That one seemingly simple question can have large dog owners spending hours combing the internet and books for the right answer.
For decades, veterinarians have recommended feeding large breed dogs such as Dobermans, Great Danes, Labradors, and Newfoundlands in elevated dog feeders and some still do. These are wooden, plastic, or metal stands that raised the dog bowls to a more accommodating height. The main reason for this recommendation was to prevent torsion and bloat in dogs. Then in 2000, Purdue University published a major study in Journal of the American Animal Hospital Association on gastric dilation volvulus (torsion or twisting of the stomach), that led many to recommend never feeding a dog in a raised dog feeder. This one study has led to a lot of confusion for those researching how to prevent bloat and torsion in large dogs. However, this one study shouldn’t be the only determining factor for using or not using elevated dog feeders for your dog.
The Purdue study was a statistical analysis of potential risk factors for gastric dilation volvulus (GDV). GDV, where the stomach flips over. This is a serious and many times a deadly condition for dogs. Unfortunately, GDV, along with bloat, are also not uncommon conditions in large, deep chested dogs. The study results showed that dogs fed from raised food bowls had a statistical increased risk of getting GDV. Essentially more dogs fed from raised food bowls got GDV than those feed at ground level in the study.
In relation to raised food bowls, in this study 264 dogs had a raised food bowl while 625 did not. Forty dogs in the raised bowl group had an incidence of GDV while only 18 dogs in the lowered bowl group had an incidence of GDV. That’s 15 percent of the raised group and about 3 percent of the lowered group. As you can see, neither raising nor lowering the dog’s food bowl prevents GDV completely.
But how important is this information when it comes to preventing bloat or torsion? Several studies, including this one, have shown that the greatest risk factors for GDV in dogs are being of large size, having a family history of GDV, previous health problems, poor quality food, older age, and eating too much too fast.
In this context, if you have a large old dog, with a genetic history of bloat or GDV, feed a large amount of low quality food only once a day, and have an overzealous eater, then yes feeding out of an elevated dog feeder may increase your dog’s risk of having an incident of bloat or torsion. However, if you have an old large breed dog, you may also be dealing with arthritis of the neck and back in which an elevated dog feeder would make eating much more comfortable.
In the end, the concern of raising or not raising a dog’s bowls to prevent bloat or torsion is probably over-thought by many pet owners. If you have a large old dog with a family history, then your dog has many of the major risk factors that unfortunately you can do nothing to reverse. Feeding a high quality dog food and at least two small meals a day rather than one large meal, and getting your dog to eat slowly will help prevent GDV. Otherwise, only your veterinarian will be the best resource for deciding whether or not you should feed your dog out of a raised bowl because he or she knows your individual pet best. For otherwise healthy dogs but with risk factors for GDV, your vet may recommend against using raised dog bowls. If your dog has other relevant medical conditions, such as arthritis or problems swallowing, than an elevated dog feeder may be recommended. Follow your veterinarian’s advice on this one and you’ll be doing your best for your family dog.
Non-dietary risk factors for gastric dilatation-volvulus in large and giant breed dogs., Journal of the American Medical Veterinary Association, 2000
Diet-Related Risk Factors for Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus in Dogs of High-Risk Breed, Journal of the American Hospital Association, 2004