Sure your small dog lives the good life: he has an oversized plush dog bed and regular homemade organic treats made especially for him. And, he is living out his days inside a classic cottage house nestled in the quaintest cul-de-sac in town. So why then when chow time rolls around, does your little pooch ravaage his meal like he was a stray dog and it was his very last?
Of course it won't be his last meal. You'll make sure of that. But eating fast is what his parents did. And so did their parents, and generations of wild dogs and wolves before them who had to eat in a hurry because they truly didn't know when they would be eating again.
But there are health risks associated with being a greedy gobbler. When your pup inhales his meal, the dry food will absorb the moisture in his tummy, causing his stomach to expand and forcing him to vomit his meal. Other complications include stomach aches, ulcers, constipation and even stomach ruptures.
Even though, your beloved Chihuahua can look forward to regular meals, that don't stop him from eating his kibble quicker than the world's fastest man, Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt, can make his way to the finish line. So as his owner, how do you break this habit? It's not going to happen overnight, but we're offering five ways to stop your small dog from giving you heartburn.
5: Try Feeding Gadgets
Although there are some small dogs that eat way too fast, typically this is a big dog problem says Kerrie Shepherd, veterinary assistant at Veazie Veterinary Clinic in Veazie, Maine. "Most small dogs are picky eaters and just nibble throughout the day." So if your little Pekingese is one small dog that eats as fast as his larger counterparts, remember that you might not be able to stop him -- after all, it's in his DNA. But, you can so introduce some devices to slow him down.
Buying specially designed feeding bowls with built-in obstacles like section dividers that separate his food is one way to help. These bowls will force your pet to eat around the obstacles, making it nearly impossible for him to finish a meal in record time. Placing feeding balls in his bowl is also good because the balls curtail how fast your dog eats. Barbara L. Sherman, D.V.M. and director of Animal Behavior Service at North Carolina State University's College of Veterinary Medicine, also advises getting him to hunt for his food by using feeder toys -- for example, a hollow ball containing his kibble which is slowly released through a narrow opening while he plays with it.
4: Mix Wet and Dry Foods
Small dogs who are fed dry dog kibble can find it much too hard to digest after they bolt down a meal. Unlike humans whose digestion begins in our mouths, a dog's food is not digested until it reaches his stomach. His teeth are made mainly to tear meat and swallow it whole.
Some dogs do chew their food using their back teeth and those who do see some added benefits, according to Dr. Sherman. Chewing moves sticky food off of their teeth and massages their gums. Chewing also brings out the digestive benefits of saliva, which ultimately makes it easier for the stomach to digest the kibble. Small dogs who gulp down their food miss out on these two benefits. So, when your dog doesn't chew, he runs the risk of taking in a lot of air with his food, and that's not good for his overall health. But there are ways to help him with digestion. One is to add a little wet (canned) food or water to the dry food before giving it to him. The softer mixture will make it a lot easier for his stomach to digest the meal.
3: Give Smaller Portions
Your Staffordshire bull terrier doesn't attend your weekly Weight Watchers meeting with you, so she doesn't know the first thing about portion control. In fact, all she knows is that it's your job to put the food in her bowl, and it's her job to eat it up as quickly as she can.
Since the word "self-restraint" is not in her vocabulary, she's going to need a little help from you. Reducing the size of her portions is one way to step in. Try putting a smaller amount of food in her bowl than she's accustomed to eating and spread it out over time. For example, if you want her to eat 1/2 cup of kibble over the course of an hour, then give her 1/8 cup every 15 minutes. Automatic pet feeders that deliver food all day also are good tools to help prevent your little one from wolfing down all of her goodies in one sitting.
A side note: one technique that should not be incorporated is taking her dish away when you find she is eating too fast. "This could lead to the dog becoming defensive and using aggression to keep a person away from its food," says Dr. Sherman.
Shepherd also warns against yelling, hitting or reprimanding your small dog because it could cause food avoidance issues and make her scared of you.
2: Try Different Techniques
A lot of dog owners use food to reward their animal's good behavior. So why not teach your Maltese to slow him eating down while practicing obedience training at the same time. Dr. Sherman advises owners to combine this technique with training so if you ask him to perform a task, such as "sit,", every time he completes it to your satisfaction, add a few pieces of kibble to his bowl or in the palm of your hand so you can control how many pieces he eats at one time.
At her veterinary office, Shepherd says she suggests dog owners try remedies like placing a ball or a large smooth stone in the center of the bowl and putting food around it. You can also spread the kibble out on a cookie sheet or place a few pieces at the bottom of each cup of a muffin tin so he has to forage for each piece. All of these ideas will force your dog to slow down.
Other recommendations include putting a tennis ball, softball or baseball into your dog's bowl. He will be forced to eat around the ball. Just make sure it is big enough so your little one can't swallow it.
1: Feed Them By Hand
An old English proverb says, "Don't bite the hand that feeds you." Your toy dog certainly won't do that if he gets feedings directly from you. He will love the special attention he gets from being fed a few pieces at a time directly from your hand.
However, your pet may get excited from this new way of eating and accidentally bite you. One way to prevent this is to close your hand once he starts nipping to let him know his behavior isn't acceptable. When he stops, open your hand slowly again, allowing him to eat. Accompany this with training commands that he will understand. This is an exercise that you might have to continually repeat.
Feeding him by hand greatly reduce the chances he has to wolf down his food. As his owner, you want to protect him from harming himself. And it has the added bonus of strengthening the bond with your beloved dog.