Why Does My Dog Always Act Hungry? Causes and When to Worry

If your dog has suddenly become voracious, it could just be that they played extra hard today, or something else might be going on.

Published March 14, 2023
dog laying by empty food bowl and looking up

Your dog probably gets excited at feeding time or when you're giving them a treat, and that can be completely normal behavior. It isn't unusual for a young puppy to eat their weight in food every day. But as dogs age, their appetites often decrease and they eat less. If your adult dog is still eating like a puppy, or their behavior has changed and they're suddenly acting like they're starving, it could be a sign that something is wrong.

Why Your Dog May Be Hungry All the Time

There are several reasons dogs may appear to always be hungry. Whatever the reason is, it's important to monitor your dog and record what you're seeing, including feeding times, amounts, and what they are eating. That way, you'll have all the information your vet needs if you need to consult them.

Your Dog is a Dog

Before you jump into all the potential problems that could be causing your dog to be constantly hungry, it's important to know that for many dogs, this behavior is completely normal. Many dogs are food-driven, which is why providing treats during training works so well. Don't panic if your dog appears to be constantly wanting food. It could just be how they are wired. However, if this behavior is abnormal for them, it may be worth taking a look at what could be causing the problem.

They're Eating Too Many Carbs

Dogs that have been fed a diet rich in carbohydrates can feel hungrier than normal when they go on a diet that is lower in carbs. This is because carbs are converted into glucose by the body and used as energy or stored as fat if there is not enough glycogen available for use by the muscles and brain. Dogs who are fed a diet that is high in carbs may feel hungrier than usual until their bodies adjust to eating less carbohydrate-rich foods, or until their glycogen stores are used up, which typically takes about five days.

Your Dog is Getting Older

As dogs get older, their nutritional needs change. For example, your senior dog may require more protein than they needed when they were younger. Senior dogs tend to lose their muscle mass as they age, especially if they're not exercising their muscles as much as they once were. That's why canine nutritionists ask how old your dog is when formulating a diet regimen. The diet of a puppy looks much different from that of an adult dog, and the same could be said for senior dogs.

Medication Increases Hunger

If your dog is currently taking medication, such as a steroid to help with inflammation, it could cause excessive hunger. Antidepressants, painkillers, and diabetic medications can also cause increased hunger in your dog. If your dog recently started a medication and they appear to be hungry at all times, talk to your veterinarian to determine if this is generally a long-term side effect.

Compulsive Disorder

Compulsive disorders are not uncommon in dogs. They can be caused by a number of factors, including genetics and the environment. Dogs who suffer from this type of disorder have a hard time controlling their impulses and often exhibit repetitive behaviors that they cannot stop.

Compulsive eating from a genetic cause: Laura Inman, a veterinarian with Wisdom Panel, discussed a compulsive disorder in dogs resulting in overeating caused by something known as a POMC gene mutation. Dogs with this gene mutation will appear to always be hungry and obsessed with food.

Going a step further, a research study conducted by the Journal of Cell Metabolism, noticed Labrador Retrievers and Flat-Coated Retrievers are the most prone to this mutation. Wisdom Panel does offer a test to determine if your dog's compulsive disorder causing constant hunger is caused by the POMC gene mutation.

Compulsive eating from a behavioral cause: Another compulsive disorder your dog may experience if they're constantly hungry is pica. There are two types of pica in dogs: nutritional pica and behavioral pica. Nutritional pica occurs when a dog eats non-food items because of a nutritional deficiency or an inability to digest certain foods. Behavioral pica is usually caused by stress or anxiety, boredom or lack of attention from the owner.

large dog eating out bowl

Food-Related Anxiety Disorder

If your dog is anxious, they may be eating more than they normally do. Certain stimuli or environments that make them nervous can trigger overeating. For example, if you have an anxious dog that gets nervous when you leave and gains weight, it's likely they have separation anxiety disorder.

Similarly, if your pup seems hungry all the time but has no medical issues and no change in diet, this could be an indication of generalized anxiety disorder or other underlying psychological issue. If your dog has always been a picky eater but now has an insatiable appetite, then this could be a sign of depression.

