What Are the Signs of a Truly Hungry Dog?

Wondering how to tell if your dog is hungry — or just bored? We go through the signs of a hungry dog and some guidelines for how much to feed your four-legged friend.

A hungry dog looking up from his food and water bowls.
A hungry dog looking up from his food and water bowls. Photography by damedeeso/Thinkstock.

When it comes to eating, most dogs are seemingly bottomless pits. Not only are they used to having their meals at regular times, they’re also used to manipulating their owners into giving them snacks and treats between meals. The calories add up over time, and lead to weight gain, digestive problems and a host of other health issues. People have enough trouble making the distinction between need and desire for food, so how can we tell whether we have a hungry dog — or one who’s just bored?

The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention‘s 2016 survey of veterinary professionals and pet owners reveals that the portly Pug you see on your daily walk is not an outlier. Indeed, the survey found that over half, or approximately 42 million American dogs, are either overweight or obese. Since dog nutrition needs differ widely by size, age, breed and genetics, it can be difficult for dog owners to determine just how much food is ideal for their canine companions.

A dog sitting at the table looking hungry or bored.
Is this a hungry dog or a bored dog? Photography by fotyma/Thinkstock.

Are you feeding your dog too much? Too little?

If your dog feeding schedule has you filling a bowl even once a day, chances are your dog is not, by any definition of the word, “hungry.” According to veterinarian Dr. Lou Budik, as long as they have ready access to fresh water, dogs that are “relatively healthy can go three, four, five days without food, many even longer than that.” A truly hungry dog, at least in a comfortable domestic setting, is a rarity.

This doesn’t mean you should put an overweight dog on a starvation diet. But since over half of American dogs are overweight, it does mean that one out of every two people reading this is probably over-feeding their dog on a regular basis. The differences between dog sizes, breeds and ages mean that the amount and frequency of feeding is spread between a number of factors. If you’re wondering, “How often should I feed my dog?” here are some very basic guidelines:

  • Puppies: Three small meals per day.
  • Small adult dogs: Two small meals per day.
  • Medium to large adult dogs: Two well-portioned meals per day.
  • Large to giant adult dogs: One well-portioned meal per day.
  • Senior dogs: One to two smaller meals per day.

These are sweeping generalizations. There is no universal dog feeding guide calculator. Much depends on the health and activity level of your individual dog — let’s look at those factors next.

How much food should your dog eat? Activity level matters!

Does your dog sit on the couch so much that he practically has his own indentation in the couch pillow, fitted neatly to his curled-up girth? Daily, or at least regular, exercise plays a part. In many cases, a hungry dog — or a dog who seems hungry — is actually just in need of more physical activity. I try to walk my dog, Baby, every day. Realistically, it works out to about 4-5 times each week. Movement uses energy, and energy expended means a dog needs nutrients to replenish it.

Regular exercise affects digestion, too. At Dogster, we think a lot about dog poop. A healthy dog eating wet food can move their bowels within 4 hours after eating. The same amount of dry food might take 8 hours. Each of these times to evacuation are affected by motility, or the operation of the muscles in the digestive tract. A dog that exercises regularly moves and processes the food he eats more efficiently than a sedentary dog.

Environmental factors also influence dog hunger

Even weather affects how much a dog should eat! I typically feed Baby twice a day. During the hot summer months in North Carolina, I’ve noticed that a bowl of food I leave for her in the morning is untouched when I get home from work. Summer heat drives dogs to cool resting spots where they do not need or use much energy.

My dog’s need for food, her hunger, if you will, is diminished when she is less active. This year, I started feeding her one smaller meal during the dog days of summer, and found that she was better about finishing it. The same principle — energy expended guiding the amount of food you provide — can be applied to any dog, regardless of environmental conditions.

When it comes to dog hunger and feeding your dog — consult with the pros

I learned, through a lot of wasted dog food over the last three summers, about how my dog’s need for food changes over the course of the year. If there is that much variance in my dog, imagine the task in trying to prescribe to all dog owners how much food their dogs need!

Suggested portion sizes on dog food bags and containers are only that, suggestions, and vary by manufacturer. The surest and most foolproof way to determine if you have a hungry dog on your hands and how much your dog should eat, at all times of year and at every stage in their lives, is to consult with your veterinarian.

Originally published in 2017.

Thumbnail: Photography by damedeeso/Thinkstock.

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39 thoughts on “What Are the Signs of a Truly Hungry Dog?”

  1. We have a 13 week old Doberman puppy, she’s having runny poop issues at the moment. we have been to the vets numerous times and she’s currently on antibiotics. She’s had her stools checked and was all negative. She has been put on vetinary diet tinned food, we are giving her half a tin per meal three times a day as recommended by the vet, but after every meal she appears to still be hungry and by a couple of hours later she is wining and sat waiting for more food. Any ideas to what we should do??

