Do your pets gobble food? Are they pushy around the food bowl? Food aggression in cats (rare) and dogs (more common) can be a problem. But food obsessed pets happen for a variety of reasons. And it can result in gassy pets (learn about pet flatulence in this post).
Pet Eating Behaviors Vary
When Karma-Kat showed up on our back patio, the eight-month-old kitten had been on his own for some time. Starved for attention, and for food, he quickly made himself at home. He ate anything and everything. Karma chewed through the dog food bag to munch canine kibble and practiced snatch-and-grab attacks to gobble food from our dinner plates. You can use treats (within reason!) to make shy cats like you, though!
Our last dog, Magic the German Shepherd, had a healthy appetite, but declined to gobble. Bravo-Dawg often scarfed-and-barfed in quick succession. Shadow-Pup takes turns snubbing the bowl and gobbling his food.
Pets are individuals of course, but I wondered why some pets practice gluttony while others eat with more discriminating palates. For answers, I reached out to Dr. Dottie LaFlamme, DVM, PhD, DACVN, +/- Board Certified Veterinary Nutritionist with the American College of Veterinary Nutrition.
Why Dogs & Cats Gobble Their Food
“Gobbling of food seems to be a trait carried over from wolves,” says Dr. Laflamme. “Wolves or other canids in packs are in competition for access to a kill, so grab what they can when they can.” Learn more about how dogs eat in this post.
In domestic dogs, she says speed of eating seems to be a breed-specific characteristic. Certain breeds of dogs swallow their food in a gulp or two, while others prefer to nibble or graze. “Beagles and Labrador Retrievers are among those breeds known to be gobblers,” she says. Learn about preventing obesity in this post.
Besides breed, considerable individual variation in eating habits develops in dogs. “This may be related to early experiences, and feeding management, and competition (real or perceived) for food bowl access. Also environmental factors including those that may leave a dog more or less relaxed while eating. And availability of food.”
A specific breed of a cat doesn’t appear to play a role in feline gobblers. Refer to this post on how cats eat. Dr. Laflamme says there are no scientific studies to identify the reasons behind “Garfield” type cats. But she speculates there may be several reasons, alone or in combination, for this behavior in both cats and dogs.
Those starved as strays may be more food focused, she says. Also, young pets that are meal-fed (rather than ad libitum feeding) during early development may be more likely to be rapid eaters. “This is based on a limited number of animals and personal observations,” she cautions, “but it also fits your Karma-Kat situation.”
Cats evolved as solitary hunters and eaters. It’s hard to share a single mouse, after all. That means when cats must share food bowls, eat side by side with other felines, or compete with a bully-cat (or dog), they may resort to gulping down food quickly or risk getting nothing at all.
Are There Risks Associated With Food Gobbling?
For cats, gorging can lead to obesity, or nutritional upset if they habitually vomit. Some veterinarians describe stressed cat eating as “scarf-and-barf.” In other words, eating too quickly from stress-related causes can result in the cat’s food coming back up just as quickly. That’s not good for your carpet, your blood pressure, or your cats.
But for otherwise healthy dogs, gulping food isn’t necessarily a bad thing, says Dr. Laflamme. Eating quickly can save time for owners of multiple dogs, when you can control the amount each dog eats, she says. “Dogs can easily consume all their food in just a few minutes, so can be quickly fed once or twice daily. Since this is a natural pattern for dogs, it may not be of any concern.”
However, part of the natural pattern in wolves and pack animals is to engorge with rapid feeding, then regurgitate and re-consume the food while they are away from the frenzy. “Most pet owners are less keen on this habit, despite it being natural,” says Dr. Laflamme.
We have linked one health concern with rapid eating, says Dr. Laflamme. Gastric dilatation volvulus, or bloat, particularly affects large breed dogs, especially deep-chested dogs.
How Can Owners Slow Pet Food Gobbling?
There are a variety of ways to help dogs and cats eat more slowly. It comes down to managing mealtime. Dr. Laflamme offered these suggestions.
- Add water to the food to increase the food volume
- Feed food in larger kibble or chunk sizes so pets must chew rather than gulp
- Use an automatic feeding device that opens on a scheduled timer to access a portion of the daily ration. That can divide a single meal into multiple small meals.
- Place one or more non-swallowable balls, large stones, or heavy chain into the feeding bowl so dogs must pick around obstacles to find the kibbles.
- Use puzzle feeders designed for the purpose. Kibbles placed inside release a few at a time during paw-rolling, nose-nudging play. You can make homemade versions with plastic water bottles or similar.
- For cats gobbling out of competition or stress, consider feeding them separately.
- Hiding the puzzle toys for cats to “hunt” slows down gulping.
- “Licky mats” smeared with wet canned food also slow the consumption.
So what have I missed? Do you live with food obsessed pets? How do you manage meal times? Do tell!
This post first appeared in a different form on the FearFreeHappyHomes.com site.
Have questions about grain free foods for pets? Take a look at this post.
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Amy Shojai, CABC is a certified cat & dog behavior consultant, a consultant to the pet industry, and the award-winning author of 35+ pet-centric books and Thrillers with Bite! Oh, and she loves bling!