Our dogs can sometimes seem a little overzealous when it comes to their eating habits. Most dogs are highly food motivated and love their food. Sometimes they enjoy it a little too much, causing excitement at feeding time and a tendency to gulp their meal down. The problem with this is that gulping food can have a negative impact on your dog's health. Some medical conditions result from gulping food, and swallowing large amounts of air when feeding can even be life-threatening.
A dog that bolts their food and swallows without chewing adequately can end up choking on their food. This often results in the dog vomiting while eating. Another serious risk is gastric dilation volvulus, or GDV, commonly called ‘bloat’. This can result when blockages and gas buildup occur in the stomach, contributing to the stomach twisting on itself and blocking both entrance and exit passages to the abdominal cavity. This is a critical, life-threatening condition that often results in death for the dog even with emergency medical intervention.
On a less serious note, gulping food can result in vomiting from getting too full, belching and passing wind from taking in air during feeding, and over-fullness and gastrointestinal pain from a distended belly. Dogs that gulp or bolt their food can also tend to become food aggressive, which can result in unwanted behavior towards other animals and people. Fortunately, there are several steps pet owners can take to stop their dogs from “wolfing” down their meals.
Causes and Prevention of Gulping Food in Dogs
Dogs, by nature, are competitive eaters. Our dogs, like their wild cousins, are pack animals and predators. This means that they are genetically programmed to eat large amounts when food is available, like after a kill, and compete with their pack mates to get their share of the food. This can translate in your dog to getting very excited at feeding time and trying to consume as much food as possible in as short a time as possible before someone else, even if they are imaginary, takes it from them. If a dog came from a large litter, even though littermates are no longer present, they may have developed the habit of eating as much as they can as quickly as they can, in order to get their fair share. There are several things pet owners can do to mitigate this behavior.
If there are multiple pets present in the home, separating them when feeding should reduce competitive behavior.
Commercially available food dishes are available that will slow down your dog's eating. These dishes often have obstacles that your dog must eat around. A homemade version of this is to put a large rock in your dog's dish for them to get around while feeding. You can also spread food out on a cookie sheet or put food in muffin tins so that your dog has to “travel” to access all their food.
Feed your dog many small meals each day so that they do not feel as hungry at the next mealtime. If you are not home to provide this, you can purchase time-release feeders.
Puzzle feeders are also commercially available that require your dog to work the food out of the feeder. This not only slows them down, but also provides valuable mental stimulation to prevent boredom, which can also contribute to food gulping.
Hand feed your dog to slow them down. This can also be used as a training time, with food available as a positive reinforcement. This prevents your dog becoming overfed by getting food treats during training sessions on top of their regular meals.
Another cause of aggressive feeding and gulping down food may be that your dog is lacking something in their diet they need, making their feeding behavior desperate and panicky. If your dog is experiencing malnutrition, which may be occurring from the presence of an undiagnosed medical condition or parasites, or is missing a nutrient, vitamin or mineral in their diet, this may need addressing. Start by getting your dog examined by a veterinarian to ensure that a medical condition is not present that is resulting in your pooch not obtaining all the nutrients they need from their food. An endocrine or metabolic disorder could cause this sort of issue. Make sure you are feeding a well-balanced, nutritious, species-appropriate diet, high in protein and low in carbohydrates, that meets your dog's vitamin and mineral requirements.
If your furry companion is suffering from parasites, they may be malnourished because the parasitic invaders are getting the nutrients the dog needs. This may also cause your pup to be overly hungry and rush their mealtime. Regularly address parasites in your dog with oral and topical antiparasitics, and be vigilant for signs of infestation.
Importance of Preventing Your Dog From Gulping Food
Preventing your dog from gulping their food prevents several unwanted medical conditions, some of which are very serious. Slowing down your dog's feeding will reduce the incidence of choking, vomiting, bloat (GDV), and other gastrointestinal issues.
Slowing your dog’s eating requires time and patience, especially if hand feeding is required. The effort is well worth the health risks that are mitigated and can provide mental stimulation if puzzle feeders are used, and reduce anxiety in your dog if separating other pets during feeding is required. Hand feeding, if it is an option, can provide bonding time between you and your pooch.
Relaxing at Meal Time
Dogs tend to be food motivated and mealtime is a time of excitement and pleasure for them. Due to their biological drives, pack mentality, and predatory instincts, they are naturally competitive when eating, as they are driven to “get their fair share”. But eating too fast is not good for them, and can lead to several gastrointestinal disorders, some of which are life-threatening.
Slowing your dog down at mealtime is important to avoid these potentially deadly disorders. Commercial products are available to slow your speedy eater down, including puzzle feeders, obstacle feeders, and time-release feeders, or you can make them yourself with household items. If competitive behavior seems to be the major issue, and other pets are present, separating them to reduce competition at feeding time may be the answer.
Ensure your dog is not eating fast because they truly are hungry from malnutrition. Provide a high-quality diet, and check for medical conditions and parasites. Slowing your dog's feeding down has many side benefits. Besides improving their gastrointestinal health, it reduces food aggression and boredom and can provide an opportunity for you and your dog to bond.