Why Does My Dog Flip His Food Bowl?

dog about to flip food bowl while eating

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Dog owners can get incredibly frustrated with some of the behaviors our dogs exhibit, especially if those behaviors are causes messes in their homes. A dog that has a habit of flipping its food or water bowl can be one of those behaviors that cause owners to question their sanity!

So why do our dogs do it?

Dogs may flip their food bowls because they feel there is something wrong with the food or bowl, they are uncomfortable in their surroundings, or because they think it’s fun and it gets them your attention. A less common cause could be pain or sickness.  

Let’s take a closer look!

7 Reasons Your Dog May Flip his Food Bowl

Dogs are complex creatures, and they often have many explanations behind their actions. Flipping their food bowl is not an uncommon dog behavior, but it can be caused by a number of different reasons. Let’s examine them so you can better learn how to address the issue.

Reason 1: Your Dog Is Burying it

Although dogs have been domesticated for thousands of years, their natural instincts still remain in their behaviors. The old cartoon joke of your dog burying its bone in the backyard to keep it safe isn’t too far off. Burying, hiding, and even rolling in their food could give your dog a sense of security they feel they are lacking.

Wild canines participate in something called “caching.” This means that they will bury their food, toys, or other valuable items to save them for later. This often looks like your dog is trying to cover their resources with their nose, even if nothing but the air is available to “scoop,” as we see in the video below. This often leads to a dog knocking its food bowl over on accident.

Reason 2: Something is Wrong With the Food

Dogs are incredibly perceptive, and we often forget just how accurate and powerful these perceptions can be. Their senses are often heightened compared to ours, and they often use them in ways that our brains may not understand. If your dog is flipping his food bowl, it’s possible that the food in the bowl is not satisfactory to them.

The Smell is Off

According to a new study done at Cornell University, a dog’s sense of smell is connected to its limbic system, spinal cord, and occipital lobes. The limbic system processes emotion and memory, the occipital lobe perceives what the eyes see, and the spinal cord sends messages from the brain to the whole body.

All these connections mean that a dog can essentially smell with its whole body, making any change in the smell of its food a big deal to your dog. The smell could be from a contaminant, another animal’s scent, or a change in the kibble recipe. Whatever the cause, your dog may refuse to eat food that doesn’t smell right to them.

A change in smell doesn’t just lead to a flipped food bowl though and dogs may flip over their water bowl for the same reason.

They Don’t Like the Taste

Although a dog only has about 1700 tastebuds compared to the average 9,000 a human has, they can still be picky about what they eat! A switch in their food’s flavor or brand could cause your dog to reject the new taste. If you haven’t switched their food but your pet has still recently started flipping their food bowl, they may have started getting bored with the flavor.

The Recipe Has Changed

Another reason your dog may be flipping food that he has eaten before could be a change in the food itself. Unfortunately, pet companies legally do not have to tell you when they change their recipe and they often do so sneakily. 

Pet food companies should be consistently researching their products to improve their quality, but unfortunately, they may also be changing recipes to help cut costs and increase profits. As a result, changes in the taste may be positive or negative, but your dog may flip their bowl at the taste either way.

It’s Contaminated

Your dog’s diet should be mostly protein, so it can easily get contaminated or soiled if not stored or served properly. Even though kibble doesn’t look like it, it can easily mold if kept in a damp environment. It can also be exposed to bacteria, toxic substances, or insects if not in a sealed container. Raw or fresh pet diets are even more susceptible to dangerous bacteria growth if not kept and served at the proper temperature.

Sometimes the contamination happens during manufacturing or distribution so it’s out of the pet owner’s control. Thankfully, pet food companies are regulated to perform quality control checks regularly. When anything out of place is found, the company is required to send out a recall. Not all of these recalls attract enough attention to spread the word, but they should all be reported on the FDA’s website.

Whether the food in the bowl is contaminated or just doesn’t smell or taste right to your dog, they may be showing that they are rejecting the food by flipping the bowl.

Reason 3: Something is Wrong With the Bowl

Most of us know that dogs can be finicky about their food, water, and even bedding, but did you know that they can also be picky about their bowls? The location, material, and set-up of their feeding area are important to some dogs, and they may choose to flip their food bowl in protest.

