Overeating in Pets
It’s a wonderful time of year. The leaves have changed, the air is crisp without the bite of cold that’s waiting around the corner. It’s a time traditionally represented with symbols of bounty and celebrated by the eating of delicious feasts while watching football and parades. What’s not to love? While it’s fun for humans to overindulge every now and then, for our furry friends (who don’t understand holidays!) overeating can become a habit and a dangerous health issue.
We all know how excitable dogs are. They leap at the sound of the word ‘treat’ and wag their tales excitedly when we near the food dish. Excitement for their dinner is normal, so how do you identify when it becomes a problem? If your dog is consuming their food in what seems to be seconds, this is a behavior known as ‘scoffing’. Scoffing can lead to bloat in dogs, which can be a serious health risk. If you notice your dog retching or gagging after scoffing their food, it is important to get them to a veterinarian right away.
So what can you do if you notice this behavior? The most important thing is to identify the reason your dog is scoffing their food. Much like with people, there can be any number of underlying causes including boredom and stress. If you’ve ruled out the emotional causes, your vet may want to look into a hormonal imbalance – which can overstimulate the appetite, or damage to the central nervous system.
After you’ve checked with your vet, try to address these causes. You can get balls/chew toys that allow you to put the food inside. Your dog will have to play in order to be rewarded with their food! It will also force them to slow down. Try feeding them in a larger and shallower bowl/plate. This will force them to slow down and eat more slowly.
While dogs are obvious and effusive in their desire for treats, our feline companions are known to be more sneaky. They will ply you with their sweet purrs and soft paw pats until you drop that piece of turkey on the floor. They will pat your face until you give up and feed them their breakfast at 6am on a Saturday. Cats train their humans to give them food when they want it, and it’s time we were aware! Feline obesity is a huge problem (pardon the pun) and can lead to a variety of health issues later in life. If you notice your cat looking quite pudgy, getting aggressive/insistent in its quest for food, or even scarfing down their chow and tossing it up again, it’s time to take a closer look at this behavior.
Much like with dogs, cats can have underlying emotional reasons for eating too much or too fast. Being stressed, bored, or competing with other cats in the home for food may be the reason for eating too much. If you have ruled out these causes, check with your veterinarian about the possibility of diabetes or hyperthyroidism, both of which can cause ‘pseudo starvation’ where your cat thinks it needs more food than it does.
If the behavior does not have an underlying medical cause, there are a few things you can try to curb it.
Get a schedule. Rather than allowing your cat to graze all day and expecting them to self-regulate, feed them smaller amounts at regular times. You can also try a feeder with a timer.
Try a stimulating feeder; there are some feeders that have little poles sticking up from them. You drop the food in and your cat has to use their paws to try and bat the food out. This can slow them down and make them work for it, adding an element of play!
Last, but certainly not least, let us not forget our smaller friends! In smaller animals, you may not get as much warning before something goes south. Their bodies are so small that little issues can have BIG health consequences.
Rabbits are natural grazers. They will always eat way to much if given the chance, and (much like people!) will always go for the sugar rather than the healthier option. The issue comes when a rabbit is given too much of a good thing, ie. Fruits, veggies. They should be eating 85% grass hay, and the rest of their diet can consist of pellets, fruits, and veggies. Obesity in rabbits can cause a multitude of issues such as obesity, heart problems, gastrointestinal stasis, and urinary tract issues.
Fish aren’t prone to overeat, so much as we are prone to overfeed them. Overfeeding can cause tons of tank issues – high ammonia, low oxygen, low pH levels, fin rot, algae bloom, fatty liver, fin rot. All kinds of things! The important thing is to remember that our eyes are bigger than their stomachs. We like to feed them because it is a fun way to interact, but they only need a very small amount to be happy.
Our little rodent palls aren’t as prone to overeating as the rest. If you notice that their food is gone, they have most likely stored it somewhere in their cage! When you go to clean out the cage, you should find tiny little stores of food here and there. This is just your little friend putting some away for the ‘winter’. To keep these guys from suffering from obesity, they require exercise! Make sure they have adequate space and a big wheel (or ball) to run in, and they should be good to go.