Pets Who Eat Too Fast: Nine Ways to Handle Food “Inhalers”

Dr. Patty Khuly

Pets who eat too fast

I confess: I have a pet that eats so fast and furiously that he often manages to literally inhale his food. Slumdog (so aptly named) gulps his dinner down with so much relish it often comes back up whole… only to get “inhaled” all over again.

In fact, Slumdog eats so quickly that even when his food doesn’t hit the floor again, he coughs, chokes, and gags all the way through his meal. This dog isn’t merely food motivated… he’s food obsessed.

Which, in case you’re wondering, happens to be a common problem among pets. And it’s not just dogs. Some cats do this too.

Ever wonder why?

For some dogs it seems to be a breed thing. Labrador Retrievers, for instance, are notorious for having a “loose screw” when it comes to food. Though they may never have wanted for a meal in their entire coddled lives, they’ll drool in advance of dinnertime, beg mercilessly, and generally make a nuisance of themselves with respect to dining. Obsession is a good term for it.

Other dogs and cats have clearly been neglected or suffered near-starvation on the streets. Their environment has probably informed some of their extreme food bowl behavior, gulping down as much as they can as fast as they can. (And it’s never pretty.) They seem to live in perpetual fear of a food bowl’s bottom.

Still others may have suffered some form of behavioral conditioning as a consequence of a competitive environment. Puppies and kittens who’ve had to vie for their place at the teat or communal bowl may be exhibiting extreme feeding behavior as a result of this formative social experience.

In any case, it’s important to recognize any extreme version of this trait as nothing more than a behavioral abnormality –– one that’s readily remedied in many cases.

Pets who suffer it must be treated to a variety of methods to relieve any anxiety associated with this approach to eating and to aid their digestion, which is understandably compromised in many cases by the lack of mastication that attends such feeding frenzies.

To that end, here’s a quick list of my standard recommendations in cases like these:

#1 Isolate

Feeding in isolation of other pets may help reduce the anxiety any competition may pose. Enclosing pets in their crates during feeding time may be just the thing to help keep everyone in their proper places and competitive behavior at bay.

#2 Ignore food seeking behavior

Not only should you not reward any food-seeking or begging behavior, ignoring such behavior means never making a big deal out of feeding time either.

#3 Feed in a non food-oriented area

This means that you should avoid feeding in the kitchen (or anywhere food abounds in your home).

#4 Feed on a strict schedule

Stick to a strict schedule to the extent that you can. This alleviates anxiety for lots of pets. And confine treats to training time or to a very specific time of day. Again, do this away from highly trafficked areas.

#5 Employ gulp-reducing bowls and other food-slowing devices (like food puzzle toys)

These bowls have upright obstacles that pets have to eat around. It takes them longer to do this and helps get them chewing instead of gulping.

#6 Feed smaller kibbles

Smaller kibble is less likely to get gummed up in the esophagus –– which means it’s less likely to make its way back up and out.

#7 Feed wet food

This not only helps some animals eat more slowly, it also helps the food slide down the esophagus more easily (as with smaller kibble).

#8 See a behaviorist

In some extreme cases, veterinary behaviorists should be sought to help address these behaviors. If your pet is seriously stressed out around mealtimes and over eating in general… consider it.

#9 Consider meds as a last resort

Prozac-like drugs have even been used successfully in some of these more extreme sufferers. It’s one option, but one that should only be attempted when the food-related anxiety is severe and cannot be resolved any other way.

Following these simple suggestions (should they apply) will invariably set your pet more at ease while making feeding time a safer experience. It’s no use ignoring these signs. Not when your pet’s health and happiness are at stake.

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