Have you ever had your dog begging and insisting that they’re hungry when you just fed them? Or have you given them a bunch of treats only for them to still act hungry?
If yes, you’re not alone. Many dogs will act like they’re always hungry, which can range from annoying to concerning.
Some dogs always want food because they know they’ll get it, others learned to eat all they can because of genetics or life experiences, and sometimes there are legitimate health problems like diabetes or parasites.
If your companion is just spoiled and always wants treats, it’s probably not a health issue. But if it’s a sudden issue or is accompanied by any other problems like vomiting or diarrhea, it’s worth keeping an eye on them and calling the vet.
Biology and Learned Behaviors
Dogs are all descended from wolves. Wolves learned to eat all they could when given the chance. It was a matter of survival.
While dogs and wolves are very different now, they may still retain that need to eat as much as possible when they get the chance. They worry they’ll go hungry otherwise.
Dogs who were previously on the streets or in a bad home may especially feel a need to eat whenever they can. They don’t realize that their next meal is guaranteed, so they think they need to eat whenever food is available.
If you constantly give in to your puppy’s begging, they’re going to learn that they can always get food from you.
Lifestyle may also play a role in your companion’s seemingly constant hunger. They may not even be truly hungry. They just know that begging and fussing can get them food whenever they want.
For example, my Pekingese, Freya, learned a long time ago that begging and arguing will get her food. Even if she just got food, she knows that she can get more if she harasses us enough. She’s not hungry and I can promise you that I’m feeding her properly. She’s just spoiled and knows she can get away with it.
For some dogs like Freya, begging and acting hungry just becomes a learned habit. This is why you should be careful about spoiling them too much in their early days.
Stress and anxiety can always lead to a range of problems with your pup, including what seems like increased hunger.
Begging and eating may be a form of comfort when they’re anxious. If you’ve ever eaten a bunch of junk food out of stress even when you’re not hungry, you probably understand.
If you notice your pup is restless, panting excessively, lethargic, or just seems on edge, they may be anxious. You may want to consider if any recent household or lifestyle changes may be causing it and find ways to manage it.
As tempting as it may be, don’t try to ease your pup’s anxiety by overfeeding them treats. You’ll be doing them more harm than good in the long run.
Your companion needs a good, nutritionally packed meal just like you do. If they aren’t getting enough nutrients from their food, they may naturally be hungry even after eating.
Make sure that the food you’re feeding your pup is nutritionally balanced. Check the ingredients to make sure you’re not just feeding your companion cheap filler ingredients. These cheap ingredients may be leaving your pup unsatisfied and still hungry.
If your companion is always hungry, they may not be getting enough nutrition from the food they’re eating.
I know it can be tempting to just buy the cheapest dog food available at the grocery store, but it’s always worth it to research different foods and consider what ingredients are best for your specific dog. Talk to your vet about your pup’s diet if you need help.
As a dog grows older, their metabolism and dietary needs may change. They may not be able to get what they need from their usual food anymore, leaving them hungry after a meal. Their systems also can’t digest or process food as well.
Seniors may need to move to a new diet with easily digestible food that gives them the nutrients they need. Make sure you’re discussing your pet’s age and dietary needs with your vet and don’t suddenly change their diet. Any diet changes should be done slowly.
Seniors may be more hungry because they aren’t getting what they need from their food. As their metabolism changes, they may need to move to a senior diet.
Seemingly constant hunger can be a sign of a larger problem. It can be especially concerning if your pup just recently started acting like they’re always hungry. It’s important to note any other symptoms and call a vet quickly if you think your pup is sick.
When your pup’s body produces too much thyroid hormone, it can cause hyperthyroidism. This serious disease can cause a drastic increase in your pup’s metabolism, which can be dangerous.
Increased hunger can be a warning sign of hyperthyroidism. They may also lose weight, drink more, and urinate more. Dogs may also vomit, suffer from diarrhea, and poop more. They may also be short of breath or have a fast heart rate.
If you notice any of these signs along with increased hunger, it’s important to get to the vet and get a proper diagnosis.
Diabetes is a disease where glucose and insulin aren’t being produced properly, causing sugar to build up in the body. Like with humans, diabetes can cause all kinds of problems in your pup, including increased hunger.
Dogs suffering from diabetes may suffer from excessive thirst, increased urination, and weight loss.
Diabetes can’t be cured, but it can be managed with lifestyle changes and some help from your vet.
Cushing’s disease (or hyperadrenocorticism) occurs when the adrenal glands make too much of a hormone called cortisol. It’s most common in middle-aged to older dogs.
While Cushing’s disease isn’t fatal, it can make your pup’s life difficult and lead to worse issues. It causes high blood pressure and can help cause kidney diseases and diabetes.
