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Most dogs love their food. If your dog is highly food motivated, you’ve probably seen them gulp down a treat or a bowl of food and wondered if they even chewed at all. While it’s sometimes amusing, eating too quickly can also be dangerous and might cause health problems.
Fortunately, there are some ways to help your food-motivated dog slow down when eating.
Why eating too fast can be dangerous for dogs
Eating too fast can cause the following health risks:
- Choking: Dogs who eat too quickly are at a higher risk of having their food accidentally “go down the wrong pipe.” When this happens, food can enter a dog’s airway, causing them to choke. Gagging can also cause vomiting and other discomfort.
- Bloat: Bloat, formally known as gastric dilatation-volvulus (GDV), is a serious, potentially fatal medical condition. In this condition, the stomach becomes distended (bloated) and is unable to empty normally. Then, it can twist abnormally, causing a blockage of critical blood supply to organs. Two potential risk factors for GDV are 1) eating a single large meal (rather than multiple meals per day) and 2) rapid eating. This is exacerbated by the fact that dogs inhale and swallow a larger amount of air than they otherwise would when eating quickly. Dogs who experience bloat need to be taken to the vet immediately, as this condition can be life-threatening if not treated. Symptoms of bloat include:
- Retching without producing (nothing coming up)
- A swollen, painful abdomen
- Weight gain: When dogs devour their food, they don’t give their bodies enough time to digest and to alert them when they’re full. Dogs who eat quickly will eat more food in the same amount of time, which can lead to weight gain.
If you notice that your dog eats too fast, consider taking preventative measures to slow down their eating to avoid potential health complications.
How to help your dog slow down when eating
The following tools and training methods can help food-motivated dogs pace themselves.
1. Slow feeder bowls
“Slow feeders” are specifically designed for dogs who eat too quickly. These bowls have ridges and grooves that prevent dogs from being able to ingest large amounts of food at once and reducing the amount of air they intake with their food.
The following slow feeders are excellent choices to help slow down your dog’s eating:
- Outward Hound Fun Feeder: This slow feeder is our top choice. It has a non-slip bottom that helps even the most tenacious dogs eat up to ten times slower. It features deep ridges and comes in 2-cup and 4-cup sizes, making it an excellent choice for dogs of all ages and sizes. We recommend sizing up with this slow feeder, as the bowl may actually hold less than its stated capacity, depending on the size of your dog’s kibble.
- NOYAL Slow Feeder: The NOYAL slow feeder is another affordable alternative to the Outward Hound feeder, and is available in multiple color options. Note that the NOYAL slow feeder holds 1–2 cups of food, while the Outward Hound feeder holds up to four cups.
2. Food-dispensing toys
In addition to slow feeders, puzzle toys can help dispense food and treats slowly. Puzzles and other food-dispensing toys are also great tools to support your dog’s behavioral health. All dogs can benefit from enrichment activities, and it can be particularly helpful for high-energy dogs who require extra mental stimulation.
The following feeding toys are excellent choices to provide enrichment for your dog while slowing down their eating pace:
- PAW5 Wooly Snuffle Mat: An ideal enrichment tool, this snuffle mat is perfect for hiding kibble and low-calorie treats. It encourages dogs to hone their foraging skills and will entertain food-motivated dogs until the last piece of food is found. The snuffle mat is machine washable and dryer safe.
- KONG Wobbler: The perfect solution for high-energy, food-motivated dogs, the KONG Wobbler can fit a full cup of food, which means you can use this toy for play and mealtime. The KONG toy is widely recommended by veterinarians, freezer friendly, and dishwasher safe.
3. Low-calorie training treats
Highly food-motivated pets often demand food, even when it’s not mealtime. Use low-calorie treats for positive reinforcement without running the risk of your dog becoming overweight. Low-calorie training treats also make for helpful training tools. Remember to monitor treats carefully and limit them to no more than 10% of calorie intake to keep your dog’s diet healthy.
Available in multiple flavors, Charlee Bear Natural Dog Treats are a veterinarian-recommended low-calorie option. Each treat is 3–6 calories each. Leaving behind no stains, crumbs, or grease, these treats are an easy-to-transport option that you can safely keep in your pocket.
For an alternative to low-calorie training treats, you can also opt for air-popped popcorn, free of toppings. While store-bought popcorn is often made with butter, oil, and salt, all of which aren’t good for a dog’s health (although typically non-toxic), plain popcorn has essential vitamins that are healthy for dogs and are a low-calorie treat that they typically enjoy.
Other healthy, low-calorie human foods that are safe for dogs include carrots, green beans, and cooked sweet potatoes. Due to its high water content, watermelon (without seeds or rind) is another healthy, low-calorie snack option for dogs.
Genetic factors behind eating too fast
Genetics can play a role in a dog’s appetite. Scientists have found that food motivation is associated with a variant in the POMC gene, or the “munchies gene,” which leads to increased appetite. POMC has the potential to regulate appetite and weight gain in dogs, although this isn’t the only gene that can affect a dog’s appetite.
The POMC variant is commonly found in Labrador Retrievers. It’s one of the traits Embark tests for.
If you’ve noticed that your dog eats faster than what seems “normal,” consider using an Embark dog DNA test to find out if the POMC variant contributes to their speed eating.