How long does it take your pup to polish off a bowlful of food? A couple of minutes? A couple of seconds? When it comes to mealtime, a lot of dogs can’t help but wolf down their food—and that’s totally normal. In fact, it’s instinctual for dogs to eat quickly, says Ernie Ward, DVM, CVFT, author of Chow Hound and founder of DogGone Healthy, a nutritional and behavioral care practice in Calabash, NC. Some breeds, like labs, even have a gene associated with food drive that makes them more prone to wolfing down their dinner, he explains.
But sometimes a need for speed can cause trouble. If your dog lies down following feeding time, that could be a sign that their stomach hurts. And if they’ve also gulped down too much air, that could result in bloat (when the stomach is expanded beyond its capacity too rapidly) or, in the worst case, a condition called gastric dilatation-volvulus (or GDV). During GDV, the dog’s expanded stomach flops around and flips over itself. “When this happens, the stomach is distended with water, air, and food,” says Ward. “The esophagus and the intestines end up getting completely shut off, which cuts off blood supply to the stomach and the aorta. At that point, you have limited time to save your dog’s life—they can die within hours.”
It’s impossible to distinguish between bloat and GDV (vets can’t even tell the difference without an X-ray). So if you see your dog lying down in pain after eating and suspect either is occurring, get them to the vet ASAP. Surgery can possibly save a pup from GDV if it’s caught quickly enough.
Some dogs are more prone to bloat and GDV than others. If your dog has a long chest and deep abdomen (like great Danes and German shepherds), they might be at risk of bloat or GDV. “That deep, barrel-chested frame can allow extra room in the abdominals and lower thorax (below the rib cage) that lets the stomach take in more food and air and expand more quickly than the stomach of a more compact dog,” says Ward. “If there’s extra room for the stomach to expand and wiggle around, that’s where we get into trouble.”
So how can you tell if your pup is munching his meals too fast? Unfortunately, it’s not that easy to gauge. “There’s not a measure on the stopwatch for what constitutes too fast,” says Ward. “Many dogs eat rapidly and have no problem whatsoever. Others eat moderately fast and then are in discomfort.”
Think yours could stand to stop scarfing? Use these tips to help him slow his roll.
Buy a New Bowl
A bowl or puzzle specially designed with ridges, a maze, or flaps will make your pup work a little harder for their food (and slow them down). “Activity feeders and puzzles are absolute lifesavers for many dogs,” says Ward. “When they gulp food, they’re not just gulping kibble—they’re ingesting air too, which is where that distention and bloat comes from.” Even if your pet isn’t a crazy-quick eater, a slow-feeding bowl could be a good idea, says Ward, because they make mealtime a more fun, stimulating experience. “Slow-feeder bowls engage your dog's scavenger and prey drive and intellect in a way a normal bowl doesn’t,” he explains. Ward suggests looking for ones that are durable (read: your dog can’t destroy it with her teeth) and made with BPA-free plastic. Buy a few bowls or puzzles and rotate them every week or so to keep your pup on her toes (er, paws).
Have a Ball
If your dog doesn’t seem too interested in a slow-feeder bowl, or if you’re traveling and need another option in a pinch, simply put a tennis ball or chew toy approximately that size in a regular bowl along with the food. He’ll have to nose around and push the ball back and forth while he eats, slowing down mealtime a bit and making it more fun at the same time.
Divvy Up Dinner
If all else fails, try some good old portion control. Your pup can’t dive into a big, fast dinner if you’re only giving her a little nibble at a time. Divide your dog’s meal into four smaller servings and give her one every 10 to 15 minutes until she’s finished her supper—slowly.
The Ollie blog is devoted to helping pet parents lead healthier lives with their pups. If you want to learn more about our fresh, human-grade food, check out MyOllie.com.