It is very rare for a dog to be a picky eater. Generally, dogs love to eat.
They gobble up the food their humans give them and, sometimes, even things that have not actually been given to them. They eat trash, leftovers, dead things, rocks, socks, poop—anything that will fit their mouths or anything they can chew into smaller pieces and swallow. It seems like they just want to eat, eat, and eat.
Is your dog one of these voracious, food-obsessed creatures? Does your dog seem to always be hungry? Do they beg for more food after being given lunch? Are they really hungry or is are just greedy, trained improperly, stressed, or suffering from an illness?
Why does your dog act like they are always hungry? What can you do about it? Let’s investigate.
Why is my dog always hungry?
1. Natural reasons
Long ago, wolves had to work very hard to hunt for food. They would go hungry for days before getting prey. And even if they did get food, there were other still worries.
In a pack, the alpha ate first and whatever was left would be a free-for-all for the rest of the pack. So, the rest of the wolves had to eat quickly if they wanted to eat at all. They also sometimes had to fight fellow pack-members to get even just a bite of the kill.
Other animals could fight them for the leftovers as well. Because of all these worries, they learned to eat fast, hide food, or scavenge.
Eventually, wolves learned that humans could do the hunting for them. So, they decided to evolve and allow themselves to be domesticated. And thus, dogs were born.
But the instinct to hunt and guard food remains deeply entrenched in the DNA of all dogs. Even if they are given regular meals, they still have this deep-seated fear that their food will be taken away from them or that they will not have food for a long time. This fear is so ingrained in some dogs that they try to manipulate their humans into giving them more food even when they are not hungry.
2. Psychological and behavioral reasons
The cause of the hunger could be in your dog’s mind or training.
Has your family recently undergone some changes? Could a new pet or person have been introduced to your family recently? If your dog were human, could they be stress-eating?
Maybe your dog considers the new pet as a threat to their food. The article on this site about pet jealousy could help you ease your dog’s anxiety. The important thing is to monitor your pets. Make sure that your new furry pal is not stealing your dog’s food and vice versa. Make sure that you are giving the same amount of food to both pets as well.
If a new adult human has joined your family, have that human start giving your dog food at the proper time. This way, your dog will know that this human can also be a source of food and will not perceive the new person as a threat to their rations.
For adopted pets, a deeper psychological reason can be the cause of constant hunger. Many dogs who were maltreated before being adopted into loving homes exhibit food obsession. These dogs were probably starved, hit or abused by previous owners. Strays have also gone for days without any food. It’s no wonder then that these dogs believe that food is a very scarce resource. Some even exhibit food aggression because they want to guard their food against people or fellow animals that might steal it from them.
Some dogs have also become “trained” to beg for food. Have you given your dog treats just so they will not interrupt you while you are working or doing your chores? Have you given them extra food so that you can finish your dinner? Have you caved in and given treats when they beg?
These activities might have conditioned your dog into thinking that a “reward” will be given if they persist in whining or begging for treats.
They might also believe that food equals attention. If you are attending to them whenever they beg for food, then they will keep on doing it whenever they want your attention.
You might want to review your daily routines with your dog and identify such activities.
Is your dog eating a lot and gaining too much weight? Is your dog always hungry, but losing weight? Despite our best efforts to keep them healthy, dogs sometimes still get illnesses that affect their appetite:
- 1. Aging. In the animal world, weakness is never a good thing. An aging dog will probably be extra anxious that their food will be taken away by the younger dogs, so they will do their best to eat fast and eat a lot.
- 2. Cushing’s disease. If humans can have hyperthyroidism, dogs can have hyperadrenocorticism or Cushing’s disease as well. Dogs with this disease have overproduced cortisol, the hormone that regulates the flight-or-fight reactions in animals. If cortisol is secreted too much, sometimes due to chronic stress, extra glucose is secreted by the liver. Dogs become extremely hungry because their bodies are burning off the extra glucose.
