Lexi is crazy about her food, and gulps down her kibble at every meal. Once she is certain there is no more food available, Lexi calms down, relays Karen in her letter.
Lexi inhales her food so quickly that she often chokes it back up again.
Karen goes on to say that she has begun to give her Labrador retriever more at each meal now, due to her behavior, and is exceeding the feeding guidelines for a dog her size.
There are lots of dogs that fit your description, Karen, and there can be many contributing factors, including metabolic rate, quality of food and competition from other dogs. There can also be medical reasons for this behavior, 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, Karen, I’d suggest a thorough examination and blood workup at your veterinarian’s office.
If there are no physical problems, then I’d start getting creative. First, I’d suggest you look carefully at the type of food you are offering. Dogs require a diet of about 70 percent protein, and contrary to what is in a lot of commercial dog food, they are not big grain eaters. Make sure the quality of the food offered is high, with little or no grain in the formula.
If Lexi is fed in the company of other dogs, or even the family cat, I’d change the routine to be sure she eats alone. Sometimes the mere presence of another pet can cause the dog to accelerate the eating process. Lexi may consider other pets as competition, and she definitely doesn’t want to share, so may eat faster as a result.
Next, you will need to do something to physically slow Lexi down during mealtime. You can discard the food bowl and toss her kibble all over the floor, or place it single layer in a shallow pan. Doing so will require that Lexi pick up each piece of kibble individually, instead of successfully gobbling up mouthfuls at a time. Don’t expect her to do a lot of chewing. Dogs 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 little piece. You could also get more creative and offer Lexi her food in a type of puzzle. There are numerous toys on the market that are specifically designed to hold a full meal. There are various ways to make the toy dispense some of 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 last 30 minutes or more. The benefits of making sure the dog slows down while eating almost pale in comparison to the mental stimulation they provide; definitely a win for your dog. All of these options may give Lexi the feeling of getting more at each meal, although in reality, you only will be adding to the length of time, not increasing the amount of kibble.
Lisa Moore’s pet-behavior column appears once a month on the Weekly Pet Page. Write to her in care of LifeStyles, The Modesto Bee, P.O. Box 5256, Modesto 95352.