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Elevated Food Dishes: Does It Matter for Greyhounds?
By Judy Paulsen
(Excerpt from Fall 2007 issue of GCNM News)

For decades, it has been common practice to feed large and giant breed dogs from elevated food dishes. Now, the subject generates debate on whether this is sound advice. Most often the reason for using raised dishes is cited as a preventative measure for serious stomach problems like “bloat.”

An Internet search for “bloat” in dogs produces an abundance of articles on the subject, not to mention advertisements on why elevated food dishes should be used. Technically, the syndrome is called Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus, or GDV (also referred to as gastric torsion). Following cancer, GDV is the second leading cause of death in large and giant breed dogs. It is most often reported in deep-chested breeds.

A true case of GDV involves twisting (torsion) of the stomach which traps air, food, and water, which can cause rapid onset of shock, often followed by death. Bloat without torsion can create a great deal of discomfort in dogs but is not as likely to result in death.

The lists of symptoms, causes, and prevention seem endless. But among many of the causes, one of the more unsettling reasons suspected for causing GDV is “feeding from an elevated dish."

One of the most comprehensive sources for information is a five-year study conducted by Purdue University School of Veterinary Medicine. This prospective study was the largest study of canine GDV ever attempted to date. Previous retrospective studies were likely less accurate as they relied often on owner recall well into past years. The most recently published results from the Purdue University study on GDV are in the Journal of the American Animal Hospital Association (JAAHA), May/June 2004 issue.

Authored by veterinarians recognized as experts in the field of GDV, the JAAHA article, “Diet-Related Risk Factors for Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus in Dogs of High-Risk Breeds,” concludes that the two highest risk factors for GDV are quantity of food given at each meal and frequency of meals. They determined through a nested case-control study that large volumes of food, especially if given once daily, produced a significantly higher rate of GDV; whereas smaller meals given two to three times daily appreciably reduced the likelihood of this often fatal condition.

Increased age and a “first-degree relative” (sire, dam, sibling, or offspring) with a history of GDV were rated the top high risk factors, along with having a lean or underweight body. Feeding from an elevated bowl appeared to raise the risk for problems as well.

Racing greyhounds are not fed from elevated dishes. Space limitations dictate that dogs be fed from a dish on the floor of each crate. Nor do dog farms, where greyhounds are raised and trained, feed their dogs from raised bowls. However, once a greyhound goes into an adoptive home, many things in the environment change. Often, adopters are told to feed their new charges from elevated dishes. This advice most likely originated from the decades-old belief that large, deep-chested dogs needed to be fed from raised bowls. Advertisements for elevated food dishes refer to gastric problems as the reason you should use raised dishes for large or giant breed dogs.

In determining whether or not to elevate a greyhound’s dish, it is important to consider musculoskeletal problems, which are common for retired racers who often have old injuries. Eating from raised dishes can reduce strain on the neck and back and lessen discomfort on arthritic joints, as well.

To raise or not to raise – that is the question. The following are some simple rules to eliminate most risks of your dog experiencing GDV, even if you continue to use elevated bowls.

Avoid letting your dog exercise heavily before or after (particularly after) eating a meal. Feed more than once a day. Do not overfeed a thin dog to put weight on quickly. Thin, especially malnourished dogs should be fed small meals three or more times a day. Trying to bulk up dogs with copious treats and large portions of food is an invitation to disaster. Avoid diets consisting only of dry dog food.

My greyhounds will likely always eat from elevated bowls, unless they possess other high risk factors for GDV. The sight of a leggy greyhound hunched over a bowl on the floor, somewhat resembling a giraffe eating off the ground, makes my neck and back hurt!


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