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behavior and training
Two brown-white dogs eating from two bowls

It’s ingrained in dogs to protect valuable resources, with food being one of the most important. Starting as puppies, dogs must compete for food among their littermates. The fastest eaters are rewarded with a full meal. This behavior carries through into adulthood and is known as food guarding.

Food guarding in dogs can be demonstrated by behaviors such as growling when a human approaches their bowl, chasing away other dogs that might try to take a bite, or eating so quickly the competition doesn’t have time to interfere. It’s this last behavior that can cause health issues, especially if it becomes routine. Below are some of the potential health risks for dogs that eat too fast, as well as a few creative ways to help your pup slow down.

Dangers of eating too fast

With fast eating can come fast consequences. Here are a few things that might happen as a result of your pup’s quick food intake:

  • Vomiting and regurgitating. If your pup vomits or regurgitates shortly after eating, they could be eating too fast.
  • Gas and diarrhea. Diarrhea and gas can be indications your pup is eating too quickly or taking in air while they eat and drink.
  • Choking. Food lodged in the throat can block a dog’s airways, causing them to gag or choke.
  • Blockages. Unlike choking, a blockage occurs when a dog consumes food (or something else) without chewing properly. This leads to a blocked esophagus or intestine.
  • Overeating. Offering too much food at one time can lead a dog to overindulge. Your vet may recommend smaller meals spread throughout the day to avoid this behavior.
  • Obesity. Dog owners will often give their pup larger portions or second helpings of their dinner if they eat it very fast. This can lead to weight gain, which causes joint and orthopedic issues.

Dog bloat

Eating too quickly can eventually lead to dog bloat, also known as gastric dilatation-volvulus or GDV. This is a very serious and life-threatening condition, the cause of which can be difficult to determine. However, many veterinarians link bloat to fast eating since dogs take in too much air, which can cause their stomachs to expand and twist. According to the American Kennel Club (AKC), dogs that eat quickly are more than five times as likely to develop bloat than pups that eat at a slower pace.

GDV is much more common in large breed, deep-chested dogs like Great Danes and Saint Bernards. This condition often requires surgery to deflate and correct the stomach. Unfortunately, once a dog experiences GDV, there’s a 90% chance it will happen again. Because of this, prevention is important.

Ways to slow down your pup

Try these creative solutions to slow your pup’s pace at mealtime.

  • DIY solutions. Some pet owners have found creative solutions using things that are already in their kitchen. Dividing up your dog’s chow in a muffin tin will force them to pause between each bite. Additionally, hand feeding your dog can be a good solution. Read below for further details on this practice.
  • Kibble “hide-and-seek.” This is your chance to turn mealtime into a game. Just “hide” different amounts of your dog’s food around your house and allow them to sniff it out.
  • Timed feeders. There are many feeders on the market that can be programmed to release smaller amounts of food at various points throughout the day, including this option from WOpet. This can be a good option for owners who are not at home during the day since many of these feeders can be controlled from a smartphone.
  • Separate pups. If you have competitive dogs, try having them eat in different rooms to help prevent food guarding problems like eating too fast.

How to hand feed your pup

Both puppies and adult dogs can be hand fed, which can help reduce food aggression and encourage them to slow down. Some additional tips and tricks for hand feeding your dog are outlined below:

Use mealtime to train — AKC recommends using your dog’s normal food as a reward during training. If you’re trying to teach your dog a few new tricks, this could be a great time to practice by offering them food instead of treats.

Use a closed hand — For this technique, keep your hand closed, and only offer your dog food once they stop licking or pawing at your hand. This teaches patience and reinforces that you, the owner, have control of the desirable food.

Pet and talk to your dog while they eat — Speaking kindly to your dog while offering them food builds trust and can eliminate any unease they might feel.

👉 Once your dog is comfortable with being hand fed and no longer demonstrates guarding or other negative food habits, you can resume feeding them from their bowl.

Slow feeders we recommend 

Using a slow feed dog bowl is a good idea for pups that tend to be speed-eaters. Puzzle feeders also slow dogs down and even help engage their brains. A snuffle mat is a similar device that engages your dog’s foraging instincts and allows them to root around for their food.

Frequently asked questions

Why does my dog eat their food so fast?

Food guarding is a natural behavior for dogs since food is a valuable (and delicious!) resource.

Can eating too fast be harmful to dogs?

Yes, eating too quickly can lead to unnecessary health risks, including choking, diarrhea, and bloat.

What easy, DIY solutions can prevent my pup from eating too fast?

A few ideas to try are muffin pans, kibble hide-and-seek, and hand feeding.

How can I help my dog eat more slowly?

Using things like slow feeding bowls, snuffle mats, and puzzle toys can encourage slow eating. Using a timed feeding dish and offering smaller meals throughout the day can also help.

Why did my dog throw up after eating?

There are many reasons your dog may have vomited after eating, including excess air intake due to eating too quickly. However, if your dog vomits regularly after eating, you should talk to your vet.