Okaw Veterinary Clinic

140 W. Sale
Tuscola, IL 61953

(217)253-3221

www.okawvetclinic.com

Fighting over Food

 

dogs fightingI am often surprised to find clients who leave a food bowl out for multiple dogs to share. From my point of view as a veterinarian, it makes sense to me to keep track of which dog is eating what, how much and how often. One of the first questions we veterinarians ask an owner of a sick pet is "How is your dog's appetite?". If dogs are sharing a bowl, then how can one know? When I listen to my clients, I realize offering a communal bowl is a way to be sure the pets will not go hungry and possibly for convenience - they only have to fill the bowl once a day for all.

Aside from the problem of controlling food to prevent obesity, or a special diet for the health needs of one dog over another, a communal bowl presents a huge problem - food aggression between the dogs. Most of us think of aggression as biting and overt fighting. This is high level aggression. There is a lot of low level aggression going on before the big fight happens and often owners miss it. When the big fight happens  someone ends up in a cone. There is bewilderment about how or why this is happening.

Dogs compete for food even when there is plenty around. This is natural dog behavior. They may also compete for other resources, like toys or beds, but food is guaranteed to be the most problematic. The higher valued the food item - the worse the aggression. What typically happens around a communal bowl is that dog #1 goes in to eat, and keeps body blocking dog #2 away from the bowl. When dog #2 puts their head in the bowl, dog #1 will stare, growl and snarl. No bite has happened yet. When dog #1 has it's head down, you miss seeing the signs of aggression. If  dog #2  stands it's ground, dog #1 will escalate.  If dog #2 leaves, it will still go back to the bowl often with another confrontation. Tensions escalate to the point of a fight.  Often these fights are severe because it is over an item for survival - food.   

If you have more than one dog, or any dog visiting at all, please feed each dog in its own area away from each other supervised or completely closed off. After 20 minutes remove the food bowls. Do not leave them out even if they are empty - they represent the food and can be a source of fighting. Avoid any feeding of dogs next to each other. These are all the scenarios that have ended up with deep bites, wounds and emergency trips to the veterinarian. It is so easy to control and avoid. Humans are the only species who want to eat together.  Keep is separate and keep it safe.