Material

Food bowls come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and although they all serve the same purpose, they aren’t all the same. the most common food bowl sold in pet stores is stainless steel, ceramic, and plastic. Despite them all looking the same and smooth to our eyes, each material has different properties that can affect your pet’s health.

Your dog’s food bowl sees a lot of exposure to potential bacteria growth, so the surface should be non-porous. Porous surfaces have small holes, meaning they have a lot of places to harbor dangerous bacteria and other germs. Porous materials may also hold more smells, even after being washed.

Plastic is considered porous, but stainless steel, ceramic, and glass bowls are all considered non-porous. Most pet professionals recommend a stainless steel bowl, which is also especially durable for dogs that tend to flip their bowls. You may have to experiment with what works best for your dog and what they prefer.

Location of the Bowl

The location of their feeding area could also be causing your dog to flip their bowl from frustration. Loud appliances, other animals, and unknown people can all be very scary for a dog, especially a naturally anxious dog. In other words, if your dog has been known to run across the room after hearing a loud sneeze then you need to be extra careful about where you place your pup’s food bowl.

Feeding them next to a dishwasher, washing machine or dryer could be a cause for distress for a dog that doesn’t like loud noises or vibrations. Strangers in the home can cause discomfort in a dog.

Putting the bowl too close to the perceived territory of another animal could be setting off danger signals in your dog’s brain, even if the animal is a friend. With no other way of communicating this discomfort, your dog may resort to flipping its food bowl.

Reason 4: They Want Attention

Often, when our dogs flip their food bowl, we immediately react. Even though the reaction is usually negative, any attention may be considered good attention to a bored dog!

Dogs are social and intelligent creatures, so they need plenty of daily physical exercise, mental exercise, and socializing with their family members. When they don’t get what their bodies and minds need, they may flip their food bowl out of frustration.

Dogs are also masters of getting attention and while most pups go for more subtle options like sitting a particular way or whining at specific times other dogs will quickly figure out that a flipped bowl always gets your attention.

Reason 5: It’s Fun!

Typically, if a wild dog wanted to be rewarded with a meal, it would have to hunt or chase it down first. Although dogs have been domesticated for thousands of years, these old instincts still live deep within them.

Now that most dogs don’t have to “work” for their food, it could feel less rewarding to eat out of a boring bowl. Food that’s scattered across the floor is a different story though! Having to find each piece of kibble is like a sniffing scavenger hunt for your dog, so flipping their food bowl could be an attempt to make mealtime more exciting!

Reason 6: Your Dog May be in Pain

Dogs don’t like to show pain often, as it used to make their ancestors a target for predators. They do show pain at times, but it’s not in the ways that humans show pain. Because of this miscommunication, some dog owners may overlook subtle signs. Flipping their food is a sign that it may be painful for your dog to eat, and they are flipping the bowl as a last resort to show that pain.

Dental issues, such as gum diseases, an infected tooth, or broken teeth are common reasons a dog may reject their food. Crunchy kibble can be especially painful for a dog with mouth pain to chew. Other issues, like nausea and digestive pain, are more difficult to pinpoint but can also cause pain during eating. If your dog seems to be in any pain when eating, it may need to see a vet to address the issues before the food bowl flipping habit is broken.

Reason 7: They Feel Threatened

You may have seen a dog grab a mouthful of kibble, walk to a different area of the home, drop it, and then begin eating it piece by piece as if they seem to feel safer eating in another area of the house. This could be true for food bowl flippers as well, they just don’t express it in the same way.

For all wild animals, eating is a risky business. Whether they have to hunt, climb, or dig for their food, they are putting themself in a vulnerable position.

These instincts are wired deeply, and domesticated dogs can feel the same way while eating. If they feel that their food bowl is too close to another animal’s perceived territory, even a fellow housemate, they may flip the bowl to keep their “competitor” from getting their food.

How to Stop Your Dog From Flipping his Water Bowl

As we can see, there are so many reasons that a dog may be flipping the food bowl during mealtimes. In response, there are also many methods that you can use to address the issue. It is important to address this problem. Not only is it frustrating for you as an owner, but it could also be a sign of something more serious going on with your dog.

Method 1: Try a New Bowl

This method is a great start because many of the problems listed above may be solved by simply switching what they are fed in! We discussed that the material of the bowl could be a point of contention for your dog, so you may need to try bowls of different materials to see what your dog’s preference is.

