Could your best buddy benefit from a slow feeder?
Walk into any pet store and you see a variety of brightly colored plastic feeders designed to slow the speedy eater. There are different designs, from plastic nobbles to whirly maze-like patterns, so the dog has to push food with their paw or tongue to get access and stop a chow hound in their tracks.
To the uninitiated, slow feeders may seem like a fad, another way of manufacturers getting money out of beleaguered pet parents. But slow feeders are anything but a gimmick and are beneficial to your dog's health for a number of reasons.
For example, pet parents of deep-chested breeds, which are at increased risk of bloat, are recommended to switch to slow feeder or puzzle feeders to reduce the amount of air the dog wolfs down. In respect of reducing a risk factor for bloat, slow feeders have the potential to be life-saving.
But slow feeders have other benefits, such as reducing flatulence in greedy dogs! If you'd like to clear the air and bone up on slow feeders, let's look at the pros and cons.
Better for the Body
Does your Lab inhale food? Is the bowl empty before you've straightened up from putting it on the floor?
Eager eaters like these often ingest air (aerophagia) as well as food. The best case scenario is the air travels along the gut and is released as flatulence. This isn't too much of a health problem (for the dog) but can make a nose peg for the owner seem a good idea.
On the other paw, air in the stomach can cause it to swell up and bloat. If that dog then runs around or plays, they are at greater risk of the stomach flipping over to cause a GDV (gastric dilatation and volvulus). The life-threatening condition requires emergency surgery, and even then lives are lost. Which makes anything that makes eating safer seem a good idea.
A slow feeder does what it says on the label: Slows up the ingestion of food so the dog swallows less air.
Mind Over Matter
Unlike the dog that plants their face in a bowl of food and chows down, slow feeders require some thought as to how to get at the food. A dog figuring out how to get those biscuits out of the puzzle feeder gets valuable mental stimulation. Problem-solving in order to eat also mimics natural behaviors, where in the wild a dog has to work to get a meal.
Thinking problems through is extremely beneficial to the dog. It reduces boredom, which in turn alleviates frustration, and reduces problem behaviors such as excessive barking or chewing. An interesting sign of the importance of this mental stimulation is that dogs are a lot less likely to overeat when fed this way, as if their brain better recognizes this is a meal rather than a treat or snack.
There are some drawbacks, albeit minor ones.
Some dogs are slow on the uptake and struggle to master a complex feeder. If this happens, take things in easy stages. For example, if a feeder has flaps the dog has to lift up, but they can't work out what to do, then start with the flaps open. Get the dog used to the idea of eating from the small trays, then close one flap and show him how to open it.
Choose your feeder carefully. Some are more robust than others, so match the sturdiness of the feeder to the size and enthusiasm of your dog. A large dog with a powerful appetite may damage a delicate feeder beyond repair!
One consideration is the cost of a slow feeder, with some of them being quite pricey. However, it's easy enough to improvise with muffin tins or plastic bottles, and have the satisfaction of making your own.
To Slow Feed or Not to Slow Feed
Both the mental stimulation and positive health benefits of slow feeders make them a winner for all but the fussiest of eaters (But for these guys swallowing air isn't a problem anyway). Just be sure to work with your dog to get them used to this new way of eating. However, if your dog is a truly fussy eater and not food-motivated, just be sure they don't starve-- an old-fashioned bowl wins out for these guys.