If your senior dog is always hungry lately, there could be a number of reasons why. Today we’re going to talk about five possible reasons why your senior dog is always hungry, how to test for them, what to do about them on diagnosis, and just how extensive management is going to be.
5 Reasons Why Your Senior Dog is Always Hungry
Any senior dog parent can tell you that when your dog hits their senior years, things can start to go a little bit…pear-shaped.
Just like humans, as our dog’s age, their bodies tend to do peculiar things – not always – but sometimes.
One complaint that I hear often from senior dog parents is that their senior dog is ALWAYS hungry.
My first response is to ask whether they have booked in to see their vet.
Let me break briefly to mention that if ANYTHING seems off with your senior dog, you need to head to your vet. Just like new puppies, senior dogs can be fragile and things can digress exponentially in just a few hours. So, before you ask a stranger on the internet, CALL YOUR VET!
That said…let’s talk about five of the most common reasons why senior dogs experience an increase in appetite…
1. Canine Cognitive Dysfunction
Increased appetite is just one symptom that is sometimes seen in senior dogs with canine cognitive dysfunction. Similar to dementia in humans, dogs with canine cognitive dysfunction can experience any number of changes due to cognitive decline. Although increased appetite is usually not the first symptom you will notice.
Owners of dogs with canine cognitive dysfunction may also notice their dogs exhibiting an increase in anxiety, housebreaking accidents, pacing, changed sleep habits, and confusion.
Assessment By Your Vet
A visit to the vet will allow your vet to assess your dog’s symptoms and take a look at them for any alternate causes. With other causes ruled out, most veterinarians will prescribe Anipryl to help ease symptoms of CCD.
CCD can be managed with medication, however, like dementia in humans, it does not “go away”. Most dogs with CCD will eventually show an increase in symptoms and decline in quality of life but with proper management, this can be slowed.
2. Poor Diet or the Wrong Diet
As your dog ages, their nutritional needs may change. These changes are related to individual changes in your dog’s body due to age. For example, many senior dogs require higher quality proteins (not less protein!) and nutrients that are more bio-available. Why? Because bio-available nutrients require less work by the body to put the nutrients to use as energy. If your dog’s body has to work too hard to extract nutrients from the food you are giving them (or if the food offers minimal nutrients) they simply don’t have the energy needed to fuel their bodily systems.
Dogs with a poor diet or the wrong diet for their needs may also exhibit other symptoms including poor coat, itching, listlessness, lethargy, large amounts of waste, flatulence, diarrhea, weight gain, vomiting, and refusal to eat
Assessment By Your Vet
If you suspect that your dog’s diet has something to do with their always being hungry, talk to your vet about your dog’s specific needs. Does your dog have a specific health condition that requires more or less of something in their diet? Are you feeding your dog a bargain food that simply offers too little nutrition?
A quick assessment and a frank conversation with your vet will help you to identify a better diet for your dog that doesn’t leave them feeling quite so “flat”.
Hyperthyroidism is when the thyroid gland which produces hormones that regulate various bodily processes including the metabolism. As increased levels of Thyroxine are produced by the thyroid, the metabolism speeds up and your dog winds up constantly hungry!
Hyperthyroidism is not all that common in dogs, but thyroid disorders are more commonly seen in middle to older aged dogs.
Dogs with hyperthyroidism tend to exhibit other symptoms including weight loss, increased thirst, increased urination, enlargement of the thyroid gland, breathing pattern changes, and hyperactivity.
A very small percentage of dogs with hyperthyroidism, however, exhibit “opposite” symptoms!
Assessment By Your Vet
If your dog shows signs of possible hyperthyroidism, your vet will begin by simply feeling the thyroid gland. In cases where the gland is swollen or abnormal to the touch, you can be almost certain your dog’s increased appetite is related to the thyroid. From here your vet will need to run a urinalysis and a chemical blood profile with thyroid testing. Most commonly dogs with hyperthyroidism will have an excess of T4 in their serum and this confirms a diagnosis.
In some cases, your vet may need to perform additional testing, such as imaging of the thyroid gland, to get a better picture of your dog’s thyroid health.
Prognosis for hyperthyroidism depends on the cause.
There are three common causes for hyperthyroidism, these include over-functioning thyroid nodules, a response to medications being used to treat hypothyroidism, and the presence of a tumor prompting the thyroid to overproduce hormones.
Over-functioning thyroid nodules can be managed with thyroid medications that limit the thyroid function such as methimazole or carbimazole. These medications are very affordable and generally do very well managing the condition.
When a dog experiences hyperthyroidism as a result of medications being used to treat hypothyroidism, the condition can usually be remedied with tweaking of medications. Reducing hypothyroid medications will help to achieve a better balance in thyroid function.
