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Many dog owners are unaware of eating disorders in dogs. They are more common than you think. There are a number of speculations on why eating disorders in dogs occur. Most veterinary experts come to the conclusion that it could be the result of a medical condition or a psychological one.

Eating disorders may be a perceived or even owner-induced behavioral problem that’s brought about by the way mealtimes happen in a household. For example, an intermittently skipped meal now and again, natural fasting on a more routine basis, a naturally minimal appetite, a reaction to hot weather, or flat-out failure to eat anything at all (which might result from something like past severe emotional trauma such as that which occurs after abandonment or cruelty, grief or illness).

Eating disorders can pose serious health issues and complications to your dog. The best idea is to consult a professional behaviorist or your vet who can help you deal with it and the underlying causes.

Common Eating Disorders in Dogs

1. Overeating

Dogs who eat too much face the risk of obesity and the complications that come with being overweight, including joint stress, heart disease, liver disease, and kidney problems. Overeating is usually a problem with feeding for dogs, meaning that food is too readily available whenever they want it.

Many owners assume that a dog begging means that they’re hungry, but most dogs are opportunistic eaters. They will eat what they can whenever they can get it, whether they’re full or not.

This is normal canine behavior, which means that you, as the pet parent, have to regulate how much food your dog is allowed to eat.

Overeating isn’t always caused by a dog’s humans, however. Hormonal diseases like hypothyroidism or Cushing’s disease can cause weight gain. A slowing metabolism as a dog ages can also be a cause.

2. Undereating(Anorexia)

Anorexia in pets is quite different from that of a human. Rather than being just a mental or psychological disease, anorexia in pets can also be a clinical sign of something going on within the body or in their environment.

There are 2 types of dog anorexia which can contribute to health problems:

  • Pseudo-anorexia: Which means the dog is hungry but cannot eat the food because of discomfort or pain it experiences when eating the food. This includes difficulty swallowing or chewing the food, an obstruction within their digestive tract, an illness or infection, or an allergic reaction to the food causing more discomfort.
  • True anorexia: It could be the result of a psychological problem, such as stress or changes in routine, environment, or diet overpowering their desire for food.

Other causes can be linked to:

  • Old age
  • Cardiac (heart) failure
  • Toxicities and drugs
  • Growth within the stomach
  • Parasites

3. Pica

The ingestion of nonfood items, known as pica, tends to occur more in dogs than cats.

The list of nonfood objects that veterinarians have retrieved from the digestive tracts of pets is nothing short of amazing: knives, razor blades, steel guitar strings, children’s toys, nails, socks, screwdrivers and even rocks.

The problem with pica is that the items consumed can cause serious blockage in the digestive tract. These items may either get tangled in the sensitive intestine, or be unable to pass, resulting in major illness followed by emergency surgery or endoscopy.

Signs that your pet may be experiencing an intestinal blockage include:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Straining to pass stool
  • Loss of appetite
  • Drooling
  • Lethargy

4. Stool Eating(Coprophagia)

Coprophagia is the practice of eating stool (feces). There’s nothing more disgusting to a dog owner than seeing their dog eat its own or another dog’s stool.

Stool eating is not abnormal behavior for canines in certain situations. Bitches naturally consume their own pup’s feces – presumably, to keep the nest clean. This behavior provides a survival benefit as it prevents unhygienic conditions from developing in the nest

In many cases, dogs start to eat their own poop because of some kind of environmental stress or behavioral triggers, including:

  • Isolation: Studies have shown that dogs who are kept alone in kennels or basements are more likely to eat poop than those dogs who live close to their people.
  • Restrictive confinement: Spending too much time confined in a small space can cause the problem. It’s not unusual to see coprophagia in dogs rescued from crowded shelters.
  • Anxiety: Often a result of a person using punishment or harsh methods during house training. According to this theory, dogs may eliminate and then eat their own poop to get rid of the evidence, but then they are punished more. It becomes a vicious cycle.

You should also consult with your vet to rule out health problems like:

  • Parasites
  • Diets deficient in nutrients and calories
  • Malabsorption syndromes
  • Diabetes, Cushing’s, thyroid disease, and other conditions that might cause an increase in appetite
  • Drugs, such as steroids

5. Scoffing

Scoffing may be a behavior that carries over from puppyhood into adulthood. When puppies nurse, they may feel that they have to compete with their littermates for resources.

As this behavior pattern develops, it can especially remain present for adult dogs who live with other animals in the home. But it can appear in dogs who are the only animal in the household, as well.

Treatment Options for Eating Disorders in Dogs

The treatment options for dog eating disorders may vary according to the causes of the eating disorders. If the dog is affected by a health issue, once this is solved, the eating disorder may also disappear.

Other treatment options for canine eating disorders may include:

  • Providing the dog with a sufficient amount of exercise and mental stimulation
  • No free-feeding (can be a solution for overeating)
  • Feeding the dog separately, if you have a multi-dog household (to prevent scoffing)


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