I can speak to this subject with a lot of experience! We rescued our 8-year-old Lab when she was 2. She came to us with a host of emotional and behavioral problems. One problem was the voracity with which she consumed her food.
Yes, she is a Lab. And we know all Labs love their food.
But this wasn’t a normal Lab’s love of food. All fingers and hands needed to be quickly out of the vicinity of the bowl when it hit the ground.
Almost instantly, it became clear this was no laughing matter. Most meals came back up shortly after she ate. She’s our third Lab. And although all three of our Labs loved their food, never had any of them eaten so fast they threw it all up.
After speaking with our vet, we realized we had to make some changes.
Timing how quickly your dog can empty the bowl may seem like a fun game but speed eating can cause health problems. These can be serious, especially in a big dog like a Lab.
What causes a dog to eat too fast?
If we’re not talking about a sudden increase in appetite and the sudden onset of speed eating, dogs eat fast because of:
A learned behavior from puppyhood – Puppies often compete with their littermates to get enough food. That may even be the case when they’re nursing.
The fear of competition from another pet in the house – If you have another pet, your dog may fear they’ll steal their food before they finish it.
Poor nutrition – Low quality food may not be providing enough nutrients, leaving your dog feeling hungry even after they’ve just eaten.
A parasite – Parasites can affect your dog’s ability to absorb nutrients from their food, again leaving them feeling hungry.
If your dog typically eats at a normal speed but suddenly they eat very fast or are always hungry, this can be a health issue—a hormone production or thyroid problem. See your vet at once.
When my greyhound had thyroid cancer, he couldn’t get enough food. A dog that wasn’t interested in food was suddenly stealing my kids’ sandwiches off the kitchen counter… in plain sight. That’s a warning sign.
But that’s not what we’re talking about here. I’m talking about a dog that eats too fast from the day you bring him home.
Why is eating fast problematic?
Interestingly, a dog’s mouth isn’t even considered a part of their digestive system because unlike in people, no part of the digestion process happens there.
Food is out of the mouth and into the body in seconds. Dogs have pointed teeth for tearing big pieces of food at a time and getting the food down fast.
In humans, digestion does start in the mouth. Our flat teeth and saliva break the food down before it even leaves the mouth.
But if your dog is gulping mouthfuls of food, that’s not what nature intended and they can choke. Although dogs don’t chew their food the way people do, they still need to swallow their food in manageable amounts.
Gulping also causes gas. If your dog is gulping their food, they’re taking in a lot of air, making them gassy.
And all that air is the dangerous part. A big dog that takes in a lot of air when they eat is at risk for bloat. The stomach fills up with air and twists on itself. This is a life-threatening condition and requires immediate emergency care.
And as in my Lab, speed eating can cause vomiting and other digestive problems. If you free-feed your dog, speed eating can also lead to canine obesity. As soon as the bowl is empty, you’re filling it up again. And your dog ends up getting too much food each day.
Remember too, that if your dog is eating at a breakneck pace because they’re afraid someone will take their food from them, they may show aggression when someone does. And this can become a dangerous behavioral problem if not stopped.
How can you slow down your chowhound?
First, rule out a parasite by taking your dog to the vet. In addition, feed the highest quality most nutritious food you can. A super premium food like Husse is well-balanced to provide a nutrient-dense satisfying meal.
Once you’re certain your dog’s problem isn’t a parasite or poor nutrition, you can take simple steps to fix it. And solutions abound! Some may work and some won’t.
You might need to try a few things before you hit on the one or two that help your dog. Every dog’s different.
Increase the number of meals you feed. We feed our Lab three meals a day. Eating less is easier on the digestion, even if your pup consumes that smaller amount faster than normal.
Try a bowl with obstructions. They sell slow feeder bowls with plastic prongs that stick up or compartments. Your dog has to work around the prongs or sections to get the food. This slows them down. Or try putting a brick or large rock (one too big to swallow) in the middle of the bowl. You can also put a smaller bowl upside down inside the big bowl and put the food in the channel between the two. If a bowl like this has the opposite effect because your dog becomes panicked that they can’t get the food fast enough, don’t use it.
Feed meals from a food toy or food puzzle. A Kong toy stuffed with food will not only slow your dog down, it will give them mental stimulation as they work to get the food out.
Feed multiple pets separately. This will eliminate the fear of competition. You can try feeding them on opposite sides of the room, or in different rooms.
Scatter the food on the floor so your dog has to graze. Picking up one kibble at a time will slow them down.
Use a muffin tin, dividing the food between each hole. At least your dog will pick their head up long enough to move from one hole to the next.
Make feeding time game time, which will not only slow down your dog but will also provide mental stimulation. Hide food in various locations in your house and tell your dog to “find it”. Start by putting the food in locations your dog can see and progress to accessible hiding places.
You’ll find the greatest success by combining a few of these approaches. For our Lab, feeding her more frequent smaller meals and using a slow feeder bowl did the trick. Now she’s not a speed eater, she’s just the typical Hoover Lab that consumes any food in her path like a vacuum.
Does your dog eat too fast? How do you slow them down? Share in the comment section at the top of the page.