Photos above: Hand feeding is recommended for rescue dogs to slow their eating by only allowing them to eat what’s in hand.
By Dr. Parker T. Barker
Many years ago when I first came to live with Mom and my sister Peanut, I would practically swallow all my food in a Nano second and then sit right behind Peanut, who is a perfect lady and eats slowly, chews her food, and never rushes,. As soon as she got rattled, I would scarf down her food too. Mom figured this out pretty quickly which is why I currently eat in the laundry room…but that is a story for another time.
What I have learned is that gulping down your food can be really bad for you and cause lots of problems that, believe me, takes away all the good thoughts you were having while ingesting at the speed of light.
Know the old saying “wolfing down food?” That expression started because wolves don’t get to eat every day. If no food is available, they simply don’t eat. So when food is plentiful, they gorge themselves. Since dogs once came from wolves, there is some of this DNA that tells a dog “this might be the last meal you see in a while kiddo.” Even if they have always had two meals a day, there can be this lingering thought that this is their last supper. And for rescue dogs, very seldom do you really know what life was like for this pup before they got to a shelter so food may have been scarce for them. But no matter what the reason, eating quickly is bad for all dogs.
Just like in some human families, siblings may cause some problems with everyone getting their share of the food. If your dog eats it really fast, he might be saying that is the easiest and safest way to make sure no one else gets his food. So what’s the big deal?
It’s a big deal because it can cause something called bloat. In med school we learned that bloat is when a dog swallows too much air while eating and it causes their stomach to swell and rotate. It also puts pressure on the organs in the body. Because air, water and food become trapped in the stomach it can quickly become life threatening if the blood flow is cut off causing low blood pressure, internal organ damage and shock. Not good.
The main symptom of bloat in dogs is unsuccessful vomiting. This is when your dog attempts to vomit but nothing comes up except maybe some mucous and/or foam. Among other symptoms, they won’t be acting like their usual self, may be anxious and appear in pain. If you suspect this, and know your dog is a quick eater, please get him to the Vet as soon as possible. Death is possible in as little as one hour.
Breaking the Habit
Many dog owners think the problem of eating too fast will just go away or fix itself. The truth is that it may even get worse without intervention. The good news is there are remedies that work. Here are some ways to limit the amount of food your dog can get all at once.
Hand feeding allows you to monitor food intake. Mom recommends this for all rescue dogs when you first get them. This quickly tells a new and potentially unsure new dog, who is in charge in the household. Only the “big cheese” can be the one who hands out the food. By allowing your dog to eat a few pieces of food at a time from your hand will certainly slow down their eating and also create a bond between a dog and their new owner.
Simply pour a small cup of water in the food dish then add the kibble. The floating food is more difficult to “catch” and will slow down the eating process. In addition, this will help release gases that are formed when the food is compacted.
Specialty food bowls
I have a bowl with a big dome in the middle so the food sits around the outside and I can’t take it all in one big gobble. There are many versions of this type of bowl that can work. Plus lots of “kitchen hacks” that can also do the job. For example, you can use a Bundt cake pan, a cookie sheet (very hard to get all those little kibble pieces when they are spread out), a muffin pan (the dim sum approach to feeding), or try putting a large rock in the middle of the bowl. Not pretty but effective. (But make sure the rock is too big to eat or simply take out of the bowl.)
The idea is to prevent me from eating all my food in a single bite. Plus, it makes eating kind of fun if I have to work at it a bit. Do I still eat too fast? Probably, but I really do try to take it at a more moderate pace. There is something in my memory that I have repressed but which makes me have to have any food that appears. That wolf DNA is really strong in me. Either that or I am just hungry all the time. Mom says I’m a bottomless pit. Could be worse I guess. When’s dinner?