Can dogs have eating disorders? Is there such a thing as dog anorexia? Does my dog overeat for reasons other than hunger? There are many elements that influence dogs and their eating habits, some medical and some psychological. Join us as we turn that speculation into education on all things dogs and eating disorders. If you want to know if your dog can have an eating disorder and how food can affect your dog, scroll on.
Can Dogs Have Eating Disorders?
Can a dog have an eating disorder? The short answer is yes; dogs can have eating disorders. While the specifics may differ from those of humans, studies have shown that dogs do have a similar level of consciousness and emotions to us and can have eating disorders. Whether it is an underlying physical condition or emotional issue, eating disorders in dogs is a serious problem that should be addressed as soon as possible.
To answer can a dog have an eating disorder, we must first take you through the different types of dog eating disorders.
Overeating: This is one most dog owners can relate to. You put the food down, and in seconds it’s all gone. In many cases, your dog will eat regardless of if they are hungry or not. They are opportunistic and natural scavengers and will eat whatever they can get whenever they can get it. As dog owners, we are responsible for ensuring we are feeding our four-legged friends an adequate nutritional diet in appropriate quantities. Exercise is also an essential factor to consider when managing a specific weight for your dog. If your dog is overweight, we recommend measuring their meals to ensure they consistently eat the proper amount and split feeding times into morning and evening rather than one large meal a day.
On the other hand, overeating is not always caused by a ravenous pooch and their owner; there are hormonal factors to consider, such as Cushing’s disease and hypothyroidism. You may even notice that your dog starts to gain weight as they age due to a slower metabolism and less energy exertion while still consuming the same amount of food as when they were younger. If your dog suddenly develops a rapid increase in appetite, we suggest getting them checked by a veterinarian to rule out diseases like polyphagia.
Undereating/Anorexia: We all have the occasional day here and there when our appetite is a little off for no specific reason, and our furry friends are no different. While skipping a meal every now and then isn’t the end of the world, refusing to eat entirely can have severe consequences for your dog. Before jumping to any conclusions, it is important to check that it isn’t something as simple as your dog not liking the taste of their food. We suggest you provide them with some alternative food options to rule out a fussy palette. Also, take note of external factors, such as when and where you feed your dog, if they have any dental or medical issues, their exercise regime and any displayed symptoms of anxiety that will affect your dog’s behaviour at feeding time.
If your dog shows no interest in food or tries to eat but is having difficulty, it can be an early indicator that your dog is unwell. Anorexia in dogs isn’t caused by the desire to lose weight or because they’re unhappy with their body image; it’s generally triggered by an underlying medical problem or psychological issue that deters them from eating. Autoimmune and respiratory diseases, oral or stomach pain, neurological disorders, cancers, ulcers, abscesses, and bone and joint aches can all lead to a loss of appetite. Separation anxiety, lack of exercise, a change in environment, a new family member, the loss of a family member or even loud storms can discourage your dog from eating. Just like overeating, there are several adverse side effects to undereating that include a weak heartbeat, abdomen distension, fevers, loss of fur, low energy levels, jaundice, body aches and changes in organ size.
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Pica: Pica is a disorder that is characterised by eating things that aren’t food and is often associated with a diet deficient in nutrients, vitamins, or minerals. Pica can also be a result of boredom or curiosity. Before you start to panic, there is a difference between your dog chewing your new favourite pair of shoes and actually eating them. Nevertheless, pica is a dangerous habit for your dog and can cause various health problems, such as choking, blockages and gastrointestinal issues.
Coprophagia: The name makes it sound much more pleasant than it is… the consumption of faeces. Besides the fact that it’s downright disgusting, eating faeces can make your dog extremely sick and expose them to parvovirus, worms, parasites, giardia and other nasty diseases. So why do dogs eat poo?
Dogs smell faeces as a way of gathering information – they have a vomeronasal organ that allows them to detect an animal’s pheromones, species, diet and other information – and sometimes they eat the faeces to determine this data.
Mischievous puppies may play with and consume faeces to explore. It is a behaviour, most thankfully, grow out of.
Keeping the area clean. Mother dogs will clean their space and young, often eating the faeces as a result. Some dogs will even eat faeces to remove their scent from perceived threats or to avoid being punished for accidentally toileting in the house.
Nutritional deficiencies are also a reason dogs eat their own or other animal’s faeces – this is due to a lack of vitamins, enzymes or problems absorbing nutrients the first time around. They especially love cat faeces as it is high in protein.
Comfort eating. Some dogs eat to nourish their emotions, and as they cannot help themselves to the kitchen cupboard, they resort to what ‘food’ they can find and eat faeces instead. Believe it or not, some dogs actually like the taste!
Medical issues or attention-seeking behaviour.
Scoffing: Mealtime is exciting for most dogs, but it is essential to ensure they’re not scoffing down their food in record time. Scoffing, especially with minimal chewing, can lead to many medical and behavioural problems for your dog. Although it may seem harmless, scoffing can lead to choking, indigestion, vomiting, bloating and other gastrointestinal problems. Moreover, scoffing can encourage your dog to develop behavioural issues like food aggression, as they believe their food will be taken away. An easy solution is swapping to a slow-feeding bowl to draw out their mealtimes.
How to Help a Dog with an Eating Disorder:
My dog is too skinny, or my dog is too overweight are common concerns we frequently hear from loving pet owners. Fortunately, there are plenty of solutions on how to help a dog with an eating disorder.
To start with, you must first explore the different types of dog eating disorders to determine which category your pooch falls under. Once you know the what, you must then investigate the why. What is the reason why my dog is too skinny, why my dog is too overweight or why they like to eat faeces or rocks? Is it caused by stress, anxiety, disease, boredom, nutrition, instinct and so on? After you’ve established what’s causing the problem, you can then proceed with the correct treatment.
Treatment for a dog with an eating disorder will vary depending on the different types of dog eating disorders. However, if you are concerned about your dog’s immediate health, we advise you to seek urgent veterinarian assistance.
For the overeaters, measuring food, consistent mealtimes and daily exercise are great ways to ensure your fur friend isn’t overeating and gaining too much weight. If you notice a decline in their health, we recommend visiting your local vet to eliminate any hormonal irregularities.
If undereating is a concern, we suggest checking that it isn’t their food they don’t like, external factors and medical issues. If you’re unsure or believe the undereating is due to medical reasons, we advise you to visit your veterinarian as soon as possible.
Pica disorder? Check that your dog’s diet is sufficient and that they aren’t lacking any crucial nutrients. In the interim, remove any items in your dog’s reach that could cause serious harm if ingested. Providing mental and physical enrichment/stimulation to prevent boredom will also help. Occasionally, pica can be a result of medical issues, such as a brain lesion or circulatory abnormalities, so it can be worth getting this looked at.
To avoid any short-term mishaps if your dog suffers from coprophagia, we recommend cleaning up after your dog as soon as they’ve done their business. Steering clear of other animal faeces when out and about is also advised while determining the root cause of the problem.
The easiest way to stop a dog from scoffing is to use a slow-feeding bowl. You can even stagger their mealtimes to provide some enrichment and excitement during the day.
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There are many surprising answers and effective solutions surrounding dogs and their relationship with food. So, if you’re concerned that your dog may have an eating disorder, it is important to explore the different types of dog eating disorders, how to help a dog with an eating disorder and the treatment for a dog with an eating disorder.