Q: We have a 6-year-old Pyrenees mix who is very well behaved. About a year ago, she started to pick up mouthfuls of her dry dog food and spread it around the kitchen. She started out with just a few pieces and has gradually increased the amount. Of late, when we are gone, she will spread half of her one cup allotment everywhere in the kitchen, including trying to bury it under a rug by the back door, which makes it difficult to open. We have tried leaving it and not giving her more food until she eats what she has spread. She ended up losing about 10 pounds. We tried putting it back in her bowl. She puts it back on the floor. We tried throwing that food away, to let her know that she loses it if she spreads it, but this has not stopped it. Why after five years is she starting it now and how can we stop it?
— J. and J. M., Akron
A: Sounds like your Pyrenees mix has an unusual habit. It is not uncommon to hear of a dog that prefers to eat off the floor or in another room instead of a dog bowl. It also is not uncommon to hear of a dog interested in burying items under rugs, in couch cushions or in the yard, including food. It however is unusual that she has recently increased the amount cached (stored and saved for later) to the point of a problem.
It is not part of the normal canine ethogram to scent mark food, so that is not the answer. That said, as a veterinarian I would be very interested in having her see her local doctor to investigate if she has any problems that involve her gastrointestinal tract. Many dogs will have other signs such as flatulence, loose stool, burping or excessive lip smacking or drooling.
However, there are also dogs that have more unusual signs such as this or even eating non-food items that can make vets want to ensure the GI tract is “happy” and not having any problems. Common testing includes blood tests such as a complete blood count (to look for inflammation, infection and changes in the blood cells), blood chemistry panel (to evaluate the internal organs) and a thyroid level (to survey the thyroid and determine if additional tests are needed).
A good physical examination where her belly is palpated to ensure all feels normal should also be done as well. Your vet may then recommend additional tests but it will depend on the results of these initial screening tests. One of these may be a gastrointestinal panel sent to Texas A&M, which checks the liver, pancreas and levels of vitamins being absorbed by the gut (this needs to be done after a 12-hour fast).
All this being said, for now I would help her eat in a fashion that she desires and to “control the spread.” There are enrichment toys that can be used to slowly disperse kibble (her dry dog food) such as the Kibble Nibble or Buster Cube. The act of rolling and working for the food may engage her enough that she’s focused on that instead of burying it.
Another idea could be to give her less dry and more canned dog food in a Kong. This is licked out and is consumed that way. It won’t fall out so it won’t be messy if she buries the item.
Another solution could be to feed her more frequent smaller meals to prevent her caching the food around the kitchen. Finally, I would block her off from the back door rug with a baby gate so that she can’t bury there and prevent your entry into the home.
As a veterinarian and a behaviorist, I would be very interested in hearing the results of her tests and to learn how these interventions work for your dog. Good luck!
— Elizabeth S.M. Feltes, DVM, the Behavior Clinic; Animal Behavior of Northeast Ohio LLC, Olmsted Falls
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