Can your dog make an entire bowl of food disappear faster than you can say, “Enjoy your meal?” Has he ever inhaled a bowl of food so quickly that he vomited it up a few minutes later? Do your seemingly hectic consumption lead to gagging or suffocation?
If any of these scenarios sound familiar, consider checking out one of the many slow feeders available commercially or experimenting yourself to help your dog determine its speed.
Eating too quickly can lead to choking and suffocation. In addition, speed eaters tend to swallow air when they dip deep into the bowl. This excess air can upset digestion, cause gas, and even cause stomach enlargement and volvulus, commonly known as “bloating”. This is a potentially fatal condition in which the stomach fills with excess gas and turns itself over, restricting blood flow and taking lives. Save emergency surgery.
Slow-feed bowls and other tools can also help make mealtime an enrichment opportunity. Using a slow feeder will allow your dog to draw on their problem-solving skills as they maneuver the device. This engages his brain more than simply dipping his face into an open bowl of food first. Mental exercise is just as important as physical exercise in creating a well-rounded canine companion.
The ability to slow down a dog’s eating is also vital to the success of certain training protocols. For example, if you’re working with a dog who tends to protect its food, it helps if it eats slowly enough to give us time for some behavioral interventions.
A common approach to positive reinforcement when working with a dog protecting its food is to walk past what is considered “better” than what is in its bowl while the dog is eating and dropping it . This helps counteract the dog’s attitude towards a human approaching his food. However, if the dog inhales the contents of the bowl before you can approach, it will be difficult to achieve!
We have selected five commercially available products that are marketed to slow down a quick eater. We determined how long it took our test dog Saber, an 8 year old Golden Retriever, to navigate through each bowl. Each timed attempt was compared to its baseline of 2:00 to eat a meal consisting of two cups of snacks with a small amount of water (to dissolve a powdered nutritional supplement) from a standard stainless steel dog bowl.
We understand that our test dog’s standard approach to a bowl of food does not necessarily qualify as a “quick eater” – many of you may have faster Chow Hounds – but he is in no way a “picky eater”. He dips into the bowl, eats enthusiastically and only leaves the bowl when the food is gone.
Aside from how long it took to empty each bowl, we also considered the cost, materials, ease of use and ease of cleaning of each product. Would like more? We discovered the following, listed in order of least to most additional time it takes to finish a meal.
The Dog Hog is a weighted stainless steel ball that is reminiscent of the eye balls popular in backyard gardens in the early 1990s. It comes in two sizes: the small Dog Hog measures 2.88 inches in diameter and weighs six ounces and the large one measures 3.5 inches and weighs 8 ounces.
The Dog Hog is super easy to use. Just put it in your dog’s bowl and add food. The slick, slippery nature of the dog pig makes it difficult for a dog to successfully lift it out of the bowl in order to better reach and devour the food. Its weight makes it difficult to push out of the way. It is certainly not that difficult that it is tilt be moved, but in our test it was not easy to be chased around the bowl by an enthusiastic snout.
It should be noted that sound sensitive dogs may not appreciate the sound of the stainless steel ball rolling around in a stainless steel dog bowl.
The simple design gives Dog Hog high marks for ease of use both in the bowl and at the time of cleaning the device. However, it only added 1:02 minutes to the time it took Saber to finish a meal, bringing his total eating time to 3:02.
WOBBLER SLOW FEEDER
When I unpacked the wobbler, I was reminded of the classic children’s toys from the 1970s and their ringing: “Weebles wobble, but they don’t fall!” This fishbowl-shaped slow feeder works in a similar way. It can slide in any direction, but thanks to its weighted silicone base, it does itself right once it’s released. You pour your dog’s food into the fishbowl, um, the bowl, and your dog has to stick his head in to chase the food inside the bowl.
The wobbler is about 5.5 “tall, about 4” deep, and has a 5 “opening. The top 2 inches can be unscrewed and removed, reducing the overall height of the wobbler to 3.5 inches. More importantly, however, the depth is reduced to just 2 inches and the diameter increased to 6.5 inches. This is great for smaller dogs – or any dog who is suspicious of lowering their head in a relatively small space.
The lower half of the wobbler ball has an inner bowl with a series of ridges inside, creating channels around which the snack will fall. This inner bowl spins inside the outer ball, but when we turned it by hand we felt some friction so we’re not entirely sure how much, if at all, spins when the dog eats.
When it came time to clean the bowl, we couldn’t figure out how to remove the internal bowl and were ready to toss the product altogether. Cooler heads prevailed, however, and the WDJ editor pointed us to a video on Wobbler’s Amazon page that showed how it can be done. Okay! It was being tested again.
