Answers From Experts October 1999 Issue

A Dog Who Is Always Hungry

We adopted our rescue dog about a year ago. She had been a stray, and at the time we adopted her the vet thought she was about ten months old. Ever since we’ve had her she has had the same symptoms – she doesn’t seem to be able to properly digest her food. She is ravenously hungry all the time. She will eat unlimited amounts of anything – fruits, vegetables, yogurt, bread, anything she can get her paws on. And her stools are not normal; she has about four bowel movements per day, and they get progressively softer throughout the day.

She has been dewormed several times, had blood tests (for pancreatic enzymes, vitamin absorption, etc.), stool tests, had an endoscopy and a biopsy (they found a thickened abnormal intestine lining, but nothing else), she has been treated with various antibiotics, steroids, pepcid, we have tried different foods. Nothing seems to make a difference. She has seen two vets, one an internal medicine specialist.

The good news is she is a beautiful dog, she has a healthy coat, she is playful and never seems to be uncomfortable.

A dog who eats twice as much as other dogs,
but is always hungry anyway, often benefits
from a digestive enzyme supplement, as well
as a good vitamin/mineral supplement.

-Amy Mall
Los Angeles, CA


We directed this question to Carolyn Blakey, DVM, of the Westside Animal Clinic in Richmond, Indiana. Dr. Blakey has been practicing veterinary medicine for 32 years, the last four in an all-holistic practice. She especially enjoys serving as a holistic veterinary consultant to clients all over the country. (click here for contact information for Dr. Blakey.)

First, the reason the dog is so hungry is because she is starving – not starving for lack of food, of course, but she is starving for a lack of nutrients.

This dog sounds like she has a disorder called pancreatic enzyme insufficiency, which is characterized by a ravenous appetite, voluminous stool, and failure to gain weight. It is caused by a loss of function of the portion of the pancreas that produces the digestive enzymes, and generally, this can be determined by measuring the pancreatic enzymes in the blood. Digestive enzymes help the dog move food to the molecular level, and are critical to proper digestion. Even though you mentioned that the vets had checked the dog’s pancreatic enzymes, and presumably found her enzymes to be in the “normal” range, I would suspect that she’s not getting the pancreatic enzymes she needs to properly digest and benefit from her food.

In my experience, if you give these “hungry” dogs a simple digestive enzyme supplement, the problem will resolve itself. There are many digestive enzyme supplements available (see “Resources,” page 24, for a some suggested products). I might also suggest putting the dog on a really good vitamin-mineral supplement. Wysong makes a product called C-Biotic that contains digestive enzymes, vitamins, and minerals, and it seems to make a tremendous difference. I’d give this supplement to a dog that is always hungry, or always having loose stools, or any dog with symptoms of maldigestion. Even if blood tests show that the pancreas is allegedly kicking out “enough” enzymes, supplementation with additional enzymes can reduce the burden that a stressed pancreas has to carry.

Some veterinarians have theorized that some of these hungry dogs don’t have enough stomach acidity to digest their food properly. I’ve also had great results with giving the dog one of Standard Process’ supplements for this – their product called “Betaine Hydrochloride” helps acidify the entire gastrointestinal tract; making the stomach a little more acid makes it do its job better. One experiment that might be worth trying is adding raw apple cider vinegar (a tablespoon for medium to large dogs, a teaspoon for small to medium dogs) to the dog’s food, to see if that improves her digestion and decreases her appetite.

And of course, you have to be thinking about a real food, natural diet for this animal. And particularly, consider finding food that the dog has to chew up; the digestive enzymes in dog saliva are very important for their digestion, much more so than ours. Dogs tend to just snarf their kibble and canned foods; there is very little chewing involved, which eliminates a very important digestive aid. So, if you can find a way to get that saliva going and mixing with the dog’s food before it gets down the dog’s throat, they have got a better crack at digestion. The best way to do this is feeding the dog raw bones that have chunks of meat all over them. The dog who has to chew and pull and wrestle to get his food off the bone gets the most digestive enzyme action.

Improving the quality of the dog’s food would help, but so might a simple change of the dog’s food. I have found dogs that can’t handle certain brands of foods. Often, it’s not even a matter of one or two ingredients that causes a problem, it’s just something about the formulation. You can sometimes feed a dog a different food with all the same ingredients, but made by a different manufacturer, and the dog starts improving. You mentioned that you’ve tried a few foods; if you can’t feed a “real food” diet, at least consider trying another food manufacturer or two. Good luck!

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