Some dogs seem never to get full. They’re always ready to eat more and will clean their food bowls in a matter of seconds. This can lead to them gaining weight, begging for more food when your family is having dinner, and it can manifest itself into all sorts of behavioral problems.
But why is your dog so obsessed with food to begin with?
Difference Between Food Obsessions and Normal Appetite
It’s important to distinguish between a hungry dog and one that is obsessed. A dog that is merely hungry should not be considered a problem, but one that will bark or snap when you try removing the food is considered obsessive or over protective of the food.
If you find your dog is suddenly food-obsessed, then it might be for a number of reasons. First, an older dog that has not shown any aggression or obsession over food in the past could be in medical trouble.
It is also possible that there could be another reason for this behavior due to the dynamics of the household. And if left unchecked, this bad behavior could become worse and grow into other aspects of the dog’s life.
Why Does My Dog Have a Food Obsession?
In most food obsessive instances with dogs, there is a rational explanation for why your dog seems to keep eating all the time.
A dog’s appetite tends to find a natural balance during the normal aging process, and eating habits are generally formed early on. However, big changes in the dog’s life can lead to your dog being suddenly food-obsessed.
1. Is It Actually a Learned Behavior?
Many times a dogs behavior towards food is actually a learned behavior that comes from overfeeding or simply not studying your dog during mealtime. On the other hand, it might have started out innocently enough when your dog was a young puppy.
Pet owners tend to forgive smaller and cuter dogs more often than older dogs for some reason. Think back to the first few months you had the dog. Was it already showing signs of food aggression or obsession?
It might also be because of the way you interact with your dog in your every day life, from letting the dog hang around the kitchen when dinner is cooked to not disciplining or correcting the dog when it begs for food at the table.
This is relatively straight forward to fix, although it will take some discipline from your side. It can be difficult not to provide your beloved dog with as much food as it desires, but believe in the plan and remember you are restricting the food access for its own benefit.
2. Is Your Dog on the Wrong Diet?
The first thing to check for is whether the brand of dog food you are currently feeding your dog is actually good enough. Even expensive brands can lack certain important nutrients that are essential for your dog.
Therefore, your dog’s obsession with food could be due to the food that you provide does not have enough protein or other important nutrients, and by simply changing the brand or type could solve all your problems.
If you are in doubt whether the type of food you provide is correct, consider calling your local vet to hear their opinion. They will usually want to know your dog’s age, weight, and a few other key pieces of information, alongside the full name of the food brand and product type.
3. Did You Recently Move?
A huge change in the dog’s normal routine can also trigger an obsession with food, so if you’ve recently moved from a large house to a small apartment, that might be the reason.
Similarly, if you used to work from home but now have landed an office job, your dog might be getting used to the new routine, and eating food is the one thing that feels the same, so that it might be overdoing it.
Try walking your dog more often, and bring it to wide-open spaces so it can roam around like it used to do in the garden if that’s the case. And consider spending some relaxation time with your dog to let it know you are there for it.
4. Is Your Dog Healthy?
Older dogs that are obsessive about their food can also be acting like that because of a medical condition or issue that you as the owner might not even be aware exists. Some of these issues can be quite serious, while others just require a few days of medicine.
A sudden increase in food intake that does not stem from normal reasons could be serious. During meal times, you can look out for any symptoms that your dog might be in pain or having difficulties with eating.
Regardless of the severity, we recommend seeing a veterinarian, especially if your older dog suddenly shows these obsessive food signs out of seemingly nowhere. There are many medical reasons why this could happen; some of the more common ones include:
- Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency
- Bacterial overgrowth
- Cushing’s disease
- Intestinal parasites
For excessive thirst in dogs, most of the cases above can also apply and fevers and infections. If your dog is on medication, then that could trigger this type of behavior towards food, so always call your vet if you are unsure.
This list is not a complete range of potential medical issues but rather a list of the typical problems your dog might face. Unfortunately, it is close to impossible to diagnose correctly without the help of professionals, so if you think your dog might have a health issue, bring it to the vet as soon as possible.
5. Does Your Dog, Not Like the Flavor?
Of course, most pet owners worry about the dog’s diet and whether the dog will experience weight gain because of the increased appetite, but there can also be obsessive behavior that leads to weight loss in some cases.
