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Slow Feeder Dog Bowls: Benefits and Risks

Kathryn Copeland

June 30, 2021

Our dogs love mealtime, no question! But do you suspect your dog might enjoy her food a little too much? Does she wolf down her food like it’s her last meal? Your dog might benefit from eating her meals from a slow feeder bowl. These bowls are rather unusual looking, but they do a great job at slowing your dog down while she’s eating.divider-dog

When Dogs Eat Too Fast

Unfortunately, there are complications that can arise if your dog eats too fast, particularly if she’s a large or giant breed. When gulping down food, they tend to also gulp down a lot of air, leading to bloat or stomach dilatation (the medical term is gastric dilatation and volvulus, also called GDV) that can be fatal. They can also encounter gastrointestinal issues, vomiting, and choking.

dog eating_Shutterstock_Jaromir Chalabala
Image Credit: Jaromir Chalabala, Shutterstock

Why Is Your Dog Eating So Fast?

Before you do anything else, it’s a good idea for you to try to determine why your dog gulps her food down like there’s no tomorrow.

  • If you have other dogs, your dog might be inhaling her food out of a sense of competition. You can feed each of your dogs in separate rooms to help prevent this.
  • Is your dog hungry? How often do you feed her? If you’re giving her one meal a day, try giving her two to four smaller meals spaced out throughout the day.
  • Similarly, if your dog’s meals consist of very high nutrient and caloric food, this can limit how much your dog can eat at mealtime. Your dog might slow down while eating if you switch to a high fiber and lower calorie dog food, which also means giving her more food for each meal.

If these ideas and scenarios aren’t relevant, and your dog seems to be overly hungry most of the time, you should consider taking her to the vet. The veterinarian will run tests to rule out any common issues that might cause your dog’s hunger.

However, if you are quite convinced that your dog wolfing her food down is a behavioral trait, that’s when the slow feeder bowls can come in handy.

What Exactly is a Slow Feeder Bowl?

Slow feeder bowls are dog food bowls that have a bunch of obstructions built into them. These slow feeders come in a variety of different materials – brightly colored plastic to stainless steel and offer a number of obstacles for your dog to figure out in order to get to the food.

They use ridges and other lumps and bumps that your dog needs to negotiate around so he can eat. Some look like mini labyrinths, and others even look like games or puzzles, but these bowls can help prevent serious medical conditions.divider-cat

Benefits of Slow Feeder Bowls

One of the primary benefits should be pretty obvious – slow feeders slow your dog down while eating. Regular bowls work very well for dogs that don’t inhale their food. The obstructions in a slow feeder make eating more of a challenge, so it takes longer for your dog to eat. Which also means she won’t be gulping down all of that air and causing GDV.

But there are other advantages:
  • Less Likely to Choke: Slowing down the eating process also means a much less likely chance of your dog choking on her food. It gives her time to chew up the food before she swallows it.
  • Better Digestion: Some dogs eat so fast that they might vomit afterward. These bowls give your dog the time to digest her food properly, so she’ll gain the appropriate nutrients and is much less likely to throw up after eating.
  • Portion Control:Because your dog ends up taking more time to eat, it allows her to feel full when she’s finished eating. The faster you scarf down your food, the more likely you’ll feel hungry when you’re finished with your meal. Your stomach hasn’t caught up with the food yet.
  • Changes Eating Habits:Perhaps your dog has developed the habit of wolfing down her food because you own other dogs that tend to eat from each other’s bowls. Or possibly she’s a rescue dog who developed bad eating habits. The slow feeder bowls force the dogs to change their eating habits without you needing to do anything else.
  • Memory Skills:These bowls not only slow down your dog while eating but it keeps her mind sharp. Depending on the bowl, many of them are designed to make it more of a challenge for the dog to get at the food. This provides very valuable mental stimulation as it turns into a kind of puzzle.

So, the benefits range from the physical to the mental well-being of your pup but are there any disadvantages?

Drawbacks of Slow Feeder Bowls

We’ve established that there are many benefits to the slow feeder bowls, which makes it rather difficult to believe that there could be any disadvantages. But there are.

  • Damage to the Teeth: If your dog is particularly enthusiastic while eating, there is a risk that she might damage her teeth. Some dogs might become frustrated trying to get at the food, and if the bowl is made from a durable material, this is a possibility. But the chances of this occurring are not very high.
  • Plastic: If you purchase a plastic bowl that is cheap and made with softer material, there’s a chance that your dog might end up eating small parts of the bowl.
  • Cleaning: Washing these bowls is definitely more of a challenge, thanks to all of the nooks and crannies. The more the bowl is a puzzle and harder for the dog to eat from, the more difficult it will be to clean.
  • Mess: Dogs are more prone to making a mess while eating from these bowls, especially while trying to get at the food. Some dogs might even knock them over in their eagerness to get at the food. If you have a strong dog and believe this might be an issue, be sure to invest in a bowl that is stable and heavy.

If you find the right bowl for your dog, these problems more than likely won’t be a problem.

A Few Notes

Just a few notes on finding the right bowl for your dog. Slow feeders won’t work for any dogs that are picky eaters and aren’t necessarily motivated by food. Your dog could go hungry and really should only eat from regular bowls.

If you have a large dog, opt for the large and sturdy bowls and the smaller bowls for the smaller dogs. The more enthusiastic the eater, the sturdier the bowl should be.

Finally, if your dog initially struggles with the new bowl, particularly if it’s a challenging puzzle slow feeder, take some time to show her how it works. Be patient, and she’ll pick it up eventually.

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Conclusion

It’s good to have options when your dog loves to gobble down her food. You can also make your own version of a slow feeder if you can’t afford a new dog bowl. Filling up some muffin tins can help slow a dog down. Or just try scattering small amounts of food in different places, if you don’t mind the mess. And if you give your dog canned food, try smushing it up against the sides and into the corners of her bowl. It will take more work for her to lick it out.

We hope we’ve helped you and your literal chowhound with this problem. We all know what it’s like to be so hungry that you could eat almost anything, but we want your dogs to live long and healthy lives, and they need to, well, not eat everything in sight. All at once.

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Featured image credit: Alejandro rodriguez, Shutterstock

Kathryn Copeland

Kathryn was a librarian in a previous lifetime and is currently a writer about all things pets. When she was a child, she hoped to work in zoos or with wildlife in some way, thanks to her all-consuming love for animals. Unfortunately, she's not strong in the sciences, so she fills her days with researching and writing about all kinds of animals and spends time playing with her adorable but terribly naughty tabby cat, Bella. Kathryn is hoping to add to her family in the near future – maybe another cat and a dog.

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