Have you noticed in recent weeks that your senior dog has become ravenous? Perhaps they’ve begun to beg for food, are scavenging from tables, and are raiding bins. What is going on with your dog?
There are several reasons that an older dog may develop an increased appetite. If their appetite has begun to alarm you, this article is for you. Everything will be explained below.
7 Reasons Your Senior Dog Is Eating More
1. Diet Change
Many owners will change their older dog onto senior dog food. There is a good reason to do this, as an adult dog food usually contains too many calories and protein for elder dogs. However, starting a lower calorie senior dog food can turn your dog into a ‘feeding machine’.
If their calories are abruptly slashed, it stands to reason that they may go on the lookout for food elsewhere. If you notice your dog’s appetite increase coincides with their diet change, you’ve likely identified the culprit right there.
We can prevent this issue by sticking to feeding guidelines and ‘tweaking’ the amount of the new food given depending on our dogs’ needs. This may mean offering slightly more than is suggested on the back of the packet, at least until your dog’s calorific requirement decreases naturally.
Top Tip: When switching to a senior dog food, opt for a high quality diet that is a complete food. Discuss with your vet which may be best for your golden oldie. This will depend on what medical issues they already have, for example, many of the better senior diets contain joint supplements, probiotics and micronutrients to prevent cognitive decline.
2. New medication
There are some medications that can cause polyphagia (an excess hunger) as an expected side effect. Some of the most notorious ‘appetite stimulants’ are corticosteroids such as Prednisone. Steroids are given for many medical conditions including itchy skin, ear infections and pain control.
Indeed, steroids are often given to older dogs for palliative care if they have cancer growths, painful joints and/or a reduced appetite. They provide many benefits but are renowned for creating ‘dustbin demons’; dogs who will stop at nothing to get more food.
Another common medication that causes an increased appetite is an anti-seizure medicine called Phenobarbital. Those on long-term Phenobarbital can struggle to stay slim due to their constant hunger.
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When a dog is diabetic, signs can include:
- Polyuria/polydipsia (excess urination and excess thirst)
- Excess hunger
- Weight loss
- Skin infections
- Urinary tract infections
- Weak muscles
Diabetes is easily diagnosed as a dog will have excess sugar in their urine and blood that can be detected on simple screening tests.
Diabetes in dogs cannot usually be reversed or cured but can be well managed. The treatment consists of daily insulin injections and provision of a controlled diet. Diabetic dogs need frequent check-ups, to ensure their disease is well-controlled.
There are a wide range of different cancers that dogs can suffer from and older dogs are much more likely to develop a cancer. When the cancer affects areas like the brain, intestines or internal organs this can affect appetite.
For example, a cancer of the intestines can result in improper nutrient absorption. We will usually see ongoing vomiting and diarrhea as well as weight loss. The dog is very hungry but is losing weight as they are in a calorie deficit.
If you’re concerned your dog is displaying some of the signs of cancer, the sooner they can be seen by the vet the better. Some cancers are treatable, while others will be managed with palliative care.
- Interesting read: Does wet dog food hydrate dogs?
5. Cushing’s Disease
A hormonal disorder that tends to affect middle-aged to older dogs, Cushing’s syndrome can make a dog quite unwell. Any breed can be affected but the Yorkshire Terrier, Poodle, and Dachshund are some of the most predisposed.
Symptoms of Cushing’s include:
- A bloated abdomen
- Symmetrical fur loss
- Excessive hunger
- Muscle wastage
- Ongoing skin infections
This hormonal disorder can be pituitary or adrenal-dependent. Most cases are pituitary-dependent and caused by a slow-growing tumor within the brain.
Treatment of Cushing’s syndrome includes daily medication and the management of any concurrent issues such as skin disease and urinary tract disease. Dogs need regular monitoring of their condition with blood tests.
6. Canine Cognitive Decline
As a dog gets older, it is not uncommon for them to suffer with ‘doggy dementia’ or canine cognitive decline. This disease tends to progress slowly and insidiously and many owners mistake it for the normal aging process.
When a dog develops dementia, they may start to do strange things like howling at night, pacing and walking in circles. You might also find they begin to toilet inside, seem confused, and are less sociable.
Some dogs will become food-obsessed. This is thought to be because they have ‘forgotten’ that they have recently eaten so constantly think that dinner is due. If you indulge your dog, they are likely to gain a lot of weight quickly.
We cannot reverse this condition but we can do some things to help improve our dog’s quality of life. Having a consistent routine and a calm and predictable environment at home can be very helpful for these guys. It is also thought that feeding a brain-supportive diet and supplements may be useful.
Those with dementia benefit from daily training sessions and ‘brain games’ as well as food puzzles. Of course, this is only if they are up for it. It is also worth discussing a prescription medication called Propentofylline with your vet.
Intestinal worms are not only something that affects puppies and young dogs, they can be an issue at any age. Senior dogs are most at risk from parasites if they spend a lot of time outside, eat grass or other dogs’ poo, are raw fed or have fleas.
It is advised that all dogs are routinely de-wormed; every 3 to 6 months depending on their lifestyle. Use a broad-acting de-wormer, ideally one that has been issued by your vet.
Signs of worms can include diarrhea, an excess hunger, a dull coat, a bloated tummy and vomiting. Worms are not always visible as many are microscopic.
As fleas can carry tapeworm, we need to be on top of flea control too. Those dogs who live with cats are most commonly affected by fleas and signs can include itchy and bald skin, particularly above the rump.
Should I worry if my senior dog is eating more than before?
While you may at first be happy to see your dog tucking into their dinner with purpose, an increase in appetite in an older dog can be a red flag. If your dog is suddenly ravenous, this needs to be discussed with your vet.
Should my senior dog have a different food?
It is typically advised that we change our dogs from an adult to senior food as they age. When exactly your dog is classed as a ‘senior’ depends on their breed and lifestyle. For a Great Dane, this may be as young as six. For a small breed like a Chihuahua, we are looking at closer to the age of 11.
Senior dog foods usually have less calories so some owners will notice their dog is asking for more food. Despite this, their weight should not change as they are not clinically unwell. In the first few weeks, you may need to ‘tweak’ the amount of senior food given.