Certain breeds like Poodles and Yorkies are more susceptible to Cushing’s Disease.
On top of an increased appetite, those with Cushing’s disease may drink more, urinate more, lose hair, and have a pot-bellied appearance. They may suffer from constant skin infections or urinary infections.
A variety of health issues can cause an increased appetite, including diabetes and parasites.
Parasites are always a scary possibility that you and your pup need to watch out for. Intestinal parasites can suck the nutrients out of anything your companion eats, leaving them starving.
Tapeworms are a scary example of this. They attach themselves to the inside of the dog’s intestine and absorb all of the nutrients that are supposed to go to your companion. Roundworms and heartworms are also problematic.
Those who have intestinal parasites may also scoot, vomit, and have a distended stomach. They may also have diarrhea and weight loss.
Make sure your pup is up to date on all vaccines and preventatives to help prevent parasites. You may also want to keep dewormers on hand. If you see any of these symptoms in your companion, get them to the vet immediately.
Cancer is always a scary thought. Thankfully it’s not a common one, but when it does happen, it’s best to catch it early.
Certain cancers may cause a change in appetite. You may also notice frequent bloody vomiting and weight loss that can’t be explained. They may also be lethargic or winch from abdominal pain.
It’s important to always get your pet checked out at the vet if you suspect a problem and try to catch any tumors early.
Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency
EPI is a condition that can permanently damage the pancreas. It’s most common in breeds like the German Shepherd, but other breeds can still get it too.
Those suffering from EPI may have an increased appetite as well as greasy, pale diarrhea. Flaky skin and a rough coat can also mean your pup has EPI.
They may also be more prone to eating feces. If this isn’t normal behavior for your pup, you may want to get it checked out.
Dogs who have EPI have it for life, but they can be given supplements and other medications to help them live their life.
Parasites can steal the nutrients from any food your dog eats, leaving them hungry even after eating.
Some vet-prescribed medications may cause an increased appetite. Your vet should disclose this information to you when prescribing it. This is a normal side-effect and you don’t need to worry.
Make sure you’re keeping track of your pup’s medications and dosage and only give them medications as instructed by a vet.
While it can be tempting to give in and keep feeding your seemingly hungry companion (especially if you know they’re sick), it’s in both of your best interests not to.
For one thing, you don’t want to send the message that your companion will always get food if they harass you for it. Trust me, I know. My parents aren’t allowed to go into the kitchen now without giving our dog a treat. We have nobody but ourselves to blame for that.
No matter how hungry your companion thinks they are, overfeeding them can lead to obesity and illness. If their hunger is caused by a lack of nutrients or another health problem, they need medical attention, not another treat.
When to Be Concerned
If this is normal behavior for your dog or just the result of being spoiled, you probably don’t need to worry. Just take steps to improve your lifestyle and spoil them a little less.
There are some red flags you should be on the lookout for if this constant hunger is sudden. Vomiting and diarrhea (especially if there’s any blood involved) are always red flags that you should at least keep an eye on. Twenty-four hours or more of vomiting and diarrhea warrants an immediate vet visit.
Sudden, unexplained weight loss is also a massive red flag, especially if they’re constantly eating and wanting more.
If your companion also seems like they’ve lost their enthusiasm and they aren’t acting like their usual jumpy selves, you may want to contact a vet. Lethargy can be a symptom of many digestive issues.
Understanding Your Dog’s Hunger
Our dogs love food. They almost always want something, and many of them will act like they need food when they don’t. It’s part of life as a dog owner.
Some dogs always act hungry because they learned that their next meal isn’t guaranteed. Others know they can get away with it. And then some others have a legitimate health issue that needs to be addressed.
Know your companion and their habits. If constant hunger isn’t normal for them and they’re showing any other problematic symptoms like vomiting or diarrhea, call your vet ASAP.
Whether it’s a health issue or just habit, don’t give in and overfeed your companion, or you’ll have a spoiled kid on your hands later.
Jen Jones is a professional dog trainer and behavior specialist with more than 25 years of experience. As the founder of ‘Your Dog Advisor’ and the ‘Canine Connection’ rehabilitation center, she applies a holistic, empathetic approach, aiming to address root causes rather than merely treating symptoms.
Well known for her intuitive and compassionate approach, Jen adopts scientifically-proven, reward-based methods, encouraging positive reinforcement over punishment. Jen specializes in obedience training, behavior modification, and puppy socialization. Her innovative methods, particularly in addressing anxiety and aggression issues, have been widely recognized. Jen has worked with many of the world’s leading dog behaviorists and in her free time volunteers with local animal shelters and rescue groups.