Originally Published: June 21, 2007 7:46 a.m.
Q: One of our dogs (our yellow Lab) doesn't eat his dinner - he inhales it! It can't be very healthy, and we'd like to slow him down. He has been with us since he was a puppy, so it's not as if he doesn't know where his next meal is coming from. Suggestions? - L.L., via e-mail
A: Dogs only have about 1,500 taste buds, vs. 10,000 for people, so in their minds, haste beats taste. Eating is often a mechanical act designed to fulfill a nutrient need as opposed to a gourmet experience. Although few household pets have to worry about starving - in fact about half of all dogs are overweight - dogs never stray far from their prehistoric roots. When your dog's ancestors were sharing an elk they'd pulled down, they each wanted to make sure they got their own share. They don't call it "wolfing down" food for no reason, after all.
You can slow down your dog some, though. Dogs tend to eat more quickly when other dogs are around. So since you have more than one dog, feed them at different times or out of sight of each other. Also, give them more time to eat before you pick up their bowl, or leave their empty bowls on the floor for a half-hour after they finish eating. Other experts suggest putting a large object in the bowl along with the food. The dog has to eat around the object, thus slowing him down. A plastic ball or Kong toy works well - a big size for big dogs and a smaller size for the little guys.
Don't be too disappointed, though, if nothing slows down your Labrador. Retrievers in general seem to be about the most enthusiastic eaters around, with Labs at the top of the list for fast eating and putting on weight easily. (Roly-poly Labs are more common than not and seem, along with beagles and pugs, to lead in the ability to pack on the pounds.) Labs love eating so much that most pet food companies have banned them from the testing rooms as they won't slow down enough to discriminate one flavor from the next.
You can try to slow down your dog, but as long as he's healthy and not overweight, don't worry too much about the wolfing. - Dr. Marty Becker