Feeding a Canine Glutton

By Robin Downing, DVM, CVPP, CCRP, DAAPM

Nutrition, Pet Services

My dog used to be obese. With my veterinarian’s help, I was able to get him to a normal weight. But now he has turned into a glutton!  He inhales his food in seconds and then patrols the house looking for anything that resembles food. I’m not sure what to do!

dog_-_dog_food_bowlToday’s dog foods are designed to be delicious. Once the basics of the nutrient profile are met for a particular life-stage, palatability is the most important competitive platform. High palatability means dogs like it, and that translates to more sales for the pet food company.

The good news about highly palatable dog food is that we can choose almost any formulation and our dogs will eat it. The downside of high palatability is the fact that many dogs will then eat more food than they need if offered all that they want. This leads straight to weight gain and obesity. Portion feeding is a critical step in preventing overweight and obese dogs.

By the time a dog has become overweight or obese, he has likely had the opportunity to develop the habit of overeating. Weight loss requires strict portion control, which the dog isn’t used to after the eating pattern that led to obesity. It is no surprise, then, to witness food inhalation, “counter surfing,” and constant begging.

There are many ways to cope with a canine glutton. Step one means understanding that dogs repeat behavior that gets rewarded. If they beg for food and we give in and feed them something - anything - they learn that if they beg, they will get something to eat. As hard as it may be to resist those puppy-dog eyes, avoid giving in.

What if my dog has already learned that begging leads to food?

If the habit of begging and feeding is already in place, there are two alternatives. Dogs learn our habits and patterns, and one common linkage in begging behavior is begging during family meal preparation.

One option is to keep the dog away while cooking and during meal time. He can remain on a dog bed or in a particular room, perhaps with a Kong® toy filled with frozen vegetables for slow retrieval, or with some other chew toy. Sometimes using a tether or a crate/kennel will be necessary to create the new habit of not begging during meal preparation.

“Extra volume should be made up of appropriate water-based vegetables.”

Option two for reducing a dog’s tendency for gluttony is to provide a larger volume of food at each meal, and additional snacks throughout the day. This sounds counter-intuitive until we realize that the extra volume should be made up of appropriate water-based vegetables. Your veterinarian can help you decide what might work best for your dog. The most commonly recommended snack veggies are green beans, broccoli, and cauliflower. Be sure to ask your veterinarian if any of these are not appropriate choices for your dog due to their calcium content.

Another high-volume, low calorie snack to help canine gluttons is air popped popcorn – no butter, no salt.

How do I stop my dog from eating so fast?

Finally, we can slow down food inhalers by using interactive food toys. These can be high or low tech depending on your preferences. Here are some ideas:

  • One low-tech option is to use a muffin tin and place pieces of the dog’s kibble, or bites of his canned food, into each muffin holder.
  • Divide the dog’s meal into several small portions and hide them in different places in the house or around the yard. This allows the dog to “work” for his supper.
  • Use an interactive food toy that releases a few kibbles at a time as the dog moves or rolls the toy around.
  • Use a timed feeder that releases or presents a portion of the daily food ration at pre-arranged times or pre-timed intervals. Be careful using a timed feeder with large dogs or with dogs who have a history of destructive chewing. They may grow impatient and simply destroy the food dispenser.

It is worth the effort to re-frame the eating experience for dogs that have become gluttonous food inhalers. It will take patience, but dogs can learn new tricks, and how to eat appropriately is something they can learn!

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