Have you ever watched your dog eat and think, “Why do you eat like you’ve never been fed before?” Chewing is an essential part of digestion, so in this article, we’re going to explore whether or not dogs chew their food and if they should be.
Generally, dogs do chew their food, though they sometimes don’t. This is because they’re fighting the genetic coding that they’ve inherited, which drives them to swallow large bites whole. This was largely a survival mechanism from before dogs were domesticated, where there was limited time to chew food as we humans do.
We’ll begin by looking at this genetic coding and how dogs used to eat before domestication and then compare that to modern dogs.
The Genetic Instinct
Paleontologists believe that hunter-gatherers first domesticated wolves more than 15,000 years ago (source). According to this theory, we get the modern dog from this early domestication — with many things changing in their genetic makeup along the way.
No matter how much things change, some genetic instincts are difficult to ignore. It is understood that the modern dog’s reluctance to eat slowly and chew their food well stems back to this wild history.
As a pack animal, where meals were sometimes few and far between, there was much internal and external competition to eat when a kill had been made.
This developed an eating pattern that favored eating as much as you can as quickly as you can to avoid having food stolen from you by your pack or being vulnerable for too long.
Looking at a dog’s mouth, another noticeable genetic reason for eating fast becomes apparent. Of the 42 teeth that an adult dog has, only 10 of them are molars, the teeth used for grinding food like plants.
The remaining 32 teeth are associated or used in ripping, tearing, and crushing (source), which lend themselves to hunting, killing, and stripping a carcass.
Dogs were both hunters and scavengers, meaning they made their own kills as a pack or fed off other predator’s kills. Both of these create an instinct to eat as much food as was available due to uncertainty around when their next meal would come.
Addressing the Two Common Issues
This highlights two key feeding issues — that your dog may be eating too quickly or not chewing its food properly. Both of these issues can cause digestive issues and can be improved upon by making some minor adjustments.
It is also important to point out that these behaviors are more prominent in some dogs than others. It is not clear what causes one dog to eat faster than another, but it could be down to factors like incidents that happened during their formative years, which developed a certain perspective on feeding.
Eating too Fast
The idiom “wolfing down your food” was not just a turn of phrase — some dogs eat so fast that they end up swallowing their food whole. This is one of the leading causes of dogs vomiting, as their stomachs are not prepared to expand as quickly as needed.
It is, therefore, better for them to chew their food in order to help digest it better. There are other benefits as well, such as relieving anxiety (source).
Eating too fast poses a choking hazard as well. Much like in humans, food can get lodged in a dog’s windpipe, and dislodging it is all the more difficult with larger pieces of food.
There are a number of solutions to explore to address eating too fast. Firstly, you should try and create a calming environment around your dog when it eats.
Other dogs and noises could trigger the instinct to eat quicker, while a peaceful environment could help ease your dog.
Secondly, you could try a specially designed bowl that only allows access to a small amount of food at a time. They come in different shapes and only allow the dog access to small amounts of food at any one time. By slowly picking up the food, your dog would get access to more food.
Additionally, a balanced diet may help slow your dog down. While biscuits generally carry a wide range of nutrients necessary for your dog’s health, they rely on the ten molar teeth to properly chew and break down.
Mixing in other dog food or treats that encourage the use of all of your dog’s teeth will benefit both your dog’s overall health and also help slow your dog’s eating down as it moves food around to different parts of its mouth to chew (source). This is something we expand upon in a separate article, “Do Dogs like Dog Food?”
Lastly, you could try and break your dog’s meals into smaller portions so that it learns that it has many regular meals during the day and does not need to rush through them.
Eating Too Much
Much like with eating too fast, eating too much is another instinct carried down from before dogs were domesticated. Overeating is another common reason for dogs vomiting after meals. Much like humans, when a dog’s stomach is overwhelmed by the amount of food it takes in, it can sometimes reject it.
The most obvious solution to this is to scale down the portion size of your dog’s meal — it is difficult for them to overeat with less in their bowl.
Regular treats could also be a helpful tool as you try and coach away from this behavior. By making your dog feel like it is eating more regularly, it can ease the urge to gulp down large amounts of food when it comes to actual meals.
Chewing bones and other chew toys could also help in a similar way, where the chewing or gnawing action they use feels as though they are eating something substantial. For more benefits related to chewing bones, read “Can Dogs Digest Bones?”
Dogs have a history of eating fast and without chewing, which is still apparent in dogs today. It is important for them to chew their food to help digest it better, though it’s unrealistic to expect dogs to chew their food in the same way humans do. In this article, we also looked at some suggestions to try if your dog struggles with this.