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Should Your Dog Use A Slow Feeder?

Written by Ella White


Bowl of dog food with little white paws

Ever noticed how fast your dog gulps down their dinner, within microseconds of it landing in their bowl? Then they might benefit from a slow feeder. Slow feeders for dogs are specialized bowls or other devices that help your pet take their time while they eat. This can help prevent gastric issues and boost their mental stimulation. But they aren’t without their drawbacks.

In this article, we’ll look at the purpose of slow feeders, the pros and cons of introducing these devices into your dog’s mealtimes, and whether a slow feeder is right for your furry friend.

What Are Slow Feeders For Dogs?

Slow feeders for dogs come in different forms, from bowls with different patterns and ridges that make it a little harder for the dog to get to their food, to snuffle mats and lick mats that encourage them to forage for their dinner. 

Many slow feeders offer adjustable levels of difficulty so that different dogs can adapt to the challenge of sniffing out their food. By placing barriers and obstacles between their food, slow feeders encourage dogs to eat more slowly and use their tongue, paws, and snout to access different openings within the feeder.

What Are The Benefits Of Slow Feeders For Dogs?

There are two main benefits to slow feeders, which relate to the health and behavior of your dog. Firstly, eating too fast can lead to digestive issues which in some cases can be life-threatening. There is also a connection between slower and more considered eating at mealtimes and improved behavior in dogs.

The Health Benefits Of Slow Feeders

Preventing digestive issues is one of the main reasons that dog owners turn to slow feeders. Studies have found that slow feeders can significantly reduce the risk of digestive/learn/dog-health/1.-dogs-are-built-to-cope-with-cholesterol problems such as bloating and vomiting by slowing down their eating pace. 

When a dog gulps down large amounts of food and air in one go, it can lead to choking, discomfort, and poor digestion. In severe cases, eating too fast can even lead to life-threatening health issues like gastric dilatation-volvulus (GDV) and bloat/learn/dog-health/what-is-bloat-in-dogs. So, if you think your dog is at risk of health problems due to their fast eating, a slow feeder could be the solution.

By making it harder for dogs to get to their food, slow feeders can also help with weight management/learn/dog-health/how-to-help-my-dog-lose-weight-diet-and-exercise-for and portion control. For this reason, vets might recommend slow feeders for obese dogs, or dogs on a weight management plan for any reason. While the exact portion size is up to you as their owner, slow feeders encourage dogs to chew each mouthful and digest their food properly, which leads to healthier eating habits.

The Behavioural Benefits Of Slow Feeders

If your dog is prone to resource guarding or food aggression/learn/dog-training/how-to-stop-food-aggression-in-dogs, slow feeders can take the competitive element out of mealtimes and help them relax more while eating. Rescue dogs in particular can sometimes become anxious around food if they are used to having to defend themselves against other animals fighting them for it. By making feeding times last longer, and creating a mentally stimulating experience around their food, slow feeders can remove this tension and promote a calmer approach to food and other resources.

Even if your dog doesn’t show aggression or anxiety around food, the engaging and stimulating aspect of slow feeders can still be good for their brain. The problem-solving element promotes a healthy mind in the same way that puzzles work for humans.

Are There Any Negatives To Dogs Using Slow Feeders?

While the health and behavioral benefits of slow feeders are clear, some owners can come up against drawbacks when they first introduce them to their dog’s mealtimes. For example, if you don’t want your dog’s feeding time to take any longer, a slow feeder might not be the right option for you since, by their nature, they will extend the amount of time it takes your dog to finish their food.

At first, dogs that like to gulp down their food might be resistant or just plain unhappy about this new device – particularly if they are prone to resource guarding. In these instances, it’s important to slowly introduce your dog to slow feeders, rather than suddenly replacing their normal bowl. This can be done by introducing a slow feeder at one meal per day, or for snacks and treats. Many dog owners use snuffle mats to introduce their dogs to this concept. 

Another, easier approach is to scatter and hide their food around the garden or one room to get them used to the idea of foraging. Then you can gradually introduce these methods as their permanent way of eating. Just be mindful of where you live. If you’re leaving pet food in your garden, you could find yourself playing host to all sorts of wild animals also looking for a snack. 

If your dog continues to find slow feeders, snuffle mats, or the scattering approach frustrating or stressful, withdraw from using these methods and speak to a vet or dog behaviorist about different ways to control their eating speed.

Does My Dog Need A Slow Feeder?

There are a number of factors to consider when deciding if your dog needs a slow feeder, from their health and behavior, to their breed, and the environment they’re eating in. If your dog is prone to eating too fast, a slow feeder can help them eat and chew more mindfully, and prevent issues like choking, regurgitation, and GVD. 

Some breeds, like Labradors, Retrievers, Bulldogs, Great Danes, and Boxers are all known to be fast eaters due to their size, energy levels, and natural drive for food. Dogs with short snouts are also more likely to eat quickly which can cause issues with their breathing.

If your dog is overweight or you need to manage their weight, a slow feeder can help to slow down their eating pace, and can prevent overeating and help them to feel full quicker. Similarly, dogs that are anxious around food can benefit from slow feeders as they help them develop a healthier relationship with mealtimes and remove any tension they feel about eating slowly.

It is important to note that while slow feeders offer many health benefits, they may not be suitable for every dog. Factors such as individual eating habits, preferences, and any pre-existing health conditions should be taken into consideration when deciding whether a slow feeder is right for your dog. After all, many dogs – even breeds that are considered fast eaters – may still eat at a moderate pace and not require a slow feeder. Consulting with a veterinarian can help determine the best feeding method for a particular dog's health and well-being.