Stressful Mealtime

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Stressful Mealtime

Postby brittienewbie » Sun Jan 12, 2014 8:03 am

Good Morning, All!

I have a few questions about our stressful mealtime, I apologize for the wordy post. So, Bear is a resource guarder in some situations. He guards rawhides, unless I'm holding on to them while he chews. Sounds silly, but I don't really mind because it's nice, quiet bonding time for us. He guards things that he's ready to swallow. For example, he chewed the head off of Leo the Lion (stuffed toy) and was getting ready to swallow and my husband went to retrieve Leo's head and Bear guarded. When he does snap at one of us, he is very stressed afterwards. His eyes are dialated, he is breathing hard, I think he's scared because he comes looking for comfort. He also guards his food, so we have been hand feeding half of each meal and holding the bowl for the remainder of the meal. If we don't have time to stop what we're doing to hand feed him, we stay about three feet from him (he eats in the kitchen) and alternate between offering him chicken (which he inhales, sometimes with our fingers attached) and tossing chicken into his bowl.

So a few facts before I get into the meat of my questions: Bear and Yorkie are fed on opposite ends of the house, Bear in the kitchen and Yorkie in the dog room (spare bedroom). Before Bear was neutered, he had very little interest in eating. He would walk away from his dish if we weren't standing right next to him. He needed a lot of encouragement to eat. We had serious concerns about him not eating because when he was very young with a high parasite load (coccidia, giardia, and roundworms) he stopped eating and had a hypoglycemic event that landed him in the animal hospital...that, and we tend to be over protective pet parents. Prior to being neutered, we could pet him, put our hands in his bowl, Yorkie would even join him for mealtime with both heads in the bowl at once...never had a problem. I was working on calling him away from his dish, no worries. He always got his food back after 15-30 seconds.

Ever since Bear was neutered, and we found a food that doesn't make him have explosive diarrhea and terrible gas, he seems really stressed during dinner time. It's like he can't eat fast enough. He hardly chews his kibble. He takes huge gulps (of food and air, I assume - makes me concerned about bloat). He trembles while he eats. He licks the bowl after it's empty until it shines. It's really sad to see and then my sweet, curious, troublemaker is back as soon as the bowl is in the dishwasher.. So this morning, I thought I would feed him out of his Wobble (he rolls it around and it dispenses food). I also thought that eating slower would help his digestion and poop eating issues, yet to be seen. Anyway, he was still pretty stressed about eating as fast as he could and was worried about missing pieces. Although, he didn't have issue with me petting him and giving him chicken every now and again.

Given that he is a known guarder, we try our best to not put him into a position where he feels he needs to guard. It makes me sad that mealtime is so stressful for him. We are experienced dog owners, just haven't ever had a puppy. I worked in vet clinics for 8 years during high school and college and haven't ever encountered this type of question.

He is eating a grain-free diet (Natural Balance Chicken and Sweet Potato) and has chicken or freeze dried beef livers for treats and training. He is 5 1/2 months old, neutered, WELL exercised, and 90% reliable on potty training. He eats according to the feeding guidelines for a pup his size and age which is 3-4 c per day...he gets 3 c per day. Because of our work schedule, feeding him three times a day was only possible until he was about 4 months old.

Any advise from my seasoned Brittany owning friends? Thanks for all of the advise you've given already, it's really saved our sanity through this Brittany raising journey.
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Re: Stressful Mealtime

Postby Barb Wright » Sun Jan 12, 2014 11:21 am

Hmmmm.....from what you posted It really sounds to me like you are causing the stress for Bear at mealtime. You are sort of creating an inconsistency by sometimes hand feeding, sometimes putting the food in a toy, sometimes holding the bowl (maybe he thinks the bowl is going to disappear before he is done), sometimes throwing goodies (chicken) in, sometimes not, etc. He is not really guarding so much....after all, you can take the bowl, you can hand feed....it sounds more like he is trying to finish before something changes. Or so it seems to me. Frankly, I would just put his bowl down and ignore him while he eats.

Also, it is normal for dogs to gulp their food. The do not chew like we do, they tear food with the front teeth and crush with the back teeth just enough to get the food in to chunks small enough to swallow. If the kibble is small enough they can just swallow it. They do no digestion in their mouth, their saliva is merely to facilitate the food moving down the gullet, all digestion takes place in the stomach and gut. Any air they take in should normally be burped up, or pass on through and come out the other end. If he eats so fast that he chokes then you do need to intervene, but the best way to do that is to make his meals wet and sloppy so that he has to pretty much lap it up. Wet, sloppy food also makes the food a lot easier to digest because with dry food the body needs to come up with all the moisture to make a slurry in the stomach that can be passed into the gut. We have made dry food the norm, but it is NOT the normal way for a dog to eat (think a small furry creature which is about 70% moisture).