- 3. Diabetes. Some dogs develop diabetes mostly because of obesity. Dogs do not need a lot of carbohydrates, which turn into sugar in animal bodies. Unfortunately, many pet foods contain grains or other forms of starch or fiber, which are the main source of carbohydrates. If they eat carbohydrates or fiber, they will still want to eat protein, which they will try to get from other sources.
If your dog has diabetes, their body may also not recognize that they already have enough energy from their food. So, they will always feel hungry even if they have been given the proper amount of food for their size.
- 4. Pancreatic disease. The pancreas is very important for digestion. It contains enzymes that break down food and nutrients. If the pancreas is not working properly, then the dog will always be hungry, but will lose weight. This is because the food is not broken down properly and nutrients are not properly absorbed by the body.
- 5. Parasites. Since dogs primarily explore the world with their tongue and mouth, they are prone to getting worms, like roundworms or tapeworms, living happily in their intestines. These parasites leech the nutrients from what your dog eats. This leads to your dog always becoming hungry despite eating a lot of food.
The only way to combat these worms is for you to deworm your dog regularly.
Consult your vet for a proper diagnostic test and to find out the best treatment for your dog in case they contract any of these illnesses.
Tips on how to handle dogs that are always hungry
If you have eliminated any possibility of an illness or parasite affecting your dog’s eating habits, here are some tips to regulate your dog’s food obsessions:
1. Feed your dog food that contains ingredients appropriate for them. Fresh food is still the best unless your furry pal has allergic reactions to it. Always remember that if dogs get the proper nutrients, then they will not try to get it from other sources.
2. Re-establish your role as the alpha of the pack. Your dog should eat only what the alpha leaves out. Also, don’t let other humans in your family give your dog scraps or extra treats.
3. On the subject of treats, try to switch to more natural treats, like apple slices or carrot chunks. If your dog does not like these, then make sure that the treats you buy do not have a lot of sugar or grains. Also, you might want to pick out smaller treats, so that even if you give more than one the total number of calories will not be very big.
4. Use the constant hunger to train your dog. Teach them new commands and tricks so that they have to work hard for the treats.
5. Provide your dog with regular exercise. This is very important on many levels:
- Your dog will use the extra energy and get distracted from food.
- Your dog will get much-needed muscle movement, which is very important for weight management and stress relief.
- Exercise aids in the digestion of a previous meal and will cultivate healthy hunger for the next meal.
- You will have more chances to bond over activities that are healthy and fun.
- Doing things together might alleviate your dog’s anxiety or stress. You will be able to reassure them that you will pay attention to them and love them very much.
6. Buy special bowls that will make your dog eat more slowly and prevent them from overeating. Try these fun food bowls:
- H&S Slow Feeder Bowl has raised areas or corridors inside the bowl so your dog has to nose around these areas to get to the food.
- Olyee Dog Slow Feeder Bowl and UEETEK Pet Dog Slow Feeder have maze-like structures so your dog has to go around the maze to get to all the food.
If you can’t buy special food bowls, try putting a clean tennis ball or an upturned tin can in the middle of your dog’s food bowl. Your dog will need to nose around it, which will slow down their eating pace.
Eating slowly will help your dog’s digestion and possibly prevent after-meal vomiting, which usually happens to dogs that eat very fast.
7. Let your dog get used to a strict feeding routine. Make sure your furry pal realizes that no more food will be given after the feeding. If your dog is especially persistent, then create a meal routine of small rations spaced regularly throughout the day. This way, your dog will get several meals, but they will get only the necessary total amount for each day.
8. Do not give in to the begging. No matter how cute your dog is and how irresistible those eyes are, do not give in to them. Remember, you are the alpha. You are in control.
Your dog’s weight and health are your responsibility. An overweight dog is a sad dog, even if they look cute being round and cuddly. Talk to your vet to find out the cause of your dog’s constant hunger. Then, you can start helping your dog become happier and less hungry.