Food gorging

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

Weight gain

If a pet is given unlimited access to food (free-fed) and they have a habit of gorging, they can gain weight very quickly. This can lead to obesity and related health problems.

“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.

Choking

Choking happens when food becomes lodged in an animal’s upper airway as a result of eating too quickly. When pets choke, they are usually able to dislodge the piece of food by coughing. However, if the pet is unable to dislodge the food, it could lead to difficulty breathing, collapse, unconsciousness, and even death. If you notice your pet choking on their food and they are unable to clear it on their own, call an emergency veterinary clinic for guidance in performing the Heimlich maneuver on your pet, and then bring them in to the veterinarian to ensure there is no food left in the upper airway or lungs.

Esophageal blockage

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

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.

GDV

Gastric dilatation and volvulus (known as GDV or bloat) is a more severe and life-threatening condition than food bloat. It happens suddenly and progresses very quickly. This condition involves the stomach filling with food and gas, then twisting and continuing to distend. It can rapidly become fatal, and always requires an emergency veterinary visit. Visit Canine bloat to learn much more about this condition.

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).

Hand feeding

As long as you calculate calories and measure their food correctly, feeding your pet by hand allows you the greatest control over their eating habits. However, this may not be an ideal option for pets with food-related aggression.

Change the texture

Changing the texture of kibble by mixing in warm water, wet food, or a food topper may encourage your pet to eat more slowly. If you add canned food to the diet, make sure you are using a complete and balanced diet, calculating the calories, and measuring each type of food properly. If you add fresh food, people food, or a food topper to your pet’s regular kibble, make sure what you add to the diet does not exceed 10% of your pet’s daily caloric intake (see Treats, table scraps, and food toppers for much more information).

Larger kibbles

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 feeder

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

These toys usually have small holes that are designed to release only a few kibbles at a time. They are available online and in pet stores, and they come in all shapes, sizes, and styles. You can even make your own! If you feed wet food, you could also use a larger pliable toy with a hole in it, which encourages the pet to slowly lick the food out, or you can spread the canned food on a licky mat.

Puzzle feeders for dogs
Puzzle feeders for cats
Food dispensing toy with a weighted bottom, for dogs
Food dispensing toys for cats or smaller dogs
Food dispensing toys for dogs