Elevated Feeders for Dogs: Yeah or Nay?

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There has been much controversy over the past several years regarding the use of elevated dog feeders and whether they are a benefit or a liability to your dog's health. An elevated dog feeder usually consists of some sort of stand to elevate your dog’s food and water bowls to several inches above floor level. Depending on how big your dog is, the appropriate height of an elevated feeder will range from a few inches to a foot or more. Usually, it is recommended that an elevated feeder be the same height as your dog's lower chest.

The controversy on the use of these feeders is centered around their association with a serious medical condition called bloat, which can be deadly in dogs. Some studies have suggested a correlation between the use of elevated feeders and this serious disorder, but questions about the findings of the study have also been raised. In addition, elevated feeders are often recommended by some veterinarians and dog health professionals as useful for dogs with orthopedic conditions to aid in ease of feeding.

So what is a confused pet owner to do? For more information on elevated feeders and the risks and benefits associated with their use, read on.

Potential Risks

Elevated feeders were, at one time, recommended to prevent bloat, also called gastric dilation volvulus. Bloat is a deadly condition in which blockages, gas, and/or stress can combine to cause a dog's stomach to twist or flip over, shutting off both entry and exit points of the stomach. This results in pain, retching, decreased blood flow, and inability to pass gas or stomach contents and can rapidly progress to shock and death if life-saving medical intervention is not provided.

It was originally thought that an elevated feeder allowed dogs to eat without swallowing as much air, thereby reducing gas, which reduced at least one of the factors contributing to bloat. No studies or tests were conducted at the time to establish this benefit, most of the evidence supporting the reduced air intake with elevated feeders was anecdotal.

A subsequent study showed that, contrary to what was originally believed, there was an increase in cases of bloat associated with the use of elevated feeders--a substantial increase. However, further studies and studies of different types have not been conducted to confirm these results. And, the study did have a design drawback in that it was not randomized. That is, it studied owners who had chosen to use elevated feeders, not those randomly assigned to use them. This could mean that there are other factors associated with a dog owner’s decision to use an elevated feeder that contributed to bloat and not the feeder itself.

Still, the association between use of an elevated feeder and incidence of bloat was high, and no evidence supporting the use of elevated feeders to reduce bloat has been put forth. It is therefore, not currently recommended to use an elevated feeder if you have, or suspect you have a dog that is susceptible to bloat. You should discuss your dog's risk factors with your veterinarian before deciding whether an elevated feeder is appropriate for your dog.

Possible Benefits

On the other hand, elevated feeders are sometimes recommended to allow a dog to feed and drink more easily without having to put his head all the way down to the ground. This may be beneficial for dogs with orthopedic conditions, joint disorders, spinal conditions, arthritis, or for senior dogs with limited mobility.

For some dogs, elevated feeders prevent them from making as big a mess during feeding as with a floor level dish. Certain dogs feel it is incumbent on them to crawl into their dish, or push it halfway across the room! An elevated dog dish may prevent this, and some pet owners may opt to try them if their dog is a messy eater or drinker.

Making the Best Choice for Your Dog

It turns out, the jury is still out on the use of elevated feeders. While they may be helpful at preventing mess at feeding, and may assist dogs with orthopedic disorders to feed more comfortably, there has been an association with bloat in dogs that is cause for concern. The current wisdom is that if you have a dog that may be susceptible to bloat, it is best to avoid the use of an elevated feeder until more research into the role the feeder may play in this condition is established.