Some pets have ravenous appetites and seem to inhale their food. Having a dog or cat who eats very quickly can be frustrating and worrying for many pet owners. Food gorging can cause health issues for your hungry pet, which can vary in severity from very mild to life-threatening. It’s important to understand what these problems are, how to recognize them, and how to slow your pet’s eating down.
Consequences of food gorging
“Scarf and barf”
This term is used to describe pets who gorge on food and almost immediately regurgitate or vomit their meal. It can definitely be annoying to constantly be picking up puke, but this issue doesn’t usually cause serious health effects unless it happens very often. If a pet is continuously regurgitating/vomiting his meals and doesn't eat more food afterward, he could lose weight or develop nutrient deficiencies.
If a pet swallows a large volume of food without properly chewing it, this can cause an esophageal blockage. This means the food bolus is stuck in the esophagus (the tube leading to the stomach). Your pet may drool excessively, swallow continually, or retch if they have an esophageal obstruction. You may be able to massage your pet’s neck gently to encourage the food to pass into the stomach. However, if it does not pass after several minutes, call an emergency veterinary clinic for guidance.
Food bloat happens when an animal gorges itself on a large volume of food. Usually, this happens when the pet has access to a lot of food, such as an unattended bag of food or treats. The stomach becomes overly full and dilated, which can lead to abdominal discomfort, pain, panting, fast heart rate, a swollen abdomen, and lethargy. Generally, food bloat is not a life-threatening condition, but it does require a veterinary visit if you see these signs in your pet.
Ways to discourage gorging behavior
Multiple small meals
Feeding several (2 or more) smaller meals throughout the day is a simple way to ensure your pet doesn’t overindulge at a single feeding. Having a consistent feeding schedule will also help. You’ll need to calculate your pet’s calorie needs and divide the daily volume into meals to ensure your pet isn’t eating too much. (For more information, visit How to calculate your pet’s calorie needs and How to accurately measure your pet’s food).
Change the texture
Large, hard kibbles are difficult for pets to swallow without chewing first. You may want to consider switching your pet to a dental diet, or a breed-specific diet that has specially crafted uniquely-shaped kibbles that encourage chewing.
Puzzle feeders are a popular and easy way to slow your pet’s eating down. There are many types of puzzle feeders available online and in pet stores, and you can even make your own at home! You can even combine a puzzle feeder with one of the above methods for better results.
Food dispensing toy
Dr. Andy Roark: “Cone of Shame Episode 7: Scarf and Barf Cats (HDYTT)”
Dr. Justine Lee: “Food Bloat in Dogs”
Merck Veterinary Manual: “Esophageal Foreign Bodies in Small Animals”
Tufts University: “Puzzle Feeders for Cats: Dogs Shouldn’t Have All the Fun!”