Is your dog a living vacuum? Do they inhale their food, gulp down their chews, and swallow huge chunks? As an owner, it’s stressful to watch them eat and hope they won’t choke! In fact, there’s many more health issues that can occur if your dog eats too quickly. Choking can lead to trouble breathing and suffocation and eating too quickly can cause your dog to regurgitate their food. Dogs that eat too fast can swallow too much air and get bloat or gastric dilatation-volvulus (GDV), where the stomach expands from fluid and air buildup causing it to twist, which if not caught right away, can lead to death. They are also more susceptible to excess weight gain leading to obesity, joint pain, and heart issues. Thankfully there are many ways to help slow down your dog’s eating style when it comes to food, treats, and chews!
1.Slow Feeder Bowl: There are many slow feeder bowls on the market these days! You can even make your own slow feeder bowl by placing tennis balls in a normal bowl so your dog has to maneuver around it to get their food. Depending on the dog, slow feeder bowls can help slow down their eating but in time, they may get better at it! You can increase the difficulty by rotating different bowl shapes or feeding ½ at a time per meal.
2. Interactive Toys: These toys are great for fast eaters because they also provide mental stimulation! There are many different shapes and sizes that are perfect for all types of food and great for treats and chews. Stuff a steer pizzle in a Kong filled with frozen raw ground turkey or hide some air-dried chicken hearts with dry food in a snuffle mat! These toys will require your dog to roll, toss, shake, chew, lick, snuffle, or solve a puzzle to access the food. You should have a few different interactive toys in your arsenal to keep your dog from getting bored. But remember to start off easy to prevent your dog from getting frustrated and giving up!
3. Sheet Pan Meals: Using a sheet pan is another quick and easy solution to slow down your dog’s eating and great for wet foods. Pile food spaced apart on a sheet pan to encourage your dog to take a moment between each mini meal. You can also use a muffin tin! Place small amounts of food or treats in each cup and to increase the difficulty, cover the openings with balls to act as an obstacle! You can also flip the muffin tin over and place food in the gaps to act as a slow feeder tray.
4. Reduce stress: Some dogs might eat quickly because they feel stressed, anxious, or competitive. If you have multiple pets or live in a busy household, this may cause your dog to feel like he needs to eat quickly (known as resource guarding) especially with special chews. Provide a safe, undisturbed area such as a crate to help your dog feel more calm during their meal or chew time.
5. Hand-feed, holds, and grips: You can show your dog how to eat slower by hand-feeding or holding chews with your hands or with vice grips can help. Grips are especially useful when introducing new chews or raw meaty bones to keep your hands safe.
6. Freeze: Freezing foods, including chews, can help them last longer by making them more durable. This is very useful for lighter chews such as steer pizzle and chicken feet! Freezing will harden the food without harming the nutritional integrity of the food. As your dog works on the chew or food, it will slowly and gently defrost. Most dogs do great with frozen foods (frozen veggies, ice cubes, pup ice cream) but the temperature change may upset extremely sensitive tummies! Freezing is also a great way to soothe sore gums for teething puppies!
7. Make DIYs: If you want to change things up or don’t want to use interactive toys, make your own “toy” out of foods! For example, using lighter chews that are normally gulped down in seconds as a “popsicle stick” by inserting it into popsicle molds filled with bone broth or yogurt. Fill thin beef aortas or lamb tracheas full of fresh food and coated with peanut butter for a delicious doggy cannoli!
Whichever methods you try out, they will help slow down your pup’s eating compared to a standard open bowl. Plus they can be fun for your dog making their day-to-day lives more enjoyable, and they can provide mental stimulation and exercise their brain which helps to tire them out!