Every time you set a food bowl on the floor, your dog inhales it as though he/she’s been starved for days. You’re left wondering whether this performance should land your puppy in a vet’s office or a part of a magic act. First of all, you’re not alone, and while there may be a cause for concern, the fix can be simple—and fun for your furry friend! Here’s what you need to know:
Why dogs eat too fast
Knowing why your dog is speed-eating may suggest solutions. Some causes of doggy dine-and-dashes are:
Poor nutrition: Dogs whose diet isn’t ideal may feel as though they’re starving, even when it appears they’re eating enough food. Pet owners who are feeding only dry food, feeding irregularly or making their own dog food may need to learn more about the nutrients in their dog’s diet or consider making the switch to a balanced, complete raw meat diet.
Competition: If you have multiple dogs or your pet grew up around other animals that would steal his/her food, they may have been “trained” to eat quickly so they get enough food.
Irregular feeding schedule in the past: If your dog hasn’t always been fed on a regular schedule and may have experienced food scarcity, there may be an instinct to grab food while it’s available.
Enjoyment: If you’ve ever eaten more than the ten potato chips listed as a single serving, you’ll understand this perfectly natural impulse of eating for enjoyment. Whether your pup eats when the whole pack—or family—is home or while home alone, dinner time can be the high point of the day.
But slowing down is not just a way to make the happiness last; eating slower is healthier for dogs. Eating quickly can deprive dogs of the nutritional value of their food, cause them to swallow uncomfortable quantities of air with their food, or even vomit or choke.
Why eating too fast may be cause for concern
The greatest danger is a rare condition called gastric dilatation-volvulus, or dog bloat. The causes are uncertain, but fast eaters are more likely to develop it than slow eaters. Bloat is also more likely if dogs are fed only one meal a day, if they are anxious eating around other dogs and if they are large purebreds. The American Kennel Club describes bloat as “a medical and surgical emergency.” Symptoms include abdominal swelling, drooling, tenderness and unsuccessful attempts to vomit. Even if you believe your dog has a full tummy because of overeating (for instance, they found and ate a whole bag of dog food), a distended belly always calls for an emergency vet visit.
Other health issues including parasites, diabetes and Cushing’s Syndrome can also cause a dog to feel unusually hungry and eat more quickly. A quick check-in with your vet could be in order.
Even if illness isn’t a factor, dogs eating too quickly are more likely to choke, which can be fatal, and are more likely to experience vomiting and other gastric distress. For your dog’s safety (and your home’s cleanliness), slowing down a fast eater is important.
So how can you stop your puppy from eating too fast?
How to slow down your dog’s eating
Once you know the problem isn’t medical, the solutions can be simple (and fun).
Slow feeder dog bowls provide obstacles that dogs must eat around, slowing them down by simulating foraging. The bowls can be found at any pet store, but you can also make your own by putting balls, large rocks (too big to swallow), an upturned bowl or another obstacle into the dish with their food.
Puzzle bowls are like slow feeder bowls. They provide mental and physical challenges that dogs need to overcome to retrieve all the food. Puzzle feeders are widely available, but if you’re interested in getting creative (or saving money), there are online tutorials for making a puzzle feeder with an overturned muffin pan, an egg carton, soda bottles, old food containers or bits of PVC pipe.
Feed your dog twice—or more—per day. When your furry friends know their next meal isn’t far away, they should feel less frantic to eat their dog food too quickly. You may need a little patience while your dog learns the new schedule, but eventually that trust will come. If you want to provide food while you’re away, there are automatic feeders that will dispense small meals on any schedule.
Hand-feed your dog. If you have the time and patience, doling out small portions of pet food by hand can let you control how quickly your dog’s food disappears—and better yet, you can turn mealtime into some extra best-pal time. The American Kennel Club lists multiple benefits of hand-feeding dogs, including the chance for some extra training.
Reduce competition. When dogs are fearful that other animals will steal their food, they can respond with fast eating (and guarding behavior). Feeding your pup somewhere private may provide the reassurance needed to slow dinner down.
De-stress. If the fast eating coincides with other dog-life excitement, perhaps some downtime strategies are in order. For tips on how to help your favorite pooch relax, check out our blog on creating a little doggy zen.
Finally, if you have questions or ideas about how good food and good feedings can help your dog live his or her best life, contact us. We’re pet people and we love to hear from people who love pets!