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Why do dogs eat too fast and how do you slow them down?

Dog lying down looking up at camera with bowl in front of them
(Image credit: Getty Images)

"Why do dogs eat too fast?" is a common topic of conversation amongst pet parents who place their canine companion’s food in their bowl only to turn around seconds later and see that the bowl has been licked clean! 

If you’ve gone to a lot of trouble to pick out the best dog food for your forever friend, it’s understandable you’d like them to spend a few moments savoring it rather than inhaling it like it’s the last meal they’ll ever eat. After all, that’s what we humans tend to do.

But unlike us, our furry friends tend to have a different approach when it comes to consuming their wet or dry dog food and that’s eating it as quickly as their mouths will allow. The good news is, fast eating is a pretty normal behavior in dogs and most of the time, it’s nothing to worry about. 

That being said, eating too quickly can pose a risk to your dog’s health, so it’s not a bad idea to try to help them slow down a bit at feeding time. In this piece, we talk you through the most common reasons dogs eat fast, the dangers to be aware of, and some tips that will encourage them to take mealtimes at a more leisurely pace.

Why do dogs eat too fast?

First up, it’s possible that your pooch is just really hungry and can’t hold back their appetite each time their food bowl gets placed down in front of them. A love of food is definitely one reason why your dog could be eating too fast! But if you’re concerned there might be something else going on, here are three common reasons for quick eating:

1. Competition

There are two main causes that drive dog’s approaching their food from a competitive point of view. The first is if there are other dogs in the home. If this is the case, your pup may feel the need to eat quickly to ensure that their brother or sister doesn’t try and swoop in and steal what’s theirs.

The second driver is if your dog came from a large litter where they may have had to regularly compete with their littermates for food. If they had to compete early in life for nourishment, they often carry this behavior through into adulthood.

2. Underlying Illness

Another factor that may be causing your dog to eat too quickly is an undiagnosed health condition. Diabetes and Cushing’s syndrome are two illnesses that can rev up a dog’s metabolism and increase their appetite. You’ll also find being ravenous and inhaling food to be common in dogs with worms or other intestinal parasites. 

If you’re at all concerned that there may be a medical reason behind your dog eating too fast, book an appointment with your vet who will be able to rule out any underlying health issues. 

3. Scarcity

The third common cause of fast eating is driven by your dog having a scarcity mindset and this is most likely if you adopted your pup from a shelter or other rescue organization. Shelter dogs often spent time on the street and because they didn’t have access to regular food, they may have developed fast eating habits to get as much food into them as they could.

If your dog wasn’t a stray but was instead relinquished to a shelter by their former owner, it could be that in their previous home there were no regular mealtimes or there was a great deal of inconsistency around portion sizes. If proper feeding etiquette was absent, fast eating is often the result.

The dangers of your dog eating too fast

Tan dog eating a bowl of food in a kitchen

(Image credit: Getty)

Even if there’s no underlying reason why your dog is eating too fast and their tendency to inhale food is purely out of excitement, this kind of quick eating does pose a number of risks that are worth being aware of:

1. Digestive issues

While not in any way life-threatening, gulping food down can result in unnecessary stress being placed on the digestive system, which is forced to try and process a large amount of food in a very short space of time. 

Symptoms of digestive distress include burping, vomiting and regurgitating and while these are mostly time-limited and likely to resolve themselves, they can lead to longer-term issues and complications.

2. Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus (GDV)

GDV is an incredibly serious and life-threatening condition and deep-chested dog breeds (such as the Great Dane and the Doberman Pinscher) are more prone to it than other breeds. GDV occurs when the stomach twists because too much food has been consumed and it requires immediate veterinary attention due to the high risk of a rupture occurring.

3. Bloat

Caused by your dog taking in too much air while they eat, bloating of the stomach isn’t as serious as GDV but it can be very uncomfortable for your dog and because it’s impossible to tell the difference between food bloat and GDV, a trip to the vet will be necessary to rule out the latter.

How to slow your dog’s eating down

Now that you’re aware of some of the common causes of fast eating and how gobbling down food too quickly can pose a risk to your dog’s health, it’s time to look at some practical ways to slow your doggy down at mealtimes. Here’s a few of our favorites:

1. Invest in a slow feeder bowl

Slow feeder bowls do a brilliant job of helping to pace the speed at which your dog eats. These bowls are designed with a number of built-in obstructions, like bumps and soft spikes, that will physically prevent your canine companion from eating too fast. And as a bonus, they act as a nice enrichment activity too as your dog has to work for their food.

2. Multiple small meals

Instead of feeding your dog bigger meals 2-3 times a day, try decreasing the volume and increasing the frequency. You may find that smaller portions dished out 4-5 times a day does a brilliant job of eliminating digestive issues, including bloat.

3. Hand feeding

Okay, so we know this one is pretty labor-intensive, but if your canine companion is gulping their food down too quickly, hand feeding them over several minutes can be well worth the time and effort. 

4. Try a food dispensing toy

Making your dog put some effort into getting their food will really help slow down the pace at which they eat. You can try stuffing a KONG toy, using a toy that’s been designed to dispense food (the best dog puzzle toys are ideal for this) or even turning a muffin pan upside down and pouring your dog’s food into the crevices where they’ll be forced to dig it out. Snuffle mats can also be a really great way to put a stop to fast eating. 

If in doubt, have it checked out

While the reason behind your dog inhaling their food like it was their last meal on earth may be no cause for concern, if you're at all worried about your canine companion eating too quickly and the potential health risks involved, have a chat with your vet who will be able to offer advice and guidance. 

Kathryn is a freelance writer who has spent the past two years dividing her writing time between her two great loves - pets and health and wellness. When she’s not busy crafting the perfect sentence for her features, buying guides and news pieces, she can be found hanging out with one very mischievous Cocker Spaniel, drinking copious amounts of Jasmine tea and attempting to set numerous world records for the longest ever FaceTime calls with her family back home in NZ.