I do think it is a good idea to feed the dogs in separate rooms for now. If you can remove the stress that is currently exhibited then perhaps later on you can get them to eat together. It is certainly something that can be trained.

Also, I really do not think there is any correlation between getting neutered and suddenly becoming more interested in food other than he is going through unnaturally created hormonal adjustments caused by removing major glands (testes). This can cause imbalances that can have temporary temperament and physical effects since the endocrine system is a huge factor in development, personality, bodily functions, etc. Once the body is able to get settled into it's new "balance" then some of these "changes" you see probably will become less pronounced.

Just one perspective here, hope it helps....
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Re: Stressful Mealtime

Postby BARB J » Sun Jan 12, 2014 11:49 am

Hmm . . . I'm so interested in Barb's comment about
temporary temperament and physical effects
after neutering. We are having some real issues since neutering Gus about a month ago and I never made the connection. But, that's for another post.

I'm wondering if Bear and Yorkie should switch eating places. Perhaps if Bear eats out of the way of anyone and interruptions, he'll have less anxiety and the guarding behavior will stop. I know you'd like to 'correct it' by not having to avoid him while eating, but it might break the cycle and you can ease back into feeding him in the kitchen later.
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Re: Stressful Mealtime

Postby Cindy » Sun Jan 12, 2014 4:03 pm

I'd like to hope that someday we had a dog who didn't inhale their food but I have yet to find one! :lol: I've never tried one of these bowls but have considered getting one just to see if it slows down their eating: http://www.eatslowerpetdishes.com/dogdishes.html. They make a similar kind of bucket for horses and I know they work, just not sure about dogs. I think Barb covered your other questions pretty thoroughly.
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Re: Stressful Mealtime

Postby britlover » Sun Jan 12, 2014 4:25 pm

I also have food gulpers and picked up slow-feeder bowls at Petsmart for my britts http://www.petsmart.com/product/index.jsp?productId=4022360&utm_source=googleproduct&utm_campaign=4022360&utm_medium=cse&mr:referralID=15dda050-7bcf-11e3-beb7-001b2166c2c0
I also add water to their dry kibble and this has slowed down their food intake from 30 seconds to at least a minute :roll: But my britts only eat 1/2 c per meal so doubling the time to consume has reduced gagging on kibble. I would start with adding water, and invest in slow feeder bowls only if you don't see enough improvement.
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Re: Stressful Mealtime

Postby tobster » Mon Jan 13, 2014 2:34 pm

If you don't want to invest in a slow-feeding bowl just yet, I've heard that placing an empty kong (or other odd-shaped heavy rubber toy) in your dog's bowl will slow down the process.It's a similar idea to the slow-feeding bowl--it just makes it harder for them to gulp since they have to eat around the toy.
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Re: Stressful Mealtime

Postby LucyDuncan » Mon Jan 13, 2014 2:41 pm

We have done something similar: I took our pup's empty food bowl and placed a plastic ramekin upside down in the center of the food bowl.. then poured food around it! It was slobbery and stuck to the bottom of the bowl by the time eating has finished, but it resulted in slower eating and no upset stomach.
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Re: Stressful Mealtime

Postby brittienewbie » Mon Jan 13, 2014 3:34 pm

Thanks for all of the advice, I guess I was trying to make sure that he was comfortable having us around while he eats.  He growls if we touch him during meals (only since his neuter) and we thought we would try to nip it in the bud while he was young.  We're going to start ignoring him while he eats, probably in a quiet part of the house...one of the bedrooms maybe.  

I really have no interest in feeding the dogs in the same room, we've always had two dogs and always fed the dogs in different rooms.  And even for the 6 months that Yorkie was an only child (before Bear came home), he ate in the dog room...makes sense because that's where he stays when we are at work.

We will start to moisten his food a bit and if that doesn't help, I think we'll get a new food dish.  I've heard of people putting large rocks or tennis balls in the bowls too...sounds reasonable.
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Re: Stressful Mealtime

Postby Lisa » Wed Jan 22, 2014 9:48 pm

Just a couple of other options for slowing down the eating - put his food in a muffin tin, or spread it out on a cookie sheet or even just a paper plate. It's harder to gulp when it's more spread out.

