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My smartphone chimes, alerting me that in 10 minutes, I have a telephone interview for an article I’m writing. I reach into the cupboard and remove a bag of my dog, Chase’s, cookies. He sits next to me, drooling. I hand him a cookie. No, make that two. I can’t take any chances that he’ll cause a commotion during my interview. It’s as if Chase knows that when I’m speaking on the phone, I am vulnerable to his food demands. It’s also when he begs most insistently — whining, circling, and batting my computer with his paw.
Does the sight of a telephone really incite Chase into a frantic state of hunger, or did I create this learned behavior? Much like a child cries and tugs on his mother’s dress hem, Chase may have been seeking my attention, according to Nicholas Dodman, BVMS, DACVB, director of the Animal Behavior Clinic at Tufts University’s Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine in North Grafton, Massachusetts.
To pacify Chase, I proffered cookies, unwittingly “rewarding” him for his persistence. “If you respond to a certain behavior by giving a dog food, then you will get more of that behavior,” Dodman said. These days, I might as well be holding a cookie-shaped phone, because that’s what Chase now sees.
“Food-driven behavior probably relates back to 10,000 years ago, when dogs lived in packs,” said Mark Stickney, clinical associate professor in the Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences at Texas A&M’s College of Veterinary Medicine in College Station. “They ate as much as they could whenever they could because they didn’t know when the next meal was coming.”
Excessive hunger is sometimes a warning sign of an underlying medical condition, so your first stop should be your veterinarian for a full physical examination. Common medical causes of hunger in dogs are:
Stickney and Dodman agreed that a dog experiencing unexplained hunger should receive a veterinary physical, including a complete blood count (CBC), chemistry panel, and urinalyses. “Based on the dog’s history, clinical signs, and initial laboratory workup, the veterinarian will then order any additional testing necessary to confirm a diagnosis,” Stickney said.
As for Chase, his veterinarian long ago ruled out a possible medical issue, and I have learned to cheerily indulge his selective telephone-time begging. He’s 14 years old and at a healthy weight, so it’s the least I can do.
As a canine nutrition consultant, I work with many clients who struggle with satisfying their canine chowhound. Here are my tips to help control an always-hungry dog:
Read more on feeding your dog:
About the author: Diana R. Laverdure, the Pet Food Diva, is an award-winning dog health writer, pet nutrition consultant, and healthy pet food advocate. She is the author (with W. Jean Dodds, D.V.M.) of the new book Canine Nutrigenomics: The New Science of Feeding Your Dog for Optimum Health and is currently writing her dissertation toward her master’s degree in animal science. Her weekly blog posts atpetfooddiva.com discuss creating optimum health in our companion animals based on the principles of nutrigenomics, the science of how diet affects gene expression, and cellular health. Connect with her on thePet Food Diva Facebook page and on Twitter at @PetFoodDiva.