According to the manufacturer, the wobbler holds up to four cups of food, is made of food-safe plastics and is BPA-free. We appreciate his unique ability to adapt to both large and small dogs.
The wobbler added 1:50 to the time it took Saber to finish a meal, increasing his total eating time to 3:50.
When selecting the products to review, “Ease of Use” was one of the attributes we were looking for and the Gobble Stopper looked very easy to use. That’s why we tried it.
The gobblestopper is made of a molded plastic bone on a 1-inch bottom that will suck on the bottom of a flat-bottomed dog bowl. The dog has to eat around the obstacle and use his tongue to sweep the food out from under the bone.
We used the gobble stopper in a 7 “inner diameter stainless steel bowl, which left about 1 to 2” of space between the device and the walls of the bowl. It took Saber an additional 2:51 minutes to finish a meal, bringing his total eating time to 4:51.
We had an issue with the suction cup not sticking well to the bottom of the bowl and towards the end of the meal we noticed it was being pushed around as Saber was working to get the last few nibbles out. The suction cup itself is extremely flat, which will likely make it difficult to achieve a strong seal. Adding water to Saber’s food may have reduced the seal’s strength as well.
Had the suction cup done a better job, we’d give the Gobble Stopper better marks for being easy to use, easy to clean, and more than doubling the time our test dog took to eat. Since it sometimes doesn’t stick to the bowl for the duration of the meal, we’re unfortunately less enthusiastic about recommending it.
Many people prefer stainless steel bowls because of their non-porous quality. That’s why we’ve added a slow stainless steel feeder to our roster. The stainless Brake-Fast Bowl is essentially a standard three dog bowl detachable Posts around which food is added. This bowl is available in small (1 liter), medium (2 liter) and large (3 liter) sizes. We tested the 2 liter bowl.
With more than 2 inches between the posts themselves, we admittedly didn’t have much to do with challenges, and we were surprised to discover that this increased our test dog’s eating time to almost 3:00 a.m. and increased the total eating time to 4:52!
Interestingly, we found that Saber took in and chewed food bites more frequently with this bowl compared to other bowls, and nibbles between a post and the side of the bowl seemed particularly difficult to extract. The Brake-Fast bowl has a non-slip edge, but it slipped a little as Saber worked to get the last few pieces of food.
While we loved the unexpected challenge this bowl posed for Saber, we were less than thrilled to discover that the product comes with five-part cleaning instructions.
According to the manufacturer, to properly clean the bowl you must first unscrew the posts, hand wash all parts with warm soapy water (taking care not to submerge the posts), dry them thoroughly, and then tighten the posts again without removing them to tighten too tight. That’s a lot of steps!
The company also makes a high-speed plastic shell with molded permanent stanchions, and as much as I like stainless steel, I’d prefer the ease of hand washing of the plastic version, which doesn’t need to be taken apart and reassembled for cleaning.
FUN FEEDER SLO-BOWL
Our winner in the dog slowdown competition? The Fun Feeder Slo-Bowl, which increased the time it took Saber to finish a meal by a whopping 8:15 am, for a total of 10:15 am!
The Fun Feeder is available in three sizes, five colors and four challenging designs. We tested the large / regular “Purple Flower” Fun Feeder, which is 11.75 “in diameter, two” deep, and holds up to four cups of food. The Mini Fun Feeder of the same design has a diameter of 8.5 inches, a depth of 1.75 inches and holds up to two cups of food.
This entire feeder is a complex challenge. There isn’t a single area in the bowl that offers the opportunity for an easy-to-grasp bite. The widest part inside the design is only about 1 inch, making it almost impossible to reach into a swallow of food and “bite” it. Rather, it seems that food has to be scooped into the mouth with the tongue as a spoon. If you have to Really slowing a dog down, this seems like a good option.
My dog would probably be happy to know that the bowl was created Challenges for me too. I add a powdered supplement to Saber’s food and mix it into his food with some water, but since this slow feeder doesn’t have a bowl-like area to mix the supplement into the food, I had to use a separate bowl for mixing and then add them to the Fun Feeder, scraping as much (expensive!) supplement off the sides of the first bowl. Kind of a pain.
The narrow channels also made it difficult to wash your hands, but according to the manufacturer it is dishwasher safe. It is also free from PBA, PVC, lead and phthalates.
DIVERSITY, SPICE OF LIFE
I’ve always been a fan of dog food puzzles, especially young puppies. All of my dogs regularly ate at least part of their daily food ration from frozen, filled kongs or toppl toys or from some kind of snuff mat.
While I’m not worried about the general speed at which Saber eats his meals, I still opted to keep the Dog Hog, Wobbler, and Fun Feeder in weekly rotation for a little more variety and hopefully mental stimulation for offering what is possible an otherwise very predictable dining experience.