Your Dog is Pregnant

Pregnant dogs often have a ravenous appetite. But it's important to regulate their diet and make sure they get enough nutrients. Pregnant dogs can be prone to obesity, which can lead to health problems later in life. If you think your dog is pregnant, talk with your vet about how much she should eat each day and what kinds of foods would be best for her pregnancy diet.

Metabolic Disorders

Metabolic disorders, such as diabetes and hypoglycemia, could cause your dog to have a ravenous appetite. Diabetes and hypoglycemia are both conditions that can cause a dog to eat more than normal. This is because the pancreas, which produces insulin, does not function properly.

When there is not enough insulin, glucose remains in the bloodstream and cannot be used as fuel for the body. Therefore, dogs with diabetes or hypoglycemia often experience hunger pangs or become ravenous when they go too long without eating something.

Gastrointestinal Disorders

Inflammatory bowel disease, cancer, and exocrine pancreatic insufficiency are disorders that affect the gastrointestinal tract, resulting in fewer nutrients being absorbed. Since there are fewer nutrients being absorbed by the dog's body, their body may sense gaps in nutrition, resulting in excessive hunger.

Cushing's Disease

Cushing's disease is caused by overproduction of cortisol, the "stress" hormone, which released by the adrenal glands. The adrenals also control blood sugar levels. Excessive hunger and increased thirst are common symptoms of Cushing's in dogs. Other signs include panting, weight gain, muscle weakness, or poor muscle tone.

Parasitic Infection

Common parasitic infections in pets include tapeworms, roundworms, hookworms, whipworms, and heartworms. These parasites attach themselves to their host's intestines or lungs and rob your dog of nutrients, leading them to feel hungry.

Diagnosing the Cause

vet listening to bulldog's heart

If you are concerned about your dog acting hungry all the time and you bring them to the veterinarian, they will run a series of tests to determine the cause. Although it could be as simple as your dog just being an opportunistic feeder, there are medical causes that may need addressed as soon as possible. Testing that may be recommended includes:

  • A physical exam: A physical exam is a routine part of your dog's annual visit to the veterinarian. The exam includes a close look at your dog's eyes, ears, and mouth, as well as a check of their skin, coat, and limbs.
  • Bloodwork: This is a routine part of the health check for your pet. It allows veterinarians to evaluate their general health, look for signs of disease, and evaluate their overall nutritional status.
  • Parasite testing: Your dog's stool will be requested to be evaluated for parasites.
  • Urinalysis: The test involves collecting a urine sample from your pet and then analyzing it for signs of problems with the kidneys, urinary tract, or other organs.
  • Ultrasound: Ultrasound is a noninvasive technique that allows your veterinarian to view internal structures without exposing your pet to anesthesia.
  • Endoscopy: Endoscopy is most commonly used to examine the esophagus, stomach, and intestines.

Your veterinarian will review all the tests performed. Then, a treatment plan can be recommended if any abnormalities are discovered.

Treating the Cause

If your veterinarian has found an underlying cause of the excess hunger, the treatment regimen will be based on the found cause. Treatments include:

  • Age-related: Talk to a canine nutritionist about your individual dog's dietary needs. They will be able to help you formulate a food plan to maintain your dog's health and fill in any nutritional gaps.
  • Behavior-related: If the excessive hunger is behavior-related, your veterinarian may recommend a canine behaviorist along with feeding smaller portions more often throughout the day.
  • Metabolic disorders: Dogs with diabetes are frequently prescribed insulin, whereas those with hypoglycemia generally just require a change in diet.
  • Cushing's Disease: Cushing's can be addressed with prescription medication.
  • Parasitic infection: A dewormer or other anti-parasitic medication may be recommended.
Need to Know

Your dog's treatment will be based on their individual needs, along with the cause of their excessive hunger.

Consult a Veterinarian

If you are concerned about your dog's eating habits, bring your dog to the veterinarian to determine the cause. If your dog is experiencing a sudden bout of excessive hunger, this could indicate a significant problem that must be addressed quickly. Your veterinarian will run some tests and figure out how to proceed. If the cause is due to nutrient deficiencies or behavioral problems, you may be referred to canine behaviorist or nutritionist. If you're looking for a holistic approach, search for an integrative veterinarian.

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Why Does My Dog Always Act Hungry? Causes and When to Worry