The cause of concern could also be the shape and size of the bowl. For example, a bowl that is too small for their snout may bump their whiskers and be uncomfortable to eat from. There are a number of bowls with features that may help prevent bowl flipping.

Wider May Be Better

A bowl with a wider base tends to be much sturdier, making it more difficult for your dog to flip. A wider bowl may be more comfortable for your dog to eat out of. These bowls also tend to come with a non-slip bottom as well, such as a rubber ring around the bottom edge, an entirely covered bottom, or even a weighted bottom. While this is not a permanent fix, this could help save your sanity while you address the deeper issue.

The Benefits of a Slow Feeder

Slow-feeding bowls are wide and filled with a variety of nooks and crannies designed to make your dog search and lick for their food. These provide great mental exercise for your dog and can help slow down dogs that eat too quickly. They’re also perfect for dogs that seem to be flipping their bowl out of boredom, or because scattered food is more fun to eat.

Consider a Raised Feeder

Large dogs and senior dogs may have an uncomfortable time bending their necks all the way to the floor. In these cases, a raised pet feeder may be beneficial to your pet’s health! A raised feeder is also beneficial for any dog that flips its food or water bowl because raised feeder often keeps the bowl securely in place.

The Importance of Cleaning Between Meals

Did you know the FDA has recommended regulations for cleaning your pet’s food bowls? These steps include washing your hands before and after feeding, cleaning the bowl with hot water and soap after each feeding, and using a designated scoop to put food into the bowl.

However, a recent study showed that only about 12% of owners washed their dog’s dishes daily, and 18% reported that they only wash their dog’s dishes every three months (if at all!) Although dogs are hardy creatures that retain a good amount of their wild instincts, they can still get sick from bacteria in their bowls. It’s important to wash your dog’s bowls after every meal, and throw out old bowls if they get damaged, stinky, or otherwise compromised.

Method 2: Change Up the Feeding Area

A behavior of flipping their food could be caused by something as simple as moving where your dog eats. Dogs are instinctually driven to protect themselves, even if it doesn’t seem to make sense to their human owners. when dogs don’t feel protected enough to eat, they may act out by flipping their bowl. This can be especially true of nervous dogs.

If their feeding area is too close to another animal’s territory, a loud appliance, or a high-traffic area, your dog may feel too exposed to eat and flip the bowl to “save” the food or out of frustration. Moving to a spare bedroom, setting up an x-pen, or feeding them in their crate could help prevent that anxiety and the bowl-flipping behavior.

Method 3: Inspect their Food supply

you should always be checking through your dog’s food before giving it to them, even if it’s from a newly opened bag. The truth is, pet food companies are run by humans, so they unfortunately may make errors here and there when sending food out. Although most are caught by the recall system, it’s still important to check every bowl of food you give your dog.

Proper food storage is something that most people think of for themselves, but could easily be overlooked with pet food, especially for owners that feed kibble. It is important to prevent contaminations in your pet’s food, so it must be stored properly in airtight containers to prevent insects, rodents, or other bacteria to infiltrate it.

It may be something from inside your home that causes your dog to flip their food bowl in rejection. A dirty bowl or a bowl that’s cleaned with a strong-smelling soap might make their food smell too different. It’s possible that’s something innocuous and unsuspecting, like dust from a recently turned-on AC or heating unit, that causes your dog to flip their food bowl. Inspecting and closely monitoring their food should prevent or catch these issues.

Method 4: Making Feeding Time Fun!

For a species that spent most of its existence having to hunt for its food, a boring bowl of kibble may just not fulfill its instinctual needs. Try spending meal times doing something fun and exciting, then reward your dog for a job well done! A controlled scatter on a clean floor, a slow feeder bowl, or even a full training session using their food as the reward could make feeding feel more natural to your dog.

Method 5: Rule Out Health Concerns

If the dog seems to be eating and drinking less, lethargic, or not acting like themselves, a flipping of their food bowl could point to a larger issue, especially if it’s a new behavior. It’s best to have your dog checked out by a vet to rule out any issues before they get worse.

Conclusion

Your dog’s flipping their food bowl could be a sign of many different things, and it’s up to use as dog owners to figure out what is causing the issue. Sometimes you just can’t see the subtle things your dog is trying to say, and it may become necessary to have a professional trainer assess their behavior.