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Can new dog feeders help solve mealtime problems?

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If you're not sure about whether or not you should get an elevated bowl for your pet, speak to your vet. (©iStockphoto/Thinkstock) If you're not sure about whether or not you should get an elevated bowl for your pet, speak to your vet. (©iStockphoto/Thinkstock)
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By Elijah Merrill
 
The slow-food movement isn't just for organic foodies anymore. Take a look at the food bowls offered at online pet stores and you'll find more than a handful of newfangled slow-down dog food bowls, along with claims concerning various health benefits.

The Skid Stop Slow Feed Bowl ($3.95), for example, is supposed to "slow rapid eating, promote regular digestion and prevent bloating and discomfort." The Break-Fast Dog Food Bowl ($13.20) says it's veterinarian-tested and "helps reduce risk of gastric dilatation-volvulus (bloat)." And the makers of the Omega Paw Portion Pacer Ball ($14.99) pull no punches whatsoever: "Studies show that bloat is a leading cause of death in dogs. The Omega Paw Portion Pacer lets you control how fast your dog eats, to prevent choking, gulping, vomiting and bloat."

The bowls themselves are pretty standard, except they have one to three raised bumps in the middle that dogs have to work around to get their food. The Pacer Ball, which is essentially a 2-pound oversized pinball, serves to do the same thing when placed in a standard bowl. Online customer reviews indicate that they can indeed slow down dogs' eating. But whether the slower pace can prevent bloat and ultimately save lives is a question better left to veterinary professionals.

Canine Bloat and Fast Eating

Bloat is a condition with which a dog's stomach becomes overstretched by excessive gas, the buildup of which is usually caused by some obstruction or internal injury. It's most common in large breeds with deep chest cavities, like Great Danes and Saint Bernards. However, smaller breeds that have deep chest cavities, such as Basset Hounds, are also susceptible. No one cause is to blame, although increased speed of eating is a risk factor, along with genetics and old age. Makers of slow-down bowls suggest that dogs eating slower will swallow less air, and therefore be less susceptible to bloat.

"It's not an unreasonable claim," says Dr. Patricia Joyce, an emergency clinician at NYC Veterinary Specialists. "We don't know why it happens. For some dogs there might have been a combination of eating and excessive exercise. So that means a lot of food and a lot of air in a short period of time."

Dr. Amy Dicke, a technical services veterinarian for Iams, says that eating slower is, in general, a good thing: "Slowing food intake could potentially aid in digestion by reducing the incidence of vomiting. Food gulping can be associated with the swallowing of excessive air, which may lead to flatulence." She notes that published research has linked fast eating and bloat, but adds: "With that said, I am not aware of research to indicate the use of these bowls will curb the incidence of bloat."

Elevated Food Bowls?

You'll also find a fair share of elevated food bowls, such as the adjustable Store-N-Feed Elevated Dog Feeder ($21.99), the stylish Pet Food Storage and Server ($39.99), and the spill-proof Neater Feeder Dog Bowl ($56.41). Makers of these bowls laud their digestive benefits, which they say are due to better posture while eating. Joyce says her practice, like many others, recommends elevated bowls for all large breeds.

But there is something of a controversy over elevated bowls. A Purdue University study published in 2000 in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association found that eating from an elevated bowl is actually a risk factor for bloat, as well as increased speed of eating. This study, however, only proved a correlation between the two -- not that one causes the other.

"What we need to keep in mind is this was a prospective study," says Dicke. "It identified factors associated with an increased risk of bloat, but no cause-and-effect relationship was established; therefore, their true influence is not known."

If you're not sure about whether or not you should get an elevated bowl for your pet, speak to your veterinarian about your dog's condition. As for slow-down bowls, Joyce puts them in a category she calls "benign recommendations." There's no harm in trying, she believes, so anyone concerned may as well give it a shot. Even if slow-down bowls don't actually prevent bloat, most dog owners would agree there's nothing wrong with cutting back on their dog's vomiting and flatulence.

Elijah Merrill is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in The New York Times Magazine and Discover. 

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