Raising a dog can bring with it many surprises. Some of the most common ones surround eating — a dog’s feeding habits and the amount of food they consume often come as a shock to new dog owners. Many dogs can seemingly eat all day. So why is my dog always hungry?
Dogs can be constantly hungry for several reasons, including:
- Genetic hardwiring that promotes constant eating instincts.
- Various health issues that affect appetite and eating habits.
- Mental health issues that can cause panic eating, among other unwanted behaviors.
- Untrained dogs may rely on their natural instincts and eat everything possible.
We’ll go through what causes dogs to always be hungry and also consider how we can mitigate and redirect this energy into more positive areas. We’ll also have a run-through of some training techniques and products which may help your dog learn to control their appetite better.
Why Is My Dog Hungry All the Time?
Dogs are domesticated animals that have recent, wild roots among wolves. This means they are the descendants of animals subject to certain evolutionary pressures, and this heavily influences their eating behaviors.
Your dog may also be reacting to environmental factors that are causing excessive eating. This can be due to increased stress or other mental issues, or they may be experiencing symptoms of a disease or illness which increases their appetite.
Genetic Reasons for Dog Hunger
As dogs evolved from wolves, it’s likely that genetic memories from their time as wolves still linger.
Before farming, humans too had to be sure to eat anything they could get their hands on. It’s impossible to tell where your next meal is coming from when you rely on hunting and scavenging.
In certain environments and climates, this can mean sometimes having to go days without eating.
Even though wolves and dogs are pack animals which can mean finding food is easier, the strict hierarchy means that everyone has to fight over the remains to get their share.
This competition for food is difficult to domesticate out of an animal, so some dogs will just eat nonstop because their brain will never be satiated. Dogs also can’t understand the concept of unlimited food. Dogs live in the moment, and their memories don’t work like ours do. They are unable to use reason and know that there will always be another meal waiting for them.
Puppies, who grow at alarming rates, will often eat anything in sight because their bodies demand the fuel.
Emotional Reasons for Dog Hunger
Just like humans, dogs can suffer from nerves and anxiety that will impact their appetite. Some dogs are naturally timid and can benefit from place training or crate training as discussed below.
There are a number of training techniques to help limit anxiety, but fundamentally whatever you choose will work as long as it gives your dog a place to feel safe and calm, away from distractions.
Anxiety Caused by New Pets in the Family
Common causes of anxiety, particularly regarding food, are due to new visitors and new pets. New pets can signify a direct threat to food, especially if the new animals are not trained and don’t respect the dog’s food boundaries.
One way around this is to create zones with dog gates or fencing to allow each dog to have their own eating space that cannot be interrupted by the other. Examples are the Tespo Pet Playpen for smaller dogs, or the InnoTruth Dog Gate.
Food stealing by other pets not only creates issues with food possessiveness and aggression, but it also causes you to lose track of how much food each dog is eating.
Some dogs will feel anxious around new human visitors, as they may perceive them to be threats to take their food as well. Again, feeding your dog in a separate, secure, and distraction-free area should help solve this issue.
Food Issues with Rescue Dogs
For dogs that have had challenging backgrounds, including being street dogs, their inner feeding instincts are brought to the surface. This can mean they will constantly snatch food whenever available and even bury food for emergencies.
Often this behavior will fade over time, particularly if you are consistent with meal timings. Linking meals to other behaviors is a great way to instill confidence in your dogs that a meal is upcoming. This allows them to trust you that they are definitely going to be fed.
One possible arrangement is to walk your dogs in the evening, return home, and then wait 15 minutes before the dogs are fed. Follow this routine every day to not only get your dogs the exercise they need, but also establish a routine and expectation of a regular meal.
Consult with your vet to find out the diet and amount best for your dog. Some dogs with active metabolisms may do better with three meals a day instead of two.
As long as your dog is not becoming overweight, there should be no limitations on the number of meals. You can divide the total amount of food for the day into whatever number of meals works for your dog.
Health Reasons for Increased Dog Appetite
There are several common ailments that cause Polyphagia — the technical term for excessive or extreme hunger — in dogs. You should have your dog checked out if they are having major hunger increases after having matured into adulthood.
Dog diabetes, both Type 1 and Type 2, can cause increased hunger as the body often cannot assimilate blood sugar during diabetic conditions. Also, insulin related tumors can lower blood sugar levels, which will often have an impact on appetite. Dog diabetes can manifest itself in excessive thirst as well.
Parasites may not increase a dog’s appetite, but they can cause a dog to lose weight and you may end up feeding them more as a result to try to compensate.
Cancers will also heavily affect a dog and increased appetite should be investigated to determine if it is playing a role.
If your dog is eating all of their meals but is losing weight or remains underweight, definitely make a visit to your vet. Weight loss can be a sign of serious illnesses, especially if the dog is eating normal quantities of food.
Older Dogs Who Are Always Hungry
Many senior dogs are constantly hungry. Common reasons polyphagia occurs in older dogs are:
Medication side effects. Just as with humans, many medications (both prescription and over-the-counter) can cause an increase in appetite for dogs. In general, older dogs take more medications than younger ones, so the likelihood of this happening is higher.
Poor food absorption. Older dogs sometimes develop poor absorption of food in the gastrointestinal system. This limits the amount of valuable food nutrients benefitting the dog, and can contribute to various diseases and conditions including intestinal cancer and insulin deficiencies.
Inflammatory Conditions. Older dogs are more susceptible to inflammatory conditions, including of their stomach and intestines, which can cause hunger issues. IBD (inflammatory bowel disease) and IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) are two conditions that are quite common.
What Can Stop My Dog from Being Hungry?
If you’ve ruled out diet and health issues, a good first step to address excessive hunger in your dog is to train them with regard to food and eating. This will help them learn the boundaries around food and help manage their expectations regarding meals.
By establishing a strict schedule of meal times, quantities, and circumstances around feeding, your dog will learn to rely on this set routine. When meals are sporadic and at unscheduled times and places, your dog will always be thinking that a meal may happen. You want your dog to only expect to eat at regularly scheduled times.
Don’t feed scraps from the dinner table; your dog should have no expectation that lurking about the table will yield food.
Only give treats in training situations or at set times such as a snack before bedtime, etc.
Mat training and crate training are a great techniques that can be used on dogs of all ages and associates their mat or crate with safety, protection and relaxation. You can send the dog to their “place” when you notice them getting too excited or hoping for an unscheduled meal.
This is also useful to teach the dog to be patient when preparing their food and give them a place to wait calmly. Upon the command, they will go to their mat and food is not prepared for them until they are in place.
Once their meals are in place, you can call them in to eat. This combination of mat or crate training with food boundaries helps teach the dogs that they only get fed when you tell them it is fine.
If your dogs learn that they can get food at any time if they just beg enough, you will end up with constantly begging dogs.
While some dogs are always hungry because of health or emotional reasons, the majority of excessive hunger cases are a result of poor food management by their owners. If a dog acts hungry out of boredom or anxiety and you feed them, you are only positively reinforcing that behavior and they will do it again.
Your dog may only be acting “hungry” because doing so results in a food reward.
Dogs are creatures of routine and love established schedules. Take advantage of this inclination and create a feeding routine with specific times and protocols. Once you have established the rules of food and meals, your dog can anticipate these meals and not feel “hungry” throughout the day.