  2. 4 year old Sheltie, gets more exercise in cooler weather, gets 1/2 cup of Purina Pro Plan in the morning and 1/2 cup in the afternoon. He eats as if starving, then looks for more. The vet said to feed him less, cut out the in between, which we definitely cut back to the smallest just about a taste and he appears starving. Once he starts being able to run around more, he should be good, I won’t let him run in 100 degrees, but then he comes in and finds the nearest ac vent to lay on. 1 cup total broken into 2 meals should be fine but those eyes, the following, the crying! Just ignore him?

  3. There are some interesting cut-off dates on this article but I don’t know if I see all of them middle to heart. There is some validity but I will take maintain opinion till I look into it further. Good article , thanks and we want more! Added to FeedBurner as properly

  4. Stryker and Pedros dad

    I home cook for my dogs. Both are small breed mixed about 15-ish lbs. They get the basic food I make twice daily which is pressure cooked chicken and carrots and steamed broccoli mashed together well. Mornings I add frozen and fresh fruits. Evenings I add bone meal and phytoplankton for the omega 3 ALA’s. They get raw egg a couple times a week and occasionally raw ground beef. I weigh each portion I give them on a digital scale and I add 6.5 oz. of water to each meal to make sure they are well hydrated.
    My older dog – he will be 5 this fall had a prostate infection a couple summers ago and I didn’t catch it in time and he required surgery to remove stones that had formed in his bladder. These stones were the type that Dalmatians are prone to form due to a genetic defect in processing purine, a type of protein. This is why I make their food – Stryker needs a low purine diet and the commercial canned foods designed for such a diet is too expensive. Besides there are no added chemicals in my home made food.

  5. Pingback: Why Is Your Dog’s Stomach Making Noises? A Vet Weighs In – News @ ManyPaws Australia

  6. Pingback: What Are the Signs of a Truly Hungry Dog? – dogcaz.com

  7. I have 2 Maltese 81/2 yrs. I am having a hard time getting the one dog to eat. She acts like I am trying to poison her. She will smell, turn away, come back, same scenario and then finally will eat but only hand fed. Where did she get these crazy habits. When we adopted them they both ate out of their bows and no hand feeding. They are loving and smart except when it comes to eating. I feed them chicken breast, green beans, summer squash and carrots. Probiotics and chondroitin glucosamine for their digestion and joints. Some Days they both snub any kind of food. I would like to have dogs like on t.v. put down a good dog food and have them eat it…..How do I get to that point?

    1. Hi Fran,

      We suggest asking your vet for the best advice. These articles might help provide some insight, too:

  8. I was wondering, what is the right measurements ( 2 cups, 1 cup, 1/2 cup, per meal) for Puppies: Three small meals per day.
    Small adult dogs: Two small meals per day.
    Medium to large adult dogs: Two well-portioned meals per day.
    Large to giant adult dogs: One well-portioned meal per day.
    Senior dogs: One to two smaller meals per day.

    I feed my 10 years old Tibetan Terrier Mix, 2x per day, 1/2 cup in the morning and 1/2 in the evening, and about 3 to 4 small treats per day, but she seems to have a thing for cotton, paper, and if food is at her reach that too is “GONE!”. She is not skinny but not fat, she is about 21 lb,. but I worry that I am starving her as she seems to be always sniffing around looking for something to eat, I can’t leave papers, cotton, she will tear apart and eat at times. Is that a dog thing or I am starving my dog?

    1. Hi Crissy,
      We suggest asking your vet for the appropriate measurements and for more info on appropriate foods to feed your dog.

  9. “I try to walk my dog, Baby, every day. Realistically, it works out to about 4-5 times each week”…I’d really like to think there is a genuinely good reason why the author wouldn’t walk a dog once a day? Is that not an absolute bare minimum requirement for any dog owner? Many breeds would of course need more exercise than that, and it sounds like my dog gets more exercise in a day than this dog does in a week. For me, this comment has totally detracted from the rest of this article’s content.

      1. Old dogs shouldn’t walk to much… But I think otherwise once a day would work.

        Or maybe she walks her dogs for hours? Lol.

  10. I dunno, man. One of my dogs was eating twigs and stuff, basically whatever he could find as dessert right after his dinner. I increased the portion and this stopped. There are occasions where I decrease the portion and he goes back to eating whatever he can find on the floor.

    1. I’d love to see the answer to this one. My dog does what yours does, but increasing the portion hasn’t helped! He constantly cries for more food

      1. You can also add dog-friendly veggies to a meal to make them feel more full without adding a lot of calories. They’ll probably think of it as a treat as well! It is common and easy to do this with green beans. I get the frozen kind and thaw them out, then sprinkle some on top of their normal food portion; or, if the dog needs to lose some weight, I add green beans to replace some of the normal food, reducing their regular food but adding some nutritious, low-calorie “bulk” with the green beans. Also, raw carrots are a good doggy treat/bowl-filler. Feed them to a dog while you are there to watch and make sure they are chewing the carrots instead of just swallowing them.

