If you have a dog who drools saliva in excited anticipation as you mix up his dinner, and who descends on that bowl like a raptor when it hits his placemat, you have a potentially life-threatening problem that you need to manage. You may have been thinking “Oh all Labradors are like this about food,” or believe that your dog’s frantic gobbling of food has something to do with having been the runt of the litter, or if it’s a dog you have adopted you might believe that rapidly ingesting his food has to do with a trauma or deprivation around food in his past. While none or all of those things might be the case, the resulting danger of too-rapid eating is something you need to control.
There is a life-threatening digestive condition called “bloat” in which gas builds up rapidly inside a dog’s stomach, causing it to distend like a hard beach ball. If bloat occurs when nobody is around to witness it and get the dog into emergency surgery immediately, it will cause an excruciating death. Bloat occurs most commonly in large, deep-chested dogs – German Shepherds, Dobermann Pinchers, Greyhounds and Weimaraners come to mind, but there are also exceptions to this physical type.
Being someone who adopts rescued Weimaraners, the danger of bloat is never far from my mind – and when I get a dog who attacks his bowl with extreme gusto, I know I have an accident waiting to happen. Although the definitive cause or trigger for bloat has not been definitively proven, it is believed that dogs who gulp food or water and take in air while doing so are most at risk (think of a baby who gets air bubbles in with her bottle and needs to be burped – which happens with some children more than others).
Scooby Doo is the second of my large male Weims who eats like he hasn’t seen food for a week. I had a very large Blue Weimaraner named Billy Blue who was Scooby’s “big brother” for several years that their lives overlapped, and Billy Blue ate food so quickly that more than once I had to improvise a Heimlich maneuver because he inhaled his kibble so fast it could get stuck in his throat and cause him to choke!
I never let him get too hungry – three smaller meals is better than two large ones, and I give him small snacks between meals (a couple of pieces of Liv-a-Little dried chicken, a piece of apple or cheese).
I use one of the bowls designed to slow dogs down – there is a style that has three plastic columns that rise up out of the bowl and that the dog has to eat around to get the food. I found that style frustrated Scooby Doo and made him try even harder to get the food into his mouth! For him, I thought that design of “slow down” bowl made him more at risk for bloat because of the anxiety it caused him! (Yes, Weims are a very emotional intense breed!) Instead, I found a style of bowl that is divided into three compartments and Scooby Doo is willing to lick his way around to get the food that flows into each section. He gets fed first (or would have a coronary if he didn’t!) and with this bowl he is still working at getting his food long after the other two dogs have finished.
I never let him gulp large quantities of water – and when it is hot and he has been running around and is panting, I do not let him have anything to drink or eat until he has cooled off and his heart rate has gone down. This is something we know from horses: you never water a hot horse or you can end up with a very sick horse from colic, which in extreme cases is the equine equivalent of bloat in dogs.
I never feed him and take off – I stick around for at least half an hour to make sure there is no funny business going on in his tummy.
It is a good investment in your peace of mind to manage a dog who gobbles – especially compared to the fearsome situation of dealing with a bloat emergency.