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Does your dog eat every meal as if he hasn’t been fed in days? Does she inhale her dinner so quickly you’re just sure she didn’t have time to chew, let alone taste a single bite?
Not only can gulping down meals too quickly lead to a variety of digestive troubles, like choking, gagging, burping, vomiting, or excess gas, scarfing down meals has been linked to a life-threatening medical condition called gastric dilatation-volvulus, more widely known as “bloat.” Further, dogs that eat their food too quickly tend to eat more of it, making weight more difficult to manage.
So, why is your dog eating so fast?
Your dog may be wolfing down his dinner for a variety of reasons, and understanding why he’s doing it may be helpful in putting an end to the unhealthy habit.
For many dogs, eating very quickly is a learned behavior. Whether a dog came from a large litter and had to compete for mother’s milk, spent time as a stray foraging for food and not knowing where the next meal would come from, or if meals aren’t served at a consistent and reliable time each day, somewhere along the line the act of eating quickly was reinforced, and the dog learned that eating quickly was necessary.
In other cases, If a dog shares meal time with another four-legged friend, the pair of them could be racing to the bottom of the bowl, either to avoid their canine brother or sister finishing first and then stealing their dinner, to finish first so that they can steal from their sibling, or because they aren’t completely secure and comfortable eating in close proximity.
Still, other dogs may be eating too quickly if they aren’t fed a high quality food that is nutritionally sufficient, or if they aren’t fed frequently enough and grow too hungry between mealtimes.
And, of course, there are those dogs that have never had to wait or compete for a meal in their entire lives, are fed a superior, nutritionally sound food, are fed often enough that they aren’t going hungry between meals, and aren’t racing against another pet to be first to finish their food that simply love their food and insist on eating it as quickly as possible, for no apparent reason.
No matter the reason (or lack thereof), it’s important to slow your dog down, give her time to chew and taste her food, to feel fuller faster, and to avoid the health implications associated with eating too quickly.
Follow these 5 Steps to Slow Down a Dog That Eats Too Fast:
1. Make sure your dog is getting the right nutrition. If your dog isn’t getting enough food, or if his food isn’t providing the nutrients, calories, and protein he needs to feel satiated, he’ll be much more likely to scarf down meals. Talk to your veterinarian about your dog’s specific dietary needs and always use a measuring scoop or weight scale to ensure you’re feeding the right amount of food. Choosing the right dog food is one of the toughest choices pet parents face! Whether you prefer a dry kibble, a canned food, or are a raw food feeder, not all foods are created equal.
2. Feed smaller meals, more often. A dog that’s only fed one (and sometimes two) meals each day may be growing too hungry between feedings and scarfing down meals as a result. Instead, divide the same amount of food into smaller portions that are fed more frequently throughout the day. If your schedule prohibits you from dishing out multiple meals each day, consider an automatic feeder that dispenses a small amount of food several times throughout the day, even when you’re not home.
3. Feed on a consistent, reliable schedule. Feed your dog at the same times every single day. Some dogs only need the security and consistency of regular mealtimes to learn that, even if they eat at a normal, safe pace, the meal in front of them will not be their last.
4. Be sure your dog feels confident and secure during meals. If your dog is an only fur-child, make sure his feeding dish is located in an area of the home where he feels safe enough to slow down and enjoy his meal. Avoid high traffic areas, areas where loud noises, flashing lights, or the presence of other family members might make him feel insecure. If you’ve got a multi-pet household, try separating pets at mealtimes, either on opposite sides, or, in some cases, in entirely different rooms to avoid competitive speed eating. Many dog moms and dads have great success serving meals inside a crate or kennel where a dog feels totally safe and secure and isn’t rushed through a meal.
5. Make scarfing down food impossible. If you’ve taken the steps above and your dog still tends to eat too quickly, you’ll need to make it physically impossible for your dog to gulp down her dinner. Luckily, with a little ingenuity (or some really great products designed to do just that!) slowing down your voracious eater is easy.
- If you feed your dog from a stainless steel, non-tip dog dish, try flipping the dish upside-down and feeding from the underside of the bowl. With the bowl flipped over, spread the food in the ring surrounding the center of the bowl. Rather than reaching in and gulping down dinner, your dog will have to circle around the bowl and reposition his head to reach into the narrower space. Because the bowl is upside-down, it may slide around while your dog tries to eat. That’s ok! Chasing a dish around the room will only serve to slow him down more.
- If you don’t have the right type of bowl, the same idea can be applied by placing a large object, like a rock or ball, in the center of your dog’s bowl that he must eat around. Just make sure the object is too large to be swallowed and too heavy for your dog to simply toss aside.
- Feed from a slow-feed dog dish. There are dozens of dog feeding dishes designed especially to slow down fast eaters – and they work wonderfully! These dishes are designed to make it more challenging for your dog to get to her food, thus, slowing her down as she eats.
- Serve meals in a puzzle feeder or treat dispenser. To really slow down a fast eater while making mealtime a fun, rewarding experience, try serving meals in a puzzle feeder or treat dispenser instead of a bowl. Puzzle feeders challenge a dog to problem solve in order to access their food. They may require your dog to flip open compartments, remove blocks, open drawers, flip objects, or a combination of these challenges. Not only do puzzle feeders drastically slow down a dog’s eating, they’re excellent confidence builders! (TIP: you can make your very own puzzle feeder at home using a muffin pan and tennis balls! Check out this guide for instructions.)
Do you have your own tried and true methods for slowing down a dog that eats too fast? Please, share your tips in a comment below!