Have you noticed that your pet wolfs down his or food like it’s a race? Some animals gulp their food from the very beginning, but it is also possible that your dog or cat may develop this bad habit over time. Factors such as stress, others around while eating, competition for food, or other changes may contribute to a dog or cat suddenly bolting his or her food.
There are a lot of articles discussing how to address this problem, but many of the solutions don’t seem practical for the average pet owner.
First of all, what is the risk of Fido or Fluffy eating too quickly?
There are several unpleasant side effects and health conditions that can result from eating too quickly:
- One of the most serious is a life-threatening condition called ‘bloat’ (the technical term is Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus or GDV). This link has a wealth of information on bloat, including susceptible breeds (usually breeds considered ‘deep-chested’ such as hounds and large-breed dogs). It is important to know about bloat because it kills very quickly – if you suspect your dog has bloat, rush him to the vet immediately. Life-saving surgery is typically required. Here are the most frequent symptoms of bloat: anxiety and restlessness, no digestive sounds after eating, the dog tries to vomit multiple times but is mostly unsuccessful, panting, shallow breathing, unable to get comfortable, and generally seems in distress. If you are not familiar with bloat, please read up on this fast-moving and deadly condition
- Many dogs and even cats have gas from gulping air along with their food. You may notice this as either belching (probably in your face!) or passing gas
- Regurgitation may be the most frequent and telling sign (other than a serious illness). According to IAMS, animals that eat too fast do not vomit – they regurgitate after the stomach expands too quickly. Regurgitation is characterized by a lack of retching (basically, it all comes up almost at once), and is made up of almost fully formed food. Gross as it may be, checking out what your pet regurgitates is important – does the food appear chewed at all? If not, you’ve got a certified food-gulper
If you’ve decided your pet needs to slow down his or her eating, there is a ton of information on the Internet to tell you just how to do it. The only problem is that many of these ‘solutions’ aren’t too practical!
Some of the impractical solutions…
- Hand-feed your cat or dog – Who has time for this?
- Feed multiple small meals during the day – This works if you are home during the day and can feed the total amount needed for the day over time
- Feed 1/4 of the food at first, then wait 15-20 minutes to feed the next 1/4, etc. – Again, if you don’t mind stretching meals out over a long period of time, this will likely work
- Put the food on the floor – This may cause your cat or dog to lick the floor and will probably make a mess
You may find that some of these work for you, but these are more time-intensive and probably won’t work for many real people!
More practical solutions for the average joe…
- Feed cats on a plate so they can only pick up one or two pieces of food at a time
- For either cats or dogs, mix canned food or liquid into the dry food (low sodium beef or chicken broth will be appetizing without a lot of salt or calories)
- Get a bowl designed for fast eaters – there are a TON of these on the market now, but they don’t seem to be available at many big-box pet retail stores. The smaller bowls will work for cats. Here are a couple of examples you can get online: DogPause, brake-fast, Eat Slower. You get a bowl with different sections or raised areas to force the animal to eat a little bit at a time
- Put a portion ball in your dog or cat’s bowl. The basic idea is the same as the special bowl – the animal has to work around the ball to get to the food more slowly. An example of portion pacer balls: Omega Paw Portion Pacer. You might see or hear the suggestion to use a rock, but it isn’t particularly sanitary. Who wants to put a rock in the dishwasher or scrub it with a brush? Portion balls are dishwasher-safe so you can wash it with your other bowls
Hopefully one of these methods will help slow your pet down!
In our house: One of our dogs recently started bolting his food, so I bought our little piglet a smaller portion ball instead of spending the money on a new bowl altogether. So far this is working, and we are having fewer issues.
Note that this information is by no means a substitute for talking to your vet if you are concerned with your pet’s eating habits. Regular veterinary care is necessary to rule out parasites or other health conditions.