If your dog eats too fast, gobbling down kibble like they’re training for a speed-eating competition, you may want to switch up your feeding strategy.
Bloat happens when dogs inhale excess amounts of air along with their food, and it can progress to a potentially life-threatening condition called gastric dilation-volvulus, or GVD. GVD causes the stomach to twist, cutting off blood supply to vital organs. If you observe GVD symptoms, which include drooling, pacing, shortness of breath and a distended stomach, it’s time to seek immediate veterinary attention.
Dr. Teller also says that a dog’s behavioral history can affect its eating habits. Dogs that have had to compete for food, including newborn puppies in large litters that had to wait their turn for milk, often gobble their food quickly. And if your pup originally came from a shelter or a less-than-happy-home, take note: Dr. Teller says that speed eating is common among dogs that aren’t fed on a regular schedule or don’t know where their next meal is coming from.
How to slow down your dog’s eating
Speed eating can be a hard habit to break, but there are strategies that can help. Try one of these five techniques to help slow down your dog’s eating:
Buy a special bowl
Special dog food bowls to slow eating feature nooks, crannies and maze-like structures embedded into the design that make it impossible for your dog to inhale large portions of food all at once. Slow-feeder bowls come in different designs and sizes for different-sized dogs. A bowl with smaller nooks and crannies might not do much to slow down a large breed dog, so be sure to purchase the right size slow-feeder bowl for your dog.
You can also make a DIY version at home. “If you have a bigger dog bowl, turn another smaller dog bowl upside down inside it so your dog has to eat around that, [and] it will slow them down,” Dr. Teller says.
Try food puzzle toys
Food puzzle toys are interactive feeders that require dogs to push levers, open doors and shift pieces to access small amounts of kibble. Dr. Bartges notes that dogs take more time with their meals when they have to work for their food. In one study, researchers found that dogs consumed their food 20 times faster when eating out of a traditional bowl compared with puzzle feeders.
As an added bonus, Dr. Bartges says that batting around a food puzzle also burns physical energy, which can help with obesity.
Hand feed your dog
Offering your dog smaller amounts of food to eat out of your hands will help you slow down your dog’s eating.
Of course, hand-feeding is time consuming and messier than slow food bowls or puzzle toys. “It’ll take a lot less time to hand feed a five-pound toy poodle than a 250-pound Mastiff,” says Dr. Bartges. But if you have the time to do it, you can slow them down and it makes the human-animal bond even stronger.”
You can also feed your pup their kibble as a training reward while you take them for a walk.
Place the food in a muffin pan or cookie sheet
Spreading your dog’s food out across a cookie sheet or putting small bits of kibble in each compartment of a muffin tin — basically a DIY version of a puzzle feeder — also forces a dog that eats too fast to slow down.
“When you have to spread the food out over a bigger surface area, your dog can’t pick up such big scoops at one time,” Dr. Teller says. “They have to eat a few kibble at a time so you’re forcing them to take in less with each bite.”
Master your dog’s feeding schedule with a timed feeder
Dr. Bartges also suggests using electronic feeders that can be programmed to release smaller amounts of food several times per day.
“Even though your dog may still wolf down each portion of food, the portions are smaller,” he says. “It keeps your dog from eating really quickly at one time and potentially swallowing a lot of air, which can cause problems like bloat.”
Combined with these tools, Dr. Teller believes that strategies like feeding your dog on a consistent schedule and separating them from other animals in the house at meal time can help a dog that doesn’t chew their food to slow down, and to trust that you’ll provide regular meals.
When to visit a vet
If you do see symptoms of bloat — a swollen belly, shortness of breath, and excessive drooling or pacing — you should call your veterinarian or get your pup to an emergency clinic right away. A dog with acute GDV needs swift treatment, and may even need emergency surgery.
Dr. Teller also points out that sudden or uncharacteristic changes in eating habits can point to health problems. If your pup goes from delicate eater to speed eater overnight, you should give your vet a call. (Though in some cases, faster eating can also be a sign that your pet has already been to the vet. “Increased hunger is a side effect of some medications like steroids and [medications for] seizure control and that could also make dogs eat faster,” Dr. Teller points out.)