As far as inhaling food...almost every Brittany I've had through my home has inhaled their food. I only worry about it if they eat so fast that it comes back up right after eating.
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Re: Stressful Mealtime

Postby brittienewbie » Thu Jan 23, 2014 9:06 am

Thanks again for all of the great advice.  Here's the latest:
Last Thursday, Bear had explosive diarrhea.  Given his struggles with GI upset and parasites, I took a sample to the vet for a float and smear on Friday.  By then, we were dealing with "cow pie" stool rather than watery stool.  Good news, no parasites found.  Bad news, vet called to discuss the situation and asked how often and how much Bear "does his business."  I told her, OFTEN, like 7-10 times per day.  And not small amounts each time, but rather the quantity that my lab used to pass twice a day, but he does that amount many times per day.  We also discussed his behavior issues (biting, guarding - I'll get to that later) and his coprophagia.  While I was at work, she contacted some of her colleagues and did some research.  After work, Bear and I took a field trip to the vet so that he could be weighed.  More bad news...he had only gained 2 pounds in a month, surprising since he's not quite 6 months old.

The vet's conclusion is that there are three possible culprits in Bear's issues.  First, he may be Vitamin B12 deficient.  Second, he may have an underperforming pancreas.  Third, his small intestine doesn't recognize the proteins in his current diet.  No wonder he eats his poo - it probably tastes just like his food!  We could go two directions here.  We could do bloodwork and hope to find something.  We chose to switch his diet (again!) to Z/D in hopes that with the hydrolyzed proteins (already broken down for him) his small intestines would absorb the nutrients more readily.  So Tuesday was his first day of eating entirely Z/D and we are already noticing a difference in the quantity of his stool.  So that's a good thing.  Also, he doesn't seem to be starving all day every day.  We are s l o w l y making progress on the coprophagia also.  And another positive side effect is that he doesn't run through the park eating every single plant (at least what is sticking above the snow) that he sees.

Personally, I've noticed a change in his behavior as well.  This is a tough one though.  He is very disrespectful to my husband and he still spends a lot of time picking on Yorkie (that's not his real name...but his name is my password for lots of things!).  I was out for the evening yesterday and apparently after Bear got over the crying and carrying on when I walked out the door he was really hard to deal with.  Chewing on things that arne't his, biting and lunging at my husband, picking on Yorkie, etc.  Before I left, he was a little angel (well, close anyway).  This morning as I was getting ready for work, he was lunging and biting at my husband and wouldn't stop for anything.  I walked into the room, told him to 'watch me' and 'sit' and wouldn't you know...he snapped out of it and did what I asked.  In addition, he's guarding things for my husband and not for me.  He hasn't had issue with me taking things away (when neccesary, I don't abuse this).  Lastly, he did have soft stool this morning.  I suspect that he was stressed out last night with me out of the house...it doesn't happen often.

So, hubs is now the one who will be giving the commands at puppy class...hopefully that will help.  I've also asked that he take Bear to the park and on runs at least a couple times per week.  In addition, hubs and Bear are going up to the woods this weekend so hopefully they can have some positive bonding time.  Hopefully it isn't a bad experience for them both.  This situation is a little hard because Yorkie is my dog, he adores me, wants to be with me...he's been feeling slighted since Bear came home.  I was hoping that Bear would warm up to his dad so that we can share the dog-love.  We'll see.  At least Yorkie and I will have a quiet weekend at home...it's too cold for his little five pound self to go to the woods.

That was wordy...sorry about that.  Any words of wisdom?  Is Bear going to stop biting and jumping and attacking soon?  He's almost 6 months old...any ideas when he'll turn normal?
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Re: Stressful Mealtime

Postby MaggieRocks » Thu Jan 23, 2014 12:41 pm

I know puppies generally eat more than adults, but still....3-4 cups a day seems like A LOT to me! Depending on their size & activity level, my 3 adult brits only get from 1 - 1 1/2 cups per day. Just remember that the feeding guideline on the bag is just that... a guideline, and from someone who WANTS you to buy more food!
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Re: Stressful Mealtime

Postby brittienewbie » Thu Jan 23, 2014 12:58 pm

I agree that the feeding guidelines can be misleading, I generally monitor my dogs' weight and adjust if needed. That said, I can see his waistline and feel his ribs, so I'm not too far off.
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Re: Stressful Mealtime

Postby tobster » Thu Jan 23, 2014 1:05 pm

When Toby was that age he ate 3 cups a day.
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Re: Stressful Mealtime

Postby Lisa » Thu Jan 23, 2014 8:42 pm

Yeah, Charm was eating 3 cups a day until she was at least a year old, I backed her off to two cups and she got too skinny, so I added back in half a cup until she was almost 2 years old. Now, at 2 1/2 years, she's still eating 2 cups a day.
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Re: Stressful Mealtime

Postby Cindy » Fri Jan 24, 2014 6:48 am

I'm interested reading about how much everyone's dogs eat. Layla is 5+ and eats at least 3-4 cups/day of TOTW while Pippa and Kayla eat only 2. She was definitely thin when we got her last March and it's taken all of this time to get her up to the perfect weight of 38 lbs. (she still looks very slim) That being said, she is a VERY ACTIVE dog and we are always taking them somewhere for a hike so I guess she burns it off.
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