If hyperthyroidism is the result of a tumor on the thyroid glad then the prognosis is highly variable depending on numerous factors. In some cases, the thyroid gland can be removed (usually done when only one gland is affected), in other cases the tumor can be removed, in some cases, only part of the tumor can be removed, and in other cases, the tumor is too involved to be removed. Radioactive therapy can also be used to treat thyroid tumors. Dogs that undergo any treatment for thyroid tumors must be monitored extensively by the vet during and after the procedure and dietary changes may be necessary for your dog too.
4. Medication Side Effects
As your dog gets older, they tend to have more medications added to their daily routine. Some of these medications come with side effects like increased appetite!
Medication side effects run the gamut.
Assessment By Your Vet
If your dog’s increased hunger coincides with the addition or modification of a medication, talk to your vet about your suspicions. Your vet will talk to you about whether this is a common occurrence and whether or not there is an alternative medication your dog can take instead.
When increased hunger is the side effect of a medication, it is best to try an alternate medication that has a lower incidence of side effects. If no alternative medication exists, talk to your vet about lowering dosage or counteracting side effects with other medications or behavioral/routine changes. For example, you may want to split your dog’s meals into multiple portions throughout the day to reduce hunger.
5. Cushing’s Disease
When it hits, Cushing’s disease tends to hit older dogs. It comes with a wide variety of symptoms and can be the result of a pituitary gland tumor or a tumor on one of the adrenal glands.
Signs of Cushing’s disease are often overlooked in older dogs, however, because they coincide with “typical” signs of aging.
In addition to increased appetite, dogs with Cushing’s disease may also have hair loss, a sagging belly, thinning of the skin, discoloration of the skin, high blood pressure, panting, increased thirst, increased urination, and an increased incidence of infection.
Assessment By Your Vet
If your senior dog shows any signs that something might be “off” it’s always worth a visit to the vet. Cushing’s disease can put your dog at critical risk if allowed to progress.
Unfortunately, many vets overlook the possibility of Cushing’s disease, so if you suspect it may be an issue for your dog, don’t be afraid to ask to have them tested!
Testing involves a urinalysis as well as blood testing. This preliminary testing will give your vet a basic idea of whether or not Cushing’s disease could be a possibility. From here, you will need to book a more comprehensive test (which unfortunately is not cheap.) This comprehensive test or low-dose dexamethasone suppression test (LDDS) will take place over a day and will begin with your vet taking your dog’s cortisol level. From here, an injection of dexamethasone is given. Your dog then waits 6 to 8 hours and has their cortisol level rechecked. In the average dog, dexamethasone will suppress the release of cortisol and blood cortisol levels will drop. Dogs with Cushing’s disease, however, will show no decrease in cortisol levels.
Other tests may also need to be performed to confirm a Cushing’s diagnosis since Cushing’s disease is one of those awful things that has no one definitive test for diagnosis.
Prognosis for dogs with signs of Cushing’s disease is dependent upon the cause.
Some dogs develop Cushing’s symptoms as the result of corticosteroid medication overuse. In these dogs, slowly weaning off the medications or reducing them will treat symptoms.
Dogs that have pituitary tumor related Cushing’s disease may be put under “watch and wait” care until symptoms worsen. When symptoms become a real problem, your veterinarian will prescribe medication to manage your dog’s symptoms, this is usually mitotane or trilostane. These medications can help to manage symptoms, but they also come with a wide variety of risks and side effects which is why they are not prescribed until they absolutely must be. This type of Cushing’s disease cannot be cured, but should not be left untreated either since it can lead to a variety of serious health conditions. Management of symptoms and close monitoring with blood tests is the best course of action. This option will prolong your dog’s life and reduce any discomfort from symptoms.
Surgery is generally not practical for dogs with pituitary Cushing’s disease.
For dogs with adrenal tumor related Cushing’s disease, imaging tests will be done to assess the tumor and whether or not it has metastasized. If the tumor has metastasized, treatment is usually palliative and centered on symptom management. Surgery may be performed to reduce the tumor size but the prognosis is guarded in this case. If there is no metastasis, veterinarians will generally prescribe Trilostane to reduce the size of the adrenal tumor prior to surgical removal. Once the tumor has been removed, the symptoms of Cushing’s disease should disappear. Following surgery, dogs with adrenal tumor related Cushing’s should be monitored for any recurrence of tumors.
That’s Not All…
There are more than a handful of reasons why your senior dog has an increased appetite including those listed above. These reasons can range from simple age related changes to diabetes to intestinal cancer, so you can see just how important it is to pay that vet a visit!