Sometimes the dog doesn’t show other symptoms and isn’t food motivated but is still eating as much food as it can get. This can happen when there are several types of food available, or your dog is stealing food from the cat, for instance.
Similarly to when your dog is on the wrong diet, it is important to try different food brands if your dog gains or loses weight all of a sudden.
My Dog Steals Food From My Other Pets
Another common thing that can change a dog’s routine is the addition of another family pet. Most often, another puppy or dog, but also a new cat or bird, can be the issue.
Your dog might be scared that it will have to share the food or that the other pet will eat all of your dog’s food, and therefore the obsession might be a measure to ensure that your dog has a full stomach.
Consider providing several food bowls for your pets around the house if this is the case. Having multiple locations where the dog can eat can choose the “safest” one.
Over time this might go away once your older dog learns that the new pet is not eating every last bit of food in the house, but you can help it along by trying to get your older dog and new pet to bond.
How to Stop a Dog From Being Obsessed With Food
While it might sound too simple to be true, simply not allowing your dog access to more food than its recommended daily intake will eventually slim down your dog to normal levels.
But it can be difficult if your dog is obsessed with food. You might experience aggression due to your dog being frustrated with the lack of food, and in those cases, you will need to stand your ground. Sometimes it can help of your other dogs are nearby, as they will, in many cases, help calm down the aggressive dog.
While free feeding your dogs food can be an easy way to manage their diet, it can, unfortunately, lead to certain problems with dogs that become obsessed. For example, a new dog in your home might not have the correct behavior learned already, and a senior dog might only want to eat certain foods.
By only giving your dogs a certain amount of food per day, you can make sure they get enough food and dont feel hungry and improve their eating habits.
A senior pet that is put on a diet might take a bit longer to accept there is no more free food available around the clock. Still, eventually, your senior pet will come to learn and love the consistency of a scheduled meal and, in many cases, be happier overall.
Can Food Obsession Lead to Health Conditions?
One of the most common problems that excessive eating and an increased appetite can lead to is your dog growing out of its healthy weight range. Depending on your breed, dogs tend to fluctuate in body weight, but an obsession with food can distort these ranges.
An overweight dog is more prone to health-related issues down the line. Illnesses and conditions range in severity and how they present themselves. Still, they almost always need to be treated sooner rather than later to ensure the best health for your puppy and to avoid serious problems down the road.
- Heart problems
- Liver diseases
- Kidney failure
- Issues with thyroid glands
- Chronic diarrhea
- Hair loss
These are fairly common for dogs that eat too much compared to their ideal diet. Your vet can perform urine tests, check for genetic predisposition, and ensure the dog has enough hormones to determine whether this is a serious condition or a behavioral problem.
Gaining too much weight can also lead to an excessive strain on the bones and joints of the dog, eventually wearing down the joints too quickly and potentially damaging your dog’s ligaments and nerves in the process.
What’s a Healthy Weight for Older Dogs?
Depending on your dog’s age, breed, and gender, your dog’s body will have an ideal weight range. This can be looked up online by inputting your specific dog’s data, or you can call your vet to ask them for directions.
On many types of store-bought food for animals, the backside will have a chart to let you calculate roughly what a healthy weight would be and how much you should feed your dog daily.
If you experience weight loss after switching food brands, don’t be concerned as long as your dog is within the acceptable range. But, then, it might just be nature adjusting itself.
What’s the Recommended Food Intake for a Senior Pet?
As old age catches up to our family pets, their optimal diets can change as well. Senior dogs tend to be more overweight than younger dogs in general, meaning cutting down on calories could be positive. Most food made for senior dogs specifically try to address this fact, which means this type of product tends to be leading to weight loss over time.
However, very old dogs tend to be underweight and would therefore not benefit from eating meals made for senior dogs. Instead, they should be fed plenty of calories and protein to help keep them active and healthy.
Another thing to keep in mind is ensuring your dog gets plenty of protein. According to the American Kennel Club, senior dogs require 50% more protein than younger dogs to help with muscle mass. So regardless of how old your senior pet is, protein is considered a great source of nutrients.
There can be many reasons why your dog might suddenly find itself obsessed with food. It could be due to the dog considering food a limited resource in your home; it could be due to environmental changes, a medical reason, or other sudden changes.
Bringing your canine friend to the vet for a health check lets you rule out any dangerous or life-threatening problems and focus on behavioral issues that you can train yourself or with an expert handler.