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Why Are Dogs Always Hungry?

A Dog-Eat-Everything World: Why Are Dogs Always Hungry?

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You just filled that food bowl ten minutes ago, but it’s already been licked clean.

And yet your dog is already pawing at the food bag, begging for more. From his behavior, you’d think you hadn’t fed him in days!

It seems like no matter how recently your dog has eaten, he’s always ready for more. Sometimes it’s enough to make you wonder if he has any perception of how full he is — and if so, whether he cares or not.

Is this insatiable hunger a sign of medical issues, or is your dog’s begging simply a bad habit? And either way, what can you do to prevent your dog from acting hungry all the time?

The answer may be more complicated than you think — let’s break it down!

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Evolutionary Eaters

All things considered, your pup lives a very cushy life. In fact, it’s so luxurious as to be totally unprecedented by history.

The Wild Diet

Dogs wild diet

Think about it: in the wild, a wolf has to spend hours identifying, tracking, chasing and attacking its prey. There’s a good chance it won’t succeed, and even if it does, it’ll have to share the kill with the rest of its pack.

And when prey animals migrate away from the wolf’s territory, food becomes very scarce.

Wolves regularly go several days without food. In one case, a wolf was observed to go without food for 17 days.

But just because wolves can survive without eating for days doesn’t mean they like it.

Starvation is hard on any animal’s body, but especially ones that are constantly on the move and who need to hunt to eat. So when food is available, wolves will eat as much of it as they can physically fit in their stomachs.

A wolf can eat up to 22.5 pounds of food in one sitting. That’s up to 1/6 of their body weight in one meal — an astounding amount of food.

But wolves aren’t gluttons. They’re strategists, and their massive feasts are consumed for a very good reason: future-proofing.

By eating as much as they can, even if they’re not actively hungry, wolves build up energy and fat reserves in their bodies.

Later, when prey is scarce or luck sours, the wolf can draw on those stores to stay alive and keep going until the next meal turns up.

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Living the Good Life

Hungry dog

By contrast, your dog has few, if any responsibilities he needs to fulfill in order to survive.

He could do nothing but sleep his life away and still be fed several hearty meals a day.

But deep in your dog’s psyche, the instincts of his wolf ancestors are still alive and well.

And those instincts tell him to eat as much as he can, whenever he can, because the next successful kill could be days or even weeks from now.

Those same instincts are what drives him to rifle through the garbage, bury food scraps in the yard and hoard bones in a secret cache. It’s all about food security, and it all started ages ago out in the wild.

No, gobbling kibble out of a bowl doesn’t bear much, if any, resemblance to tracking and killing prey. But that’s the thing about instincts: they don’t always line up with logic.

It’s a black-and-white mentality of sorts. Either you gorge yourself, or you die of starvation; to that primal hunger drive, there’s no in-between.

So when your dog finishes his dinner and immediately starts begging for more, you can blame it on biology.

He knows he just ate — he’s just doing what his ancestors did to survive for tens of thousands of years.

And if he has a background of neglect or abuse, he may know firsthand what it’s like to starve. It’s a terrible feeling that he’ll do everything in his power to avoid experiencing ever again.

Yes, it can test your patience, but look at it this way: it’s also the reason you’re able to train him with treats. That desire for food security means that your dog will do anything for a bite to eat, from sitting to staying to shaking hands.

Hunger and Health

But biology isn’t the only reason your dog might be hungry all the time.

If your pup’s increased appetite seems to be a recent development, there could be an underlying medical issue responsible for it. This is especially true if you’ve noticed other physical or behavioral changes recently.

Constant hunger is a symptom of many different canine illnesses. Here are the most common medical causes of insatiable appetite in dogs.

Diabetes

Dog is diabetic

Diabetic dogs have it rough. Their bodies don’t produce enough insulin to adequately transport glucose (sugar) from the blood to the cells, where it’s needed for proper functioning.

Because of this, glucose builds up in the blood. Yet the body can’t detect it, as it’s not being carried over into the cells.

As a result, the dog’s body enters starvation mode. It begins to burn fat for energy, resulting in weight loss, frequent urination, and increased appetite and thirst.

There are two types of canine diabetes: type 1 and type 2.

Dogs are born with type 1 diabetes; it’s often hereditary and there is no cure. In this type, the body destroys insulin-producing cells in the pancreas.

Type 2 diabetes develops later in a dog’s life due to a poor diet. Unlike in type 1 diabetes, the body does produce insulin but becomes resistant to its effects.

With a special diet, weight management, and medication, type 2 diabetes can sometimes be reversed. However, type 1 diabetes is for life.

Without supplemental insulin injections, diabetic dogs will experience severe weight loss and kidney failure.

If your dog eats like a bottomless pit but keeps losing weight, see a vet as soon as possible for testing, especially if he’s been overweight or obese in the past.

Cushing’s Disease

Your dog’s adrenal glands produce many hormones. One of them, glucocorticoid, is responsible for helping the body and mind cope with stress when it’s present in appropriate quantities.

But in dogs with Cushing’s disease, the adrenal glands produce too much glucocorticoid. This throws off the overall hormonal balance, resulting in hair loss, increased urination and increased appetite.

Cushing’s disease is often caused by a tumor on either the pituitary or the adrenal gland. If it is on the pituitary gland, lifelong medication will be required to control glucocorticoid levels.

However, if the tumor is located on the adrenal gland, your dog may require surgery to remove it. If the tumor is benign, removal will cure the disease; if it’s malignant, medication will be needed.

Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency

Rough Coated Collies and German Shepherds are particularly susceptible to this condition, which is caused by a lack of important digestive enzymes. 90% of EPI cases are seen in these two breeds.

The pancreas is responsible for producing digestive enzymes, which break down starches, proteins, and fats. Without these enzymes, the body can’t extract important nutrients from food.

Dogs with this condition will lose weight despite being hungry all the time. They may experience diarrhea and their coats may appear dull and fragile.

Thankfully, EPI is easily treated by adding pancreatic enzyme powder to the dog’s food. Alternatively, raw pancreas can be fed alongside the dog’s regular food.

See a vet if you suspect your dog has EPI. The vet will test your dog’s levels and rule out other diagnoses like diabetes.

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Hyperthyroidism

This condition is rare in dogs, but when it does occur, it’s serious.

The thyroid is responsible for producing thyroxine, a hormone that boosts metabolism.

But hyperthyroidism causes the thyroid to produce too much thyroxine. This leads to an overactive metabolism and results in weight loss, diarrhea, restlessness, and constant hunger.

A vet can test your dog’s thyroxine levels to determine if your dog’s increased appetite is caused by hyperthyroidism. Drugs or surgery may be needed to reduce thyroxine levels if they’re found to be elevated.

Last update on 2020-11-25

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