Gulpers: Why They Do it and How to Deal With Them

By Patty Khuly, DVM on Nov. 6, 2009

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:

  1. Feed in isolation to reduce the anxiety competition may pose.
  2. Ignore food seeking behavior and never make a big meal out of feeding time.
  3. Feed in a non food-oriented area (avoid feeding in the kitchen, or anywhere you most frequent in your home).
  4. Feed on a strict schedule.
  5. Confine treats to training time or to a very specific time of day. Again, do this away from trafficked areas.
  6. Employ gulp-reducing bowls. These bowls have upright obstacles that pets have to eat around. It takes them longer to do this.
  7. Feed smaller kibbles or wet food they must lap around. 
  8. In some extreme cases, veterinary behaviorists should be sought to help address these behaviors. Consider it.
  9. 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


Patty Khuly, DVM


Help us make PetMD better

Was this article helpful?

Get Instant Vet Help Via Chat or Video. Connect with a Vet. Chewy Health