Dog owners frequently ask the Action Petz team how can they stop their dog from eating too fast. In most cases, the response will certainly be: ditch the traditional dog bowl and embrace creative feeding!
THE BAD NEWS: EATING TOO FAST CAN BE DANGEROUS
Why is eating too fast dangerous for a dog? Firstly, we need to consider that a dog that’s eating too fast might not be chewing his food properly, making it harder to travel down his digestive tract. In addition, we need to consider that “inhaled” food might cause choking. In some dogs, fast-eating also causes them to vomit their food, which in turn means you’ll need to feed your dog again!
And there is of course Bloat. Also known called gastric dilatation or GDV. According to PetMD “rapid eating and gulping results in excessive air, fluid and food filling the stomach, followed by swelling of the stomach cavity. As the stomach expands, it can twist around on its axis, making it impossible for anything to pass through the stomach to the intestines. If this occurs, the animal can go into shock and die quickly.”
THE GOOD NEWS: YOU CAN SLOW DOWN YOUR DOG FROM EATING TOO FAST
Speed-eating might be not great for your dog’s health. However, there's no need to panic. The good news is that it’s easy to discourage this behaviour! The alternatives are unlimited and suitable for all budgets.
It’s time to ditch the bowl!
First things first: supervision and separation!
If you’re planning to slow down your dog at meal times, it is important to remember you must supervise your dog. An unsupervised and “very willing” dog might try to get to his/her food a little bit too hard, causing a bit of chaos as a result.
In addition, homes with multiple dogs need to exercise caution; the recommendation is to always separate the dogs to prevent any issues.
Slow feeding bowls
These bowls are designed to make your pooch work a little harder for his food. The majority of these bowls feature protruding sections, compartments and different types of barriers. As a result, your dog wont be able to take large gulps of food. You can find these at most anywhere. This one is our favorite.
Most food puzzles feature a series of compartments where you hide food. Your dog then needs to figure out a way to solve the puzzle to obtain his meal.
Treat release toys
These toys normally consist of plastic balls you can fill with your dog’s dry food. The only way for your dog to get his food is by pushing the toy along the floor, slowly releasing the food. This one's works really well. Another great alternative is the Kong Wobbler, a treat release toy is a that sits upright until pushed with a dog’s paw or nose, then dispenses treats as it wobbles, spins and rolls.
Snuffle Mats are rubber or cloth mats with lots of nooks, folds, crannies, and crevices for food to hide. It will take time and energy for your dog to work his snouth through to last morsel. You can buy them online like this one we like, or if have time for the DIY route, we post a link below to a site we like with easy(ish) instructions.
If you’re on a budget, or if you’re not sure which product or technique will work best, then a DIY solution might be what you’re looking for. It's especially relevant to remember that supervision is strongly advised with these options. Here’s a small list of our favourites; the ones we have certainly tried and tested with our Doggy Day Care pooches:
- Bottle dispenser: put the food in a dry and empty (ensure you remove labels, caps and cap rings) large water bottle. You can then drill a few holes and let your pooch figure it out.
- Spinning dispenser: if you’re feeling a bit craftier, you can make your own Spin-out dog treat game. We have used this at our day care and the dogs love it!
- Snuffle Mat: the snuffle mat is essentially a rubber mat tied with lots of fabric. The way it works is by scattering your dog’s food between all the bits of fabric. You dog will then have to use his nose to find the food, therefore slowing down the eating process. You can read how to make your own snuffle mat here. Alternatively, you can find online pet shops with ready to buy snuffle mats.
- Cereal boxes: if your dog loves to rip stuff apart, you can use this method. Simply put your dog’s food inside the empty box and close it with masking tape. Now blissfully watch your dog destroy the box!
THE UNEXPECTED BENEFITS OF CREATIVE DOG FEEDING
As we briefly mentioned in our post on puppies and excercise , dogs benefit from brain training, certainly as much as they do from physical exercise. In fact, Dr Ian Dunbar (one the best regarded force-free dog trainers in the world) argues that mental exercise is more tiring for a dog than physical exercise.
In fact, using a slow feeder dog bowl can deliver a good handful of behavioral benefits for your dog. For example, a slow feeder dog bowl can:
1. Prevent Overeating: Slow feeder bowls encourage dogs to eat at a more measured pace, preventing them from consuming their food too quickly. This can be particularly beneficial for dogs prone to overeating, as it helps regulate their food intake.
2. Provide Mental Stimulation: The design of slow feeder bowls often turns mealtime into a mental challenge for dogs. As they work to navigate the obstacles or patterns in the bowl, it provides mental stimulation, which is essential for their overall well-being.
3. Reduce Boredom: Eating from a slow feeder bowl can be a more engaging and interesting experience for your dog compared to quickly gulping down their food. This can help alleviate boredom, especially for dogs that may otherwise finish their meals rapidly and then seek other forms of entertainment.
4. Promote Natural Foraging Behavior: Slow feeder bowls mimic some aspects of a dog's natural foraging behavior. Dogs in the wild would spend time searching for and obtaining their food, and slow feeders simulate a similar experience by requiring dogs to work for their meals.
5. Enhance Problem-Solving Skills: Dogs using slow feeder bowls need to figure out how to access their food, which engages their problem-solving skills. This mental challenge can be especially beneficial for intelligent or active breeds.
6. Reduce Anxiety During Mealtime: For some dogs, especially those with anxiety or who are overly eager about mealtime, a slow feeder bowl can help create a calmer and more relaxed eating environment. The gradual pace may reduce stress associated with mealtime.
7. Improved Digestion: Eating slowly promotes better digestion by allowing the dog's body to process and absorb nutrients more efficiently. Rapid eating can lead to indigestion, bloating, and other digestive issues.
8. Reinforce Calm Behavior: Using a slow feeder bowl can be incorporated into positive reinforcement training. By rewarding calm and controlled eating behavior, you can reinforce good manners during meals.
To name just a few!
To exemplify the concept above, think about this: would you be happy if your only activities were to eat, sleep and go for a walk every day? For the rest of your life? This means no reading your favourite books, not watching TV, not learning anything new…just eat, walk and sleep. By the end of the week most of us would be rather bored, consequently we will start yelling at the postman, tearing the wallpaper off the walls and trying to eat our own body weight due to boredom! Sounds familiar? That’s right, your dog gets bored as much as you do!
The feeding techniques above also have the effect of making your dog’s brain work, trying him in the process and making him less prone to mischief. With all this in mind, it might be time to retire the old food bowl. You will help your dog not just to eat slowly, but also be smarter!
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