Monday, February 20, 2012

Dog gulps water too fast, won't eat food: what can I do?

Lauren's mom with Sophie (black fur) and General Sherman
I got a question from a reader, Lauren, about some issues with her mother's dogs.
The dogs are brother and sister poodle shih-tzu mixes. The brother appears to have gotten more of poodle genes, being a bigger dog, while the sister looks more like a shih-tzu.
Why does that matter?
Lauren said that the female dog has no problems drinking, but the male has a tendency to gulp his water down quickly and she's worried about bloat.
Could the bowl be too low for the male dog?

Her second question was about food, as the dogs are now eating a special diet.
The female dog "has to be on a special urinary control dog food," Lauren wrote.
As with most multi-dog households, it becomes easiest to have both dogs on the same special diet rather than try to keep different foods for each.
"However, neither dog likes this special food, and now brother won't even eat his," Lauren wrote. "I can hand feed sister a few pieces of her special food, but only if she sees her brother eat them too, and then it's more of a 'me too' kind of thing."
Lauren wrote that she was concerned treats were given out too freely and now the special food has no appeal for the dogs.

Here's my response, and I welcome any outside input that could help Lauren figure out these issues. I could especially use some help on the height of food dishes — I've heard some people say a raised bowl reduces a dog's chance of bloat and others say exactly the opposite. I'm not honestly sure what the correct answer is, so I welcome some insight on that matter.

 I'll try to answer your questions as best I can; keep in mind I'm not a veterinarian.

Bloat is most common on deep-chested dogs and I've heard pros and cons to adjusting the height of water/food bowls for dogs. With a dog as big as a Great Dane, it is standard to have an elevated bowl. For your case, I'm not sure what would be the best to recommend in terms of height.

I do, however, support your recommendation of a segmented bowl or putting something in the water bowl to slow down the gulping. This is probably the best way to fix the problem and can be achieved regardless of bowl height. It's also a relatively cheap fix as bowls like this can be found for a reasonable price at most pet stores.

On food, this is really something I'd like you to discuss with the dog's veterinarian because the sister dog does have a medical issue. I can tell you that I have had this issue with my own dog. He has allergies and has been on a variety of specialty foods over the years, not all of them very appealing to him, and we have had food strikes.

Fortunately, because I've known for years that my dog has food allergies, his palette has not been given the chance to become snobby as he is on a very limited diet and always has been. He thinks a raw carrot or frozen green bean are among the greatest treats in the world. If my dog refuses to eat a new kibble, I know I can add things like chopped carrots (allergy tested and approved) to get him to eat it.

My concern for your mother's dogs is that whatever gets added to the food needs to be approved medically as an item that will not impact her urinary tract issues.

Since tasty treats are standard in the home, you might want to ask the veterinarian about some of those specific items the dogs really like. I have, at times, hidden a treat in the bottom of the food bowl to get my dog to eat. Important to making this work is 1) Showing the dog a treat is being inserted into the food bowl, and 2) Making sure it is well-covered with the kibble so that the easiest course of action for the dog is to eat his way to the treat.

But please do seek veterinary approval for any food items like that. Your mother should be discussing what treats are acceptable given the female dog's health anyhow — a special diet will achieve little if dietary adds like treats are hurting the cause anyhow.

One more thing: Once the veterinarian does approve a treat- or food-add to her diet, remember to take that treat out of the dog's daily treat allowance! If this becomes a regular daily add to get the dog to eat, those calories will keep on building, so make sure you're reducing the dog's non-mealtime treat intake by the same amount to keep the dogs fit and healthy.

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