      2. My dog loves cheese and rice so when she goes looking for more food i either give her cheese from the block or rice with a little more food. I went through a bunch of different vegetables and found that my dog only likes sweet potatoes so every now and then I mix part of a baked or boiled sweet potato into food. My dog is a picky eater so I have to give a variety every now and then so she will keep eating her dog food.

      3. Yes, your dog requires more food and exercise. ten year old dogs can benefit from organic rice and perhaps cooked carrots and peas along with protein – chicken – I add spinach and she loves it! I do this in addition to her regular food and she is a healthy 16 year old! She acts like a puppy and is a miniature dauch- terrier ! Good luck!

  11. I was here to know ‘what are the signs for truly hungry dog’. Not on how much to feed it. Both are different u see! Didnt see a single line mentioned towards justifying your title. Disappointing.What ARE the signs for a truly hungry dog for crying out loud!!!??

      1. I have 5 Pomeranians. Ages 1 threw 12. I feed once a day. And believe me you can tell they are hungry Diner time is 5:30 – 6:00 pm. They bark jump up and down and look at me expectantly. I feed each to their needs. And check regularly to see if I can feel their ribs under a light coat of fat. Mornings they get a treat and sometimes a piece of what I am eating. 🙂 . I am close to 80 so their exercise is not much. The younger ones poop 3 times a day. The older 2 times. They are healthy, happy and always a bit hungry I feed wet and dry and probiotics too. Poops are firm. Have one who is 12 on freeze dried food.. Works good for him. They drink a good amount of water and have chews at times. Teeth are clean and breath pretty good. I believe if your dogs digestion is good his breath is better. Hope this helps some one. Love my dogs.

  12. Cee-Jay Holliday

    Put a bit of fresh pineapple in her meals.
    When it comes out the other end her poop won’t smell so appetising
    Hope it works

    1. Clean up her poop when she poops if it is really bothering you. But it isn’t that bad that she eats her poop.

  13. The basic guidelines for feeding should just have been omitted because as stated in the article, there is just no way to generalilze that. But mainly, the large to giant breed recommendation is just wrong! Large and giant breeds can typically eat five to eight cups of food per day which is way too much to consume in one meal! Eating this much at one time can create vomitting, gastroenteritis and bloat, to name a few. It is also better for a dog’s metabolism to eat twice a day, three times a day for puppies. To anyone reading this, start with the lowest of recommendations for your dog’s ideal weight on the bag of food and then adjust from there depending on how it affects your dog’s weight. Any questions, call your vet!

    1. Totally agree, Liz. Feeding large/giant breeds who are prone to Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus (more commonly known as bloat or torsion) once a day is a recipe for disaster. Deep-chested breeds and tall dogs with narrow necks are considered to be at an elevated risk for this potentially life-threatening condition. For instance, a recent study showed that Great Danes have a 42% chance of experiencing torsion in their lifetime…

      1. Absolutely. Someone should go back and edit this recommendation for giant dogs. It could cause the loss of a life. (Newfie owner)

        1. Well it’s August of 2020 and the recommendation still hasn’t been changed. I think they mean one portion split into two meals, but that is no excuse for leaving this information up there. Giant dogs are prone to bloat, good details in the posts above. Please do not feed giant dogs one large meal a day. Watch out for treats too. Tiny 5 cal treats mean just as much to them as big ones.

  14. My dog is a senior cocker spaniel (15) and I feed her 2 meals. She usually sleeps in the morning but after I feed her around 5 pm, she comes back to her spot to wait for more food! Do you think dogs can “forget” they had food already? Sometimes I think she doesn’t remember she ate… and she looks at me with those lovely eyes, it is so hard to say “no my love, you already had dinner” : (

    1. Does she have any other symptoms of canine cognitive dysfunction? My old dog used to forget that he’d been fed, especially his evening meal.

  15. Let’s not forget that senior dogs of any size benefit from having their daily rations split into two or three smaller meals. Not only does this aid in digestion (all body processes slow with aging) but for seniors it is an important part of maintaining proper blood sugar levels.

    1. Agreed. And I’ve heard it said that having only one meal can be a risk factor for bloat, so I’d give two smaller meals to large breeds as well. Ideally feeding through puzzle toys and/or training is the best, most natural way to go but isn’t always possible.

    2. Thanks for the info but my little dog likes to eat right after we come in from walks but she doesnt eat her hard food much really none at all im worried feeding her treats and steak all the time isnt healthyvshe 14yrs old and over weight abit but thanks for the info

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