Gazette Vet: Eating Fast

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So why are some dogs so crazy about food?

In the early morning darkness, just before sunrise, a dog shoots up from her restless sleep. In a display of one of nature’s most awesome survival designs, adrenaline is quickly released from her adrenal glands into her bloodstream, instantly transforming this sleepy, calm dog into a finely-tuned machine ready to take on extraordinary feats of “fight or flight.”

Her heart is instantly racing, cardiac output maximized for the upcoming extreme situation. Her senses fully aware, her reflexes sharp. Her muscles are tense and coordinated; she is able to run/jump/fight with seemingly 10 times her normal strength. She springs up from her rest, a different beast, ready to take on… BREAKFAST!

This is my dog Ruby, every single morning of her life. She LOVES food. She is CRAZY about food—literally and figuratively. When the morning alarm goes off, she instantly springs up and I make no exaggerations on the adrenaline flowing through her veins. Asking her to go outside first is a joke. There will be no peeing or pooping yet—breakfast is always first.

As I sleepily bump my way from the bedroom out into the kitchen, she is wild-eyed and running circles around me, panting and vocalizing, unable to hide her freak-out-excitement of the impending meal. I fend her off from the food bin as I fill her scoop and then try to avoid having my feet stepped on as I make my way to the food bowls. Despite some “pretty good” behavioral training, Ruby just can’t help herself as she prances, jumps, and vocalizes waiting for her meal. I make her back up, throw her food in the bowl and then stand back.

Her attack is impressive, quick, and complete. She eats as if there are 40 dogs right behind her about to steal her food. Her entire serving is gone in about 30-40 seconds of furious eating. But the feeding frenzy is hardly gone. Everyone in the house knows that you MUST stand between Ruby and our other dog Boone’s feeding stations— otherwise Ruby will chaotically charge right over to Boone’s bowl and shove her face in. She simply has no control and must be physically pushed back if she gets the chance. Poor Boone.

After guarding Boone while he casually eats his portion in 2 minutes, Ruby then runs over to the food bin to see if I left the lid unlocked, then frantically runs back and is sure to lick every aspect of her bowl, the surrounding floor, and then Boone’s bowl to ensure all traces of food are completely gone.

Then finally, the heart rate starts to slow, the panic starts to fade, and breakfast is officially over.

So why are some dogs so crazy about food?

Why is it that there are the food-obsessed dogs out there, and then there are some who will just casually graze on their food all day long and never overeat? Almost all the time, the true answer, I believe, is simply genetics and their inherent personality traits.

We know there is a genetic component to this behavior. In fact, in May 2016, Eleanor Raffan and colleagues at the University of Cambridge published a study in the Journal of Cell Metabolism describing a relationship between a mutation in the canine POMC gene and increased hunger and weight gain in Labrador Retrievers. I didn’t need a study to tell me that though—I see this daily! Many breeds—Labradors, Goldens, and Beagles to name a few—seem to consistently love food and be obesity prone.

I think a lot of this goes into the “messing with genes” we have done to create domestic dogs from wolves. Retrievers have a very innate, instinctual tendency to retrieve objects and stay close to their owners. Beagles and hounds have a very innate, instinctual tendency to put their nose to the ground and run away from their owners to follow whatever scent they smell and then go on to track. We have somehow over thousands of years not only selected for specific physical features to make certain dog breeds (Chihuahuas and Great Danes all have the wolf as their ancestor!), but also have somehow selected for certain instinctual behaviors! And so, along with these honed hunting/retrieving/guarding instincts that some dogs have, there seems to be some food-obsession that occasionally gets mixed in there.

Additionally, breed makeup aside, every dog is an individual and regardless of upbringing, some dogs will have certain personality traits and tendencies, and love of food is a very common one! It’s just who they are!

Rarely, there are dogs who are ill and are ravenous because they are not absorbing nutrients or have hormonal imbalances. Dogs who lack digestive enzymes or that are heavily loaded with parasites often have ravenous appetites despite weight loss. These dogs almost always have chronic diarrhea. Some dogs with hormonal imbalances can also have an increased appetite. But this is probably not your dog. Your dog simply loves food just because.

Is it harmful to eat so fast?

99% of the time—no! It is interesting because there is a whole market of “slow feeder” bowls made specifically for the purpose of slowing dogs down when they eat. But is eating fast actually a problem? Grandma always said it would give me indigestion!

Both on the human side and on the veterinary side, I will make the argument that there is no SOLID evidence to say that eating fast is harmful. There are some poorly done human studies that say people who eat fast are more likely to gain weight because of decreased “satiety,” but sorry, that just doesn’t fly with me (it’s called portion control and making good diet choices!).

Once food is in the stomach, whether well-chewed or hardly chewed, a dog’s stomach acids are more than capable of breaking the food down into the necessary parts to send it off into the small intestine where digestion truly occurs. And frankly, dogs are MADE to eat fast and furious—if you’re a wolf, you’d better be able to eat a bunch of meat from that elk carcass and then get outta dodge!

So, when is eating fast a problem? There are uncommon scenarios when dogs may have swallowing problems, and eating fast can be associated with choking on their food and coughing. Similarly, some dogs may vomit or regurgitate after eating fast, however in all of these situations, eating fast is not the primary issue, it is just more likely to show us that the dog has a swallowing or stomach issue.

My wife and son give me a hard time because I tend to eat fast. Perhaps this whole article is actually just self-justification for my dinner behavior! However, I never get indigestion and I don’t choke on my food, so is there really a problem? And frankly, I actually enjoy eating fast—it tastes better that way!

I can relate to Ruby and I support her fast eating—it is good to see such gusto! So, if your dog (or spouse or child!) is eating fast, just support them and love them for who they are.

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