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What is Polyphagia?

If your dog is continuously begging for food and seems hungry even when he has been recently fed, he should be seen by a veterinarian. The excessive appetite may be a symptom of a serious, underlying condition. An increase in hunger may be accompanied by an increase in thirst. Weight can be gained or lost despite the hunger.

These changes, as well as other signs of trouble, may indicate health conditions like diabetes or parasitic infestation. Any change in appetite should always be investigated by the veterinarian.

Polyphagia in dogs is the medical term used for an excessive appetite or overeating. A dog with polyphagia has an abnormal and ravenous appetite.

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Symptoms of Polyphagia in Dogs

Symptoms may include: 

  • Increased appetite 
  • Increased thirst
  • Frequent and increased urination
  • Weight loss or gain
  • Panting
  • Change in behavior 
  • Pot belly
  • Vomiting

Causes of Polyphagia in Dogs

Polyphagia may be caused by: 

  • Behavioral issues - Learned behavior due to being overfed or not being fed enough food 
  • Stress and anxiety - A recent move or new pet may be causing anxiety
  • Poor quality dog food may be leaving your dog hungry
  • Pregnancy or nursing
  • Parasites in the dog’s intestines, which then cause malabsorption of nutrients
  • Inflammatory bowel disease is a condition which causes the intestine to be intruded by inflammatory cells 
  • Cushing’s syndrome -  Also known as hyperadrenocorticism, this occurs when your dog’s adrenal glands produce too much cortisol hormone 
  • Diabetes mellitus - Sugar diabetes occurs when the pancreas no longer manufactures enough insulin
  • Hyperthyroidism can cause an increased metabolism, which then leads to excessive hunger
  • Pancreatic exocrine insufficiency -  This condition causes food not to be properly digested; therefore, nutrients are not absorbed by the dog’s body 

* Medications such as prednisone or thyroid supplements can increase a dog’s appetite

Diagnosis of Polyphagia in Dogs

The veterinarian will want to go over your dog’s medical history; be certain to inform the veterinarian if your dog is on any medications or dietary supplements. The veterinarian may also want to go over vaccination and deworming records.  The veterinarian will want to know when you noticed the increase in appetite and if you have observed any other symptoms.  

A physical examination will include taking the weight, temperature, heart rate, and blood pressure of your pet, as will listening to the lungs and palpating the abdominal area. To help diagnose the underlying reason for the increased appetite, the veterinarian may suggest a complete blood count, serum chemistry panel, urinalysis and a fecal flotation test.  

A complete blood count can help determine the dog’s platelets, hemoglobin, hematocrit, red and white blood cell count.  A serum chemistry panel can help check organ function.  A urinalysis is used to detect urinary tract infections, bladder stones, kidney disease and diabetes. A fecal flotation test checks for mature parasites and parasite larvae.

Depending on the results of the preliminary diagnostic tests, the veterinarian may also recommend x-rays, ultrasound, endoscope, CT or an MRI. These procedures may require a sedative or general anesthesia to be administered to the patient.

If the veterinarian suspects Cushing’s disease he may suggest a dexamethasone suppression test and a urine cortisol-to-creatinine ratio.

Treatment of Polyphagia in Dogs

The treatment plan will depend on the underlying cause of the polyphagia. If the reason for the excessive eating is due to stress, anxiety, or behavioral issues, the veterinarian may refer you to an animal behaviorist. This professional can make suggestions to help with the excessive eating.

A canine diagnosed with diabetes mellitus will require daily insulin injections and a modified diet. Cushing’s disease is managed with medications.  Patients diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome may need dietary management and immunosuppressant medications.

Dams that are pregnant or nursing may be placed on nutritional supplements and be prescribed an increase in caloric intake. 

A  dog with intestinal parasites will need to be de-wormed.  His bedding, kennel, blanket and toys must be cleaned to help prevent a re-infestation. Additionally, the yard should be cleaned of feces and treated for parasites. If there are other pets in the house, they should also be treated for parasites.

Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency may require dietary modifications and medications. The veterinarian can help you determine what the best diet is for your dog.  Feeding the dog table scraps should be avoided.

Hyperthyroidism is sometimes caused by a tumor.  If there is a tumor it may need to be surgically removed. If the tumor is malignant (cancerous) the veterinarian oncologist may recommend chemotherapy and radiation treatments.

Recovery of Polyphagia in Dogs

The recovery prognosis will depend on the underlying cause of polyphagia.  It is important to follow the veterinarian’s treatment plan.  Follow-up visits will be necessary to monitor the dog’s progress. Repeat blood tests and imaging may be necessary.

It is recommended that dogs be seen once a year for a wellness examination. Elderly dogs and puppies should be seen more often.  Regular wellness visits will help ensure your dog stays healthy.