Symptoms to Watch for In Your Dog: Excessive Hunger

A healthy appetite is considered a sign of a healthy dog. As a general rule, it is. A dog that is ill is likely to eat less, become finicky about their food, or stop eating altogether.

Symptoms to Watch for In Your Dog: Excessive Hunger

Even a ravenous appetite can be normal depending on the dog and their activity level.

So what constitutes excessive hunger?

I would like to believe that you'd know it if you saw it. The important thing is to understand what is normal for your dog--how much they usually eat. If their appetite changes dramatically without anything else having had changed, something is up.

Seeking more food versus trying to eat everything within reach

Is your dog so hungry or are they trying to put out a fire? A friend's dog would behave this way. She would eat anything that wasn't nailed down. She was also sick frequently, without a diagnosis. She was being treated symptomatically which wasn't working. It wasn't until a family vacation when she was seen by a different vet when her problem finally got a name--chronic pancreatitis.

Jasmine was always hungry when she was on steroids for her bad neck, but that was nothing compared to another friend's dog who was on high dose steroids for brain inflammation. That poor girl too would ingest everything she could get her mouth on including her own diapers and carpets. In this case, it was caused by the high levels of cortisol in their blood from their treatment.

I would be very careful before concluding my dog had pica, which is considered a behavioral issue. Is it really? Sometimes maybe.

Whether your dog is putting out a fire or being so hungry they could eat nails--literally sometimes--I'd absolutely want to rule out a physiological reason foremost.

You can read my thoughts about pica here.

Excessive hunger with weight loss

If your dog keeps eating and eating and yet losing weight, this is serious. Often, they will suffer from diarrhea as well. Their body is not getting the nutrients it needs no matter how hard they try. Either their body is unable to use the nutrients, or somebody is literally stealing them--yes, I mean intestinal parasites.

Problems within the digestive tract or outside of it can cause this.

Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI)

What this complicated term stands for is your dog's inability to digest their food. The pancreas has two big jobs--production of insulin and production of digestive enzymes. When the pancreas fails to provide these enzymes, your dog's body cannot break food down to usable nutrients. In other words, the food just goes through untouched. This is when your dog can literally starve to death while eating like there was no tomorrow.

To learn more about this condition, check out my EPI article. Dogs having problems with digestion of nutrients will nearly always have obviously abnormal stools as well.

Bowel disease

Simplified, food gets broken down into nutrients in the stomach and absorbed by the intestine. Infections, inflammatory conditions, or cancer can mess up the function of the intestinal walls, making them unable to absorb the nutrients. This can result in excessive hunger though in many cases, such as with Jasmine, it can cause the opposite--refusing food.


Hyperthyroidism is rare in dogs, but it can happen. Excessive levels of the thyroid hormone push your dog's metabolism into overdrive keeping your dog constantly hungry.

Excessive hunger with weight gain


What everybody seems to know about insulin is that it removes excess blood sugar (glucose) from the blood. Which is kind of true but it's not the whole story. The job of insulin is indeed to regulate blood sugar levels and put the excess away for storage. However, it is also insulin's job to deliver glucose to all the cells in the body where it is used as an energy source. In other words, cells need glucose to function. Your dog's cells are starving, your dog keeps eating trying to provide the energy they need, but it's not getting to them.

Cushing's disease

I already mentioned drug-induced high levels of cortisol above. However, it can also happen naturally, when your dog is producing excessive levels of the hormone. With Cushing's disease, the perceived weight gain might be just that--perceived as it can have to do more with changes in organs and tissues rather than an increase in fat tissues.

Nutritional deficiencies

Could it be just the food? Why indeed. If the food doesn't provide sufficient levels of needed nutrients, your dog will keep eating until their body gets what it needs. Jasmine's vet always used to point out that dogs will eat to the limiting ingredient. This could be a vitamin, a mineral or amino acids. The food your dog is eating might offer it at levels that are too low or not at all.

This should not be very common these days, but it absolutely is a possibility. Since other, usually calorie-rich nutrients, are abundant in almost every food, your dog will be crazy hungry and getting fat while missing something important their body needs.

Nutritional deficiencies too can lead to eating non-food items, such as dirt or feces.

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    Learn how to see and how to think about changes in your dog’s appearance, habits, and behavior. Some signs that might not trigger your concern can be important indicators that your dog needs to see a veterinarian right away. Other symptoms, while hard to miss, such as diarrhea, vomiting, or limping, are easy to spot but can have a laundry list of potential causes, some of them serious or even life-threatening. 

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  1. Great post! I feel like this can be a hard one for some owners, because I've known my fair share of dogs who just love food, one of mine included. My older boy love love loves to eat - luckily only food and never anything weird. He's 10 and gets check ups often and luckily doesn't have any medical reason for wanting so much food - he just loves food. I'd worry for sure if he was experiencing GI or weight related issues. As much as he loves food, we keep him on a regulated diet so he stays a healthy weight.

  2. Great post and as usual an eye opener as I feel at the moment Layla is losing weight but eating the same amount of food. I spoke about it on my blog and am going to the vet next week and will know more.

  3. My dog Princess is half golden, and she loves to eat. It's more when she loses her appetite that I get concerned. I think I'd have a hard time telling if her appetite increased!

  4. Interesting post. Excessive hunger can be a sign of problems in cats, too.

  5. Great post - and we have gone through this with one of our dogs. We learned about pancreatitis first hand. Now she's on enzymes - and viola, she's great! Thanks for sharing!

  6. Great post. As usual, I walk away with information I can share with my niece, and information I can remember if her dog is ever ill.

  7. My Shadow has IBS. If he’s not raw fed he’s constantly ravenous, he’ll eat anything that won’t eat him back. He has to - his food just goes right through him and he’s not absorbing anything.

  8. Excessive hunger in cats is an alarm call fur us, and I think any dog owner that ignores it does so at their peril! This doesn't just HAPPEN, there is a cause!

    Our Harvey (senior cat) has a hunger issue I am monitoring. If he became persistently hungry the vet said there was a risk of something like hyperthyroid. So, he gets watched!

  9. Yikes Kilo the Pug is always hungry but usually just for food. He eats the occasional dirty tissue or crayon but in general, he dreams of treats. I'd worry if he lost his appetite or started eating weird things. I must admist he is a bit off his game with -30" and snow as he goes on poop strike.

  10. This would be a hard one for pet parents. It's important to know what is normal for our pets and if we notice any changes; that's the time to check it out.

  11. Thankfully I haven't seen this in any of my dogs, but since Theo loves to eat, I'll keep an eye out for a medical issue if he suddenly becomes ravenous.

  12. I have noticed that since his MMVD diagnosis my boy is extra hungry.... I knew the meds would cause thirst but did not expect the food part. Especially from a dog that had always been zero food motivated. We've had him checked and it's the meds... who knew?!

  13. Always great and informative posts. I have one Husky who has had excessive hunger since puppyhood. She has had all the tests and our best guess (since thankfully it is not a health issue) is behavioral as when we went to look at her she was always fighting 7 other puppies for food that was just dumped in a big bowl. She is now 11 and still is very food-driven! Meanwhile, her brother is a picky eater. Go figure.

  14. I always get nervous when my dog still seems hungry after dinner but its never as excessive as you describe thankfully.
    Love & biscuits,
    Dogs Luv Us and We Luv Them

  15. Ooh, this is a tough symptom to watch out for. My dog Matilda always seems hungry, but she seems otherwise fine, and she doesn't try to eat anything inedible. It definitely should be taken seriously when it's a sudden change, that makes sense - any sudden change should be taken seriously.


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