It’s no secret that dogs love to eat. The majority of dogs are highly food motivated, meaning that they are willing to perform tasks such as sitting, staying, or rolling over for a treat. As dog owners, we exploit their hearty appetites for training purposes.
So what exactly makes dogs so eager to eat? And do you find yourself asking: why is my dog always hungry? Should we be worried if our canine companion never seems satisfied?
Read on to learn about hunger in dogs, the difference between normal and abnormal dog appetites, reasons your dog may always be hungry, and what you should do about it.
Hunger in Dogs: What’s Normal
Some dogs will scarf down their food in the blink of an eye or seemingly materialize out of nowhere the second they hear you open the pantry door or crinkle a food wrapper. Other dogs may have a more peckish appetite and turn up their nose at some meals and treats. Both appetite types can be normal.
While all dogs should display some level of hunger throughout the day, normal hunger in dogs will typically vary based on age, sex, and breed. Expect a young, playful puppy to act hungrier and more ravenous than an older, sedentary dog.
Younger dogs will generally have voracious appetites to support their growth and higher level of activity. As dogs age, their appetite tends to decrease. Older dogs have less demand for calories as they are not growing, less active, and have slower metabolisms.
Dogs who are sexually intact often have bigger appetites than their spayed and neutered counterparts as sex hormones can boost metabolism. On the other hand, some intact dogs actually show less interest in food, particularly if there is a potential mate nearby.
Another major factor affecting hunger in dogs is breed. Some breeds, such as Labrador Retrievers and Beagles, are known for their large appetites. Other breeds, like Chihuahuas, usually have humble appetites in proportion with their small size.
Do Dogs Get Full?
It’s not uncommon for dogs to appear like bottomless pits, however, at some point all dogs will reach a point of satiation or fullness. The point at which a dog gets full varies from dog to dog.
Hunger and fullness are controlled by hormones inside the body. When the stomach is full, it sends hormone signals to the brain letting it know that it has eaten enough. Some dogs are able to override these signals and continue to eat regardless. This is common in rescue situations where the dog was previously in an environment where food was scarce, or in households in which dogs are given treats and essentially rewarded every time they beg.
In cases where a dog never seems full, it can be tempting to continue to feed them, especially when they consumed their recommended serving size in the blink of an eye. However, continuing to feed dogs until they no longer want to eat can result in obesity and a number of associated health conditions.
A good rule of thumb is to look for external signs that your dog has eaten enough as opposed to gauging their hunger by whether or not they will eat more. If their weight is stable, they are able to rest and relax after meals, and if there are no associated changes in thirst, urination, and defecation, then you can rest assured that they are eating enough to satisfy them. In cases where you are still unsure, consult your veterinarian.
Signs a Dog is Actually Hungry
As discussed, it can be difficult to differentiate real hunger from a dog that simply acts hungry all the time. Scarfing down food at mealtimes, constantly begging, trying to scavenge for food, being aggressive about food, etc. can all be signs that a dog is actually hungry but some dogs will act this way whether or not they truly need more calories.
Reliable signs that your dog is actually hungry include:
- A sudden increase in appetite, known as polyphagia.
- Becoming aggressive around food when they weren’t previously.
- Breakthroughs in training regarding food such as counter surfing, digging into trash, stealing food from plates, etc.
- Weight loss.
- A loss of sheen to the coat.
- Restlessness or whining incessantly despite regular meals.
- Continuing to lick the food bowl after eating for more than a few moments.
- Developing coprophagia (i.e. consuming feces).
Essentially, any change in your dog’s normal behavior or habits around eating is a good indication that your dog is truly hungry, and warrants an investigation to determine the underlying cause.
Why Is My Dog Always Hungry? 10 Possible Reasons
If your dog is always acting hungry, there are a variety of reasons that could explain your pup’s behavior. Here are some of the most common causes of hunger in dogs.
Inadequate calories/nutrition. It is possible that your dog may not be eating enough to satisfy their caloric needs. Make sure you are feeding a complete and balanced diet and check the food label for recommended feeding amounts and portion sizes. If you still aren’t sure if you’re dog is getting the right amount of food, talk to your veterinarian to help determine appropriate portions.
Boredom. Just as humans sometimes find themselves standing in front of the pantry when they need something to do, dogs will also eat when they are bored. Make sure your dog has plenty of enrichment activities and gets exercise throughout the day to alleviate boredom.
Anxiety or stress. Anxiety in dogs raises their level of stress hormone, known as cortisol. Extra cortisol increases appetite and leads to emotional eating.
Diabetes Mellitus. Perhaps one of the most telling signs of diabetes in dogs is a sudden increase in hunger. This is due to the development of hypoglycemia and the body’s attempt to increase accessible blood sugar. The associated hunger is often accompanied by weight loss, increased thirst, and an increase in urination.
Hyperadrenocorticism (Cushing’s disease). Dogs suffering from hyperadrenocorticism or Cushing’s disease have an excess amount of the stress hormone, cortisol, in their system. Extra cortisol makes dogs excessively hungry. Dogs with Cushing’s disease also develop a pot bellied appearance, symmetrical hair loss, skin infections, pant excessively, and have increased thirst and urination.
Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency. Dogs with EPI are not producing adequate amounts of the pancreatic enzymes needed to properly digest fats, carbohydrates, and proteins. Since these dogs are unable to digest nutrients properly, the nutrients are not absorbed and pass in the stool, leaving affected dogs perpetually hungry. These pets often have large bowel movements and obvious weight loss.
Inflammatory Bowel Disease. IBD affects the intestines ability to properly absorb nutrients. Dogs with this condition will often have an increased appetite along with weight loss, diarrhea, and occasionally vomiting.
Cancer. Cancer often uses glucose as a source of energy to grow inside the body, therefore, dogs with cancer usually have an increased appetite. These pets will usually also have weight loss despite eating more and perhaps other signs of illness such as lethargy, weakness, vomiting, etc.
Intestinal parasites. Dogs with heavy burdens of intestinal parasites like hookworms, roundworms, or tapeworms will usually be hungrier than usual due to the stolen nutrients. Other signs of a parasite infection include weight loss, a poor hair coat, diarrhea, and possibly vomiting. It is very uncommon to actually see worms in your pet’s stool, so a lack of worms does not mean parasites are not present.
Medications. Certain medications, particularly steroids like prednisone, can result in a noticeable increase in appetite.
How to Deal With a Dog That Is Always Hungry
If your dog has a sudden increase in appetite, it is your responsibility to consult a veterinarian, determine the cause, and treat any medical or behavioral conditions if needed.
If your dog simply overeats, it is your job to determine how much and how often they really need to eat to avoid the development of obesity.
For dogs that are healthy but have seemingly insatiable appetites, adding healthy fiber to their diet can be a great way to help them feel full. This can be accomplished with prescription pet foods for weight management and/or weight loss, or by working with a veterinarian or animal nutritionist to determine what can be added to their diet to supplement fiber without creating a dietary imbalance.
Be cautious not to reward begging by giving your dog a treat every time they pull out their adorable puppy dog stare or sharing your snacks every time you rummage the pantry. Create firm boundaries around treats by giving them only after desired behaviors like sitting, staying, and/or pottying outside.
Lastly, making sure your dog receives plenty of physical and mental stimulation can help dogs with hearty appetites enjoy decent amounts of treats without developing obesity or behavioral problems surrounding food. Simply taking your dog on a walk and allowing them time to stop and sniff as often as desired can be a great way to provide both physical and mental stimulation, burn calories, and enjoy parts of life outside of eating.