Have a pet that inhales her food? I do. He eats so quickly that he coughs and chokes and gags whenever he’s fed. He’s not merely food motivated … he’s food obsessed.
The good news is he’s not a huge begger. He may hang around in the kitchen at my feet while I cook and he may stare at me longingly while we’re seated at the dinner table, but that’s no different than what he does when I’m reading a book. He gapes in adoration, waiting for any scrap of attention in whatever form he can get it –– comestible or otherwise.
But that’s beside the point … onto the gulping thing.
Ever wonder why it is that some pets do this? For dogs it’s either nature or nurture (big surprise). Some dogs, Labs for instance, have a screw loose when it comes to food. Though they may never have wanted for a meal in their entire coddled lives, they’ll drool in advance of dinnertime, beg mercilessly and generally make a nuisance of themselves with respect to dining. Some cats are like this too. Beats me why.
Other dogs have clearly been neglected or suffered near-starvation on the streets. Their environment has informed their extreme behavior at the food bowl; they gulp down as much as they can as fast as they can. And it’s never pretty. They seem to live in perpetual fear of a dearth of food. Some long-time strays or feral cats will exhibit similar behavior.
It’s important to recognize either extreme version of this trait as nothing more than a behavioral abnormality. Pets who suffer it must be treated to a variety of methods to relieve their food anxiety and aid in their normal digestion:
- Feed in isolation to reduce the anxiety competition may pose.
- Ignore food seeking behavior and never make a big meal out of feeding time.
- Feed in a non food-oriented area (avoid feeding in the kitchen, or anywhere you most frequent in your home).
- Feed on a strict schedule.
- Confine treats to training time or to a very specific time of day. Again, do this away from trafficked areas.
- Employ gulp-reducing bowls. These bowls have upright obstacles that pets have to eat around. It takes them longer to do this.
- Feed smaller kibbles or wet food they must lap around.
- In some extreme cases, veterinary behaviorists should be sought to help address these behaviors. Consider it.
- Prozac-like drugs have even been used successfully in some of these more extreme sufferers. It’s one option, but one that should only be attempted when the food-related anxiety is severe and cannot be resolved any other way.
Following these simple suggestions (should they apply) will invariably set your pet more at ease while making feeding time a safer experience. It’s no use ignoring these signs. Not when your pet’s health and happiness are at stake.
Dr. Patty Khuly