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While eating disorders are well known in humans, not many people know about the eating disorders that affect dogs.

Animals have different reasons for having unusual eating habits, but they can be just as troubling for concerned pet parents.

Here are six eating disorders that can affect dogs.

1. Overeating


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Dogs who eat too much face the risk of obesity and the complications that come with being overweight, including joint stress, heart disease, liver disease, and kidney problems. Overeating is usually a problem with feeding for dogs, meaning that food is too readily available whenever they want it.

Many owners assume that a dog begging means that they’re hungry, but most dogs are opportunistic eaters. They will eat what they can whenever they can get it, whether they’re full or not.

This is normal canine behavior, which means that you, as the pet parent, have to regulate how much food your dog is allowed to eat.

corgi dog besides a bowl of kibble food

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Overeating isn’t always caused by a dog’s humans, however. Hormonal diseases like hypothyroidism or Cushing’s disease can cause weight gain. A slowing metabolism as a dog ages can also be a cause.

Certain breeds are also more prone to gaining weight. In these circumstances, diet must be adjusted so that dogs aren’t overeating and gaining too much weight.

Even eating the same amount as they did before the onset of disease, eating as much as other dogs of a different breed, or eating as much as they did when they were young can be overeating.

2. Under-Eating Or Anorexia

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It’s not unusual for a dog to skip a meal here or there. But when dogs stop eating entirely, they can suffer serious consequences.

Anorexia in dogs can lead to symptoms like pain, fever, jaundice, shortness of breath, weak lungs and heartbeat, abdomen distension, and changes in organ size.

Dog Great Dane eating in bed

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There are many causes for under-eating in dogs, and it can be one of the first indicators of disease. Consult a vet if your dog stops eating. Diseases that affect the autoimmune, respiratory, gastrointestinal, bone, endocrine, or neurological systems can lead to a loss of appetite due to pain or obstruction.

Under-eating can also be caused by aging, cardiac problems, medications, ingestion of toxic substances, or abnormal growths.

Dog examining bowl of dog food

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The problem may not be physical, but rather psychological, brought about when your dog experiences a change in environment or a different daily routine. Separation anxiety can also cause a dog to refuse to eat.

Stress, depression, or a lack of physical activity can all lead to anorexia in dogs. Even the fact that your dog is just a particularly picky eater can cause a refusal to eat.

Since the causes of under-eating are so diverse, it’s important to consult your veterinarian and run tests. You’ll likely have to make some dietary changes, and if the problem becomes serious, your dog may need an IV for some time.

3. Feces Eating Or Coprophagia

Closeup of the hand of a man picking up some dog poop with a bag while his dog sniffs it

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Dogs may eat feces for a number of reasons. Known as coprophagia, feces eating behavior can be dangerous. Parvo, giardia, worms, and a host of bacteria and other parasites can be present in the feces of dogs and other animals.

This habit is fairly common in dogs, and the cause can be hard to pinpoint. It’s also a difficult habit to break, so cleaning up after your dog quickly and avoiding the waste of other dogs and animals on walks are important steps to take.

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A dog might eat feces as a means of gathering information. Detecting the chemical makeup with their sensitive, scent-seeking vomeronasal organ, a dog can learn about which animal left the feces, their pheromones, and their diet among other information.

Sometimes dogs respond to instinctual programming to keep things clean. Female dogs in the wild may eat poop to avoid attracting predators to their puppies. The same can happen with multiple dogs in the household with the submissive dog eating the feces of a dominant dog.

If you punish your dog for pooping in the house, they may develop the habit of eating the evidence to avoid punishment.

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Puppies sometimes eat poop as a means of finding out if what they’re eating is food or not. Most grow out of the habit as adults, but some need to be retrained.

Dogs with poor nutrition may try to recycle their waste to help absorb nutrients they didn’t get the first time around.

Cat poop is high in protein because of their feline diet, and dogs may be attracted to it because of the high protein.

Parasites or pancreatic problems can cause coprophagia. Or dogs might simply eat poop to seek attention.

Because there are so many causes, it’s important to consult your vet if your dog is consuming feces and find possible solutions.

4. Scoffing

Chihuahua puppy eating

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Scoffing or bolting food is when a dog eats food too quickly, often without much chewing. This can lead to choking or gastrointestinal problems such as vomiting, gastric torsion, or bloat.

Scoffing can also lead to behavioral problems. If your dog believes that their food source may be taken away, they may react with aggression when a human or another dog approaches as they’re eating.

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Scoffing may be a behavior that carries over from puppyhood into adulthood. When puppies nurse, they may feel that they have to compete with their littermates for resources.

As this behavior pattern develops, it can especially remain present for adult dogs who live with other animals in the home. But it can appear in dogs who are the only animal in the household, as well.

Certain medical conditions like parasites can affect the body’s ability to absorb nutrients, or nutritionally inadequate food can also cause your dog to feel more hungry than usual and start scoffing food.

Hungry labrador retriever is feeding at home.

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Take a trip to the vet if the scoffing is a new development. Your vet can run tests for parasites or recommend dietary changes. If the behavior is a pattern, make sure your dog eats in a place where they don’t feel that they must compete for food, away from other animals or anything that might take their food source.

There are several feeder bowls that are meant to slow dogs down so they must work for their food. These often contain knobs in the bottom that a dog must work around to get at the food, forcing them to eat slowly.

You may also try hand-feeding or serving your dog small amounts at a time, rather than a full bowl all at once.

5. Pica

Labrador Retriever gnawing a tree damaged by a beaver. Photographed in April in the Moscow region. Russia

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Pica is the consuming of objects that aren’t meant to be food sources. This can be anything from cotton to metal objects to rocks. Anything.

Pica can lead to choking and a host of gastrointestinal problems, including blockages that can be fatal if untreated. The physical causes of pica can be quite serious and include brain lesions, pancreatic problems, or circulatory system abnormalities.

You should take a trip to the vet to rule these out. Other causes are more psychological and require behavior modification.

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Stress and separation anxiety can lead to unusual behaviors like pica, as can boredom or loneliness. Some dogs find it physically and mentally stimulating to chew.

Stressed or frustrated dogs can develop compulsive disorders which show up as behaviors like pica. It’s important to make sure your dog is getting enough exercise and mental stimulation throughout the day. A tired dog is a happy dog.

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Pica may be attention-seeking behavior. If you get upset at your dog for eating things, they may be looking for any reaction from you at all. Even bad attention is some kind of attention.

Dogs may also swallow objects as a form of competition. For example, if you tend to snatch objects from your dog’s mouth, they may swallow just to keep you from taking the object.

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Make sure your dog is mentally and physically stimulated. Remove stress-causing stimuli from their environment. Train your dog to drop objects on command. Treat separation anxiety.

These are all tasks that are easier said than done, and they take time. The best idea is to consult a professional behaviorist or your vet who can help you deal with pica and the underlying causes.

Does your dog have any unusual eating habits? How have you helped to treat them? Let us know in the comments below!

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