By Helen Anne Travis
No matter how much you feed them, some dogs act like they’re always hungry. They go crazy at dinnertime, beg for dog treats throughout the day, and follow you around the kitchen, hoping you’ll accidentally drop something delicious on the floor. No matter how many treats you accidentally drop, it seems like they can never get enough.
No pet parent wants to feel like they’re starving their pup, but keeping portion sizes and feeding schedules under control is important for keeping your dog healthy. Here are 6 ways you can help a hungry dog.
Some medical conditions cause a dog to feel extra hungry, says Dr. Judy Morgan, a holistic veterinarian and author of several books about natural pet-care.
Bring your dog to the vet to rule out conditions like hypothyroidism, diabetes, and Cushing's disease, all of which can cause excess hunger in dogs. Hyperthyroidism, due to a tumor in the thyroid gland, could also affect their appetites, says Morgan, but this condition is quite rare in dogs.
Cancer and intestinal parasites can also make dogs extra hungry, says Dr. Anthony Ishak, a veterinarian at BluePearl Veterinary Partners in Tampa, Florida.
“A dog that’s eating a lot and not gaining weight could have a serious medical problem,” he says.
Once you rule out any medical issues, don’t give in to the temptation to overfeed, says Morgan. Overfeeding can actually make dogs hungrier.
“Don't allow these ‘starving’ dogs to con you into giving them more than they need,” she says. “Overfeeding can lead to obesity, which causes a decrease in the production of leptin, a hormone that controls appetite.”
Obesity can also lead to other medical complications. Obese dogs are more likely to develop arthritis. The excess weight puts extra demand on the dog’s joints, which can lead to decreased mobility and muscle strength. Obesity also makes the heart work harder and can impact a dog’s ability to fully inflate his lungs, Morgan says.
Understand that giving hungry dogs too many treats or human food snacks will make the problem worse, says Ishak.
To satisfy dogs’ cravings without packing on the pounds, the doctors recommended introducing more vegetables into their diets.
Vegetables like carrots and green beans can be added to dogs’ meals to bulk up the food’s fiber content and make the pups feel more full without adding a lot of calories, says Morgan. Grind the vegetables and cook them lightly before serving to your dog.
“Veggies can make great snacks between meals, as well,” she says.
Just be careful about introducing too much fiber too fast. This can lead to flatulence, constipation, or diarrhea, she says.
Boosting your pup’s vegetable content may also help curb her hunger in other ways. Chromium, a mineral found in ingredients like broccoli and sweet potatoes, has been shown to help reduce hunger in humans and may also help dogs, Morgan says.
Feeding multiple small meals throughout the day, rather than one or two big meals, may help your dog feel more satisfied, says Morgan.
Make sure you speak with your veterinarian and figure out exactly how much dog food your dog should be eating each day. Don’t exceed that total. Divide the recommended daily serving into small portions and try feeding in the morning, late afternoon, and right before bedtime to help curb your dog’s appetite throughout the day.
No matter how many veggies and small meals you offer them, some dogs will still do anything for a treat. Use it to your advantage, says Morgan. These food-motivated pups can be easier to train because you know exactly what they want as a reward.
Also realize that sometimes the hunger may be more of an emotional than physical experience. A dog may associate treats with positive experiences with his owner. See if a non-food reward will satisfy his craving for attention.
See if you can take your dog’s mind off the hunger. Rather than giving a treat, go for a ride in the car or take him on a walk. This is also a great time to work on training exercises.
If you can distract your pup with exercise and interaction, you may be able to reduce his cravings and spend more quality time together. Plus, getting some extra exercise is an added bonus for a pup that likes to eat, says Morgan.