Julie’s dog Molly is a spayed Labrador retriever. Molly is “absolutely crazy” about her food, and gulps her kibble down at every meal. Once she’s certain there’s no more food, Molly calms down. But Julie is worried about Molly’s “vacuum cleaner” impersonation every time she eats.
Molly inhales her food so quickly that she often chokes it back up again. Julie has begun giving her more kibble at each meal, thinking Molly is “starving” due to her behaviour, and is exceeding the feeding guidelines on the bag of kibble for a canine her size.
There are lots of dogs like Molly, and there can be many contributing factors including metabolic rate, quality of food, and competition from other pets. There can also be medical reasons for this behaviour including hyperthyroidism, a disease that causes an overproduction of the hormone thyroxin.
Symptoms of hyperthyroidism include ravenous appetite, weight loss and hyperactivity. So before making any other changes, Julie should take Molly to the vet for a thorough examination and blood test.
If there are no physical problems at the root of Molly’s behaviour, then it’s time to get creative. Julie should look carefully at the type of food she’s feeding Molly. Dogs require a diet of about 70% protein, and contrary to what’s in a lot of commercial pet food, canines are not big grain eaters. Make sure the quality of the food is high and there’s no grain, wheat or soy in the formula.
When Competition Is Unhealthy
If Molly is fed in the company of other dogs or even the family cat, then the routine should be changed to make sure she eats alone. Sometimes, the mere presence of another animal can cause a dog to accelerate the eating process. Molly may consider other pets as competition and she definitely doesn’t want to share, so may eat faster as a result.
Next, Julie can do something to physically slow Molly down at mealtime. For instance, discard the food bowl and toss the kibble all over the floor, or place it in a single layer in a shallow pan. Molly will be required to pick up each piece of kibble individually instead of gobbling up mouthfuls at a time. Don’t expect her to do a lot of chewing. Canines are carnivores and their teeth are shaped to bite, tear and shred food, not grind it to a pulp.
Another option is to buy a specialty food bowl; one with separators built right in which causes the kibble to settle in numerous, little compartments within the bowl, forcing the dog to really slow down and work to retrieve each piece.
Julie could also offer Molly her food in a type of puzzle. There are numerous toys designed to hold a full meal, such as the Buster Cube and the Kong Wobbler. There are various ways to make these toys dispense the food, but it usually involves nosing or pawing it around in some way and a little kibble at a time falls out. Some of these toys can stretch out a meal to 30 minutes.
Benefits Of Slowing Down
The benefits of making sure Molly slows down while eating almost pale in comparison to the mental stimulation they provide; a win-win for the dog. These options may give Molly the feeling of getting more at each meal, although in reality it’s a matter of just adding to the length of time, not increasing the amount of food.
Labradors are well known for their love of food and mealtime. Molly could also be offered more activities that involve food, but not her kibble. For example, offering her a big femur bone to chew on, a few days a week, will likely please her to no end, while the additional calories consumed will be minimal.
Finally, when looking for guidelines as to how much kibble to feed your dog, forget about what the label on the food bag recommends. Julie should look to Molly’s actual weight and activity level to determine how much to feed her.
Start with a fixed, measured amount, then weigh her, reassess, and adjust the quantity every couple of weeks until it’s certain that the amount is keeping the dog at a healthy weight. If there are concerns about Molly being overweight, she should be assessed by a vet. Bon appetit, Molly! – Tribune News Service/The Modesto Bee/Lisa Moore