food consumption, but while effective, many pet households may not have the time or patience to handle the situation like this.
Off the Ground
As simple as it sounds, raising a food bowl to a stand or perch can also slow a dog down. It also changes his air intake as he swallows.
With another holiday season, look for ways to keep your dog safe and healthy. He can’t push away from the table or move his belt over another notch.