This post is was originally published on The Penny Hoarder
If there’s one thing dog parents will tell you about their dogs, it’s that they love food. Until you train them not to, most dogs will beg at your dinner table for scraps or run from the opposite side of the house at the first sound of a cheese wrapper.
This love of food also means that many dogs are inclined to eat their own food as fast as possible. If you have more than one dog, they might be further incentivized to eat quickly to ensure another doesn’t get to it first.
Unfortunately for our food-loving, four-legged friends, fast eating can be very dangerous. Like humans who eat too fast, dogs are susceptible to choking or gagging if they swallow their meals too quickly. More importantly, dogs can develop gastric dilatation and volvulus (GDV), more commonly known as canine bloat.
According to Pets.WebMD.com, canine bloat can occur when your dog’s stomach fills with gas or food and expands. Ultimately, the stomach can expand so much, like a balloon, that it can tear, prevent blood flow and make breathing difficult. It can even cause the stomach to rotate and twist, trapping blood in the stomach and potentially putting the dog into shock.
This is a life-threatening and time-sensitive condition for dogs. If you believe your dog is currently suffering from bloat, please contact your vet immediately. Here are common signs of canine bloat to watch for.
While any dog can suffer from bloat, it occurs more frequently in males and typically affects larger breeds, such as Great Danes, Boxers, Weimaraners, German Shepherds and similar dogs. As a guardian of a Great Dane and a Weimaraner/Greyhound mix, it is something I take very seriously.
So what causes canine bloat? In general, eating too much and eating too fast are the main culprits, though high activity shortly after eating is believed to potentially lead to bloat as well.
The best thing you can do as a doggy parent is to feed smaller portions throughout the day and ensure your dog eats slowly.
Several products on the market can help slow your dog’s eating habits for as little as $10. A quick Amazon search pulls up a number of options; however, I have found too often that many of these slow feeders are too small for the very large dogs most at risk for developing bloat. And while I have enjoyed using feeder toys like this Busy Buddy meal dispenser and this dog food puzzle, I have discovered that I can much more easily use the resources I already have at home to build slow feeding solutions for free!
Dog Slow Feeder Alternatives
Here are a few DIY solutions for a dog that eats too fast that I’ve tried with my two pups.
Feeding One at a Time
The first solution I already mentioned, but since it did make a drastic difference in how fast Clyde, my Great Dane, eats, it bears repeating: feed your dogs one at a time.
Now that Clyde eats after Greyson (my Weimaraner/Greyhound mix) he has learned that he doesn’t have to worry about eating too fast since Greyson has already eaten and won’t be trying to steal his food.
Smaller Portions Throughout the Day
Photo courtesy of Timothy Moore
The other easy solution is to break out your feedings into smaller portions throughout the day. With some of the solutions that follow, it is easier to use smaller amounts of dog food. Plus, eating too much at once can put your dog at risk for bloat anyway.
A dog of Clyde’s size should get 8 to 12 cups of food a day, depending on the brand and ingredients. I can’t imagine giving him that much all in one sitting. Instead, I split his 8 cups into two meals a day and have toyed with changing to three.
You can easily mimic the $10 to $20 feeders you can buy in pet stores or online with the old muffin tin you have crammed in the back of your kitchen cabinet. Simply distribute your dog’s meal equally to each of the muffin troughs and place a tennis ball on top of each one. Your dog will have to knock the tennis ball off each trough to get to the food inside.
To change up the game, you can instead flip the muffin tin upside down and pour the food in the tight spaces between each of the “reverse troughs” so that your dog will have to work his tongue or paws to slide the food out.
Photo courtesy of Timothy Moore.
An easier way to make use of those tennis balls — especially if you can’t stand the thought of dog slobber on your favorite muffin tin — is simply to place one or two tennis balls in your dog’s bowl along with her food. Doing so will make it more complicated for her to eat and will slow her down.
That said, the muffin tin solution provides more mental stimulation for your dog than this method does. But if you’re ever in a pinch, this is an easy way to enforce slow eating.
When Greyson was suffering from separation anxiety, my vet suggested this homemade toy that I have since used to promote slow eating. Take an empty dog bowl and spread a very thin layer of peanut butter across the bottom, then pour in the dog food so that it is spread evenly over the peanut butter. Press the food down into the peanut butter until it is stuck, and then place the bowl in the freezer.
At feeding time, pull the bowl out. Your dog will have to lick the frozen food for a good while to break free all the pieces and will enjoy the peanut buttery treat at the bottom. Just make sure to provide him lots of water.
A note on the separation anxiety solution: This was a great way to distract Greyson when I left the house. He would get this small treat that would occupy him for a good 15 minutes and would not suffer through the typical terrors of watching me walk out the door.
Hide and Seek
Dogs love to play hide and seek. Clyde is well trained to wait on the first floor of my house. On my go, he will come find me hiding on the second floor. But as much as Clyde loves me, he loves food more, which makes playing hide and seek for food very fun for him.
Contain your dog to one room of the house, then hide her food in appropriate locations in another room (like some behind the couch, some on the coffee table and some on the bottom step of a staircase) and have her come find it and eat it. On a nice day, you can do this outside; just make sure all the food is found, or you may attract ants.
One caveat: If your dog is too hyperactive during this exercise, avoid it in the future. Lots of activity after eating can lead to bloat. Simply running to the next location to eat her food is fine, but if she’s bouncing off the walls, it’s the wrong activity for her.
Photo courtesy of Timothy Moore
This homemade remedy doubles as obedience training. Make your dog work for his food by giving him a few bites for sitting, shaking, lying down, staying, rolling over or whatever tricks you two know. It’s a good opportunity to teach new tricks as well.
The cost of slow feeders online is not very prohibitive, but I’ve found that I much prefer to get creative around the house when it comes to slow feeding my two mongrels. It leads to more bonding time with my boys, and it saves me the $20 every few months I’d have to spend on replacing the slow feeder they would inevitably break.
Timothy Moore is an editor and freelance writer based in Nashville. He and his partner love to take their two dogs, Clyde and Greyson, for long hikes and swims in the lake. Clyde and Greyson mostly love to eat, sleep and sniff gross stuff.