Why Does My Dog Eat Everything?

goodpetparent_why-does-my-dog-eat-everythingHave you ever wondered why our dogs sometimes resemble canine vacuum cleaners, “hoovering” up everything on the ground (or the table, or the counter, or…) without showing much hesitation or taste discrimination? Perhaps your dog constantly acts hungry, always begs for food, counter-surfs, or has been caught raiding the garbage can (or worse yet, the cat’s litter box). It seems like dogs are always ready to eat, anything, anytime, anywhere – even after a full meal.

Before you’re tempted to chalk up your dog’s behavior to simply being gluttonous, here are a few scientific explanations for why dogs act this way.

Dogs Explore With Their Mouths

Like human babies, dogs explore their environment with their mouths. As puppies, they’re born blind and deaf, so their mouths, noses, and skin are their only means of taking in sensory stimuli.

As dogs get older (and become aware of the fact that they don’t have the benefit of opposable thumbs like their lucky humans), their mouths allow them to grasp and pick up things they are curious about. This can become a big problem if the thing they happen to be investigating isn’t meant to be eaten! Luckily, many smaller inedible items are often unceremoniously passed in the stool, so many times we’re completely unaware of our dogs’ little dietary indiscretions.

Dogs Are Natural Scavengers

Our dogs’ wild ancestors had the ability to eat whatever was available and flourish. Dogs are omnivores, meaning they eat both meat and plant foods. Thousands of years ago, their ability to scavenge is what eventually led to them to form mutually beneficial relationships with humans. Humans produced garbage, and lots of it - and dogs thrived on it. It was easier, and much more energy-efficient, to scavenge than it was to have to hunt something down and kill it.

Even though we now feed our dogs high-quality, palatable food on a regular schedule, this instinctual behavior is still alive and well in them today.

Bingeing Is Instinctive

Wild dogs knew that consuming food was always a “feast or famine” situation. When the pack was lucky enough to successfully kill prey, they ate as much as they could in one sitting because they knew it could be days (or even weeks) until they found another meal. They also knew that they couldn’t walk away from food, because chances were good that it wouldn’t be there waiting for them when they got back.

Dogs are also natural hunters. So even if your dog has just had a big meal, he may still get a thrill out of “hunting down” that errant potato chip you dropped behind the couch.

Eating Out Of Boredom

Like humans, dogs tend to eat when they’re bored. And due to the aforementioned lack of opposable thumbs, they can’t just open the freezer for a pint of Ben & Jerry’s whenever the mood strikes. That’s one of the reasons why dogs who are left unattended sometimes raid garbage cans or litter boxes. They love to sniff out new things to explore, and if they find something that happens to be edible, too? Bonus!

Medical Reasons For An Insatiable Appetite

Instinctual behavior aside, it’s important to know there are also certain medical conditions that can cause a dog to feel hungry all the time. This condition is known as polyphagia.

Polyphagia can be caused by the onset of diabetes (since a diabetic dog’s body cannot regulate its own blood sugar levels), hyperthyroidism (an overactive thyroid gland), Cushing’s disease (an endocrine disorder), or the presence of intestinal parasites. It can also be caused by malabsorption syndrome, where a dog’s gastrointestinal tract cannot properly absorb the nutrients in food.

If you suspect your dog could have a medical reason for unusual eating behavior, be sure to talk it over with your veterinarian. And if you are suspicious that your dog has swallowed something he shouldn’t, don’t take any chances and call your veterinarian immediately.

So there you have it. Your dog’s penchant for indulging in that week-old, dust-covered garbanzo bean that rolled between the refrigerator and the wall doesn’t show a lack of taste or discrimination…rather, in the words of the immortal Lady Gaga, he was simply “born this way.” 🙂

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Positively Expert: Camille Schake

Camille Schake is a pet blogger, author, and former Registered Veterinary Technician. Through her blog Good Pet Parent, she shares information on pet health, veterinary terminology, and animal behavior and communication.


5 thoughts on “Why Does My Dog Eat Everything?

  1. Christine Lute

    So what kind of food do you give your dog IF you suspect he or she could be border line diabetic? Dog and Cat diabetes are different. A cat's sugar level can be sometimes be controlled by lowering the sugar content in food but a dog is different. What can be reduced in their diet?

  2. Camille Schake

    Hi Christine! Is there a specific reason (or reasons) you suspect your dog may be diabetic? Have you had your dog tested for diabetes (CBC/Profile/Urinalysis)? Usually those test results are fairly accurate in diagnosing diabetes. Regarding the best kind of food for diabetic dogs, it's my understanding that the jury is still out - a "perfect" diabetic protocol with regard to diet has yet to be determined. Many researchers believe that a meat-based, high-protein, low-carb, moderate fat diet is best for dogs with diabetes, and that less than 30% of the calories should come from carbohydrates. They also recommend that any carbs present should be low-glycemic (like pumpkin, squash, barley, or sorghum). The main idea is to keep blood glucose levels steady and low. Feeding at consistent times can help with this too. Of course, a good veterinary nutritionist is always your best bet when it comes to finding a healthy diet for your diabetic dog. Hope this helps! ~Camille

  3. Julie M

    My 3 yr old eats everything, not chewing literally eats. He has eaten a supersized Symphony candy bar, things out of bathroom garbage, Aspercreme, dental sticks (toothpicks) and today he literally ate about 5 flour tortillas. HE EATS EVERYTHING, only mentioned a few things, and I don't know how to stop it. He only does this when he is alone, has an abundance of toys to keep him active for the 8 hrs he's alone. We KNOW, my son or I, as soon as we walk through the door that he has eaten something cuz he hides under the bed. He's never been abused, have had him since birth, but we do pick him up, after we finally get him from hiding, take him to the evidence, tell him sternly yet not raising our voice "no, that's a bad dog" but yet it keeps happening. He's been doing this for about 2 yrs now and I'm very frustrated to point of no return. One time I left individually wrapped candy on my bed, he disappeared and got very quiet, I remembered I had forgotten candy on bed. Gone he had already eaten it all, rolos and Hersey kisses, about 20 pieces total. Can you please help??

  4. Jewels

    He's hiding under the bed because he knows you're upset and will scold him, but he doesn't understand why. He can't make the connection between what he did earlier and your being upset now. Their minds simply don't work that way.

    (Note: This is strictly an example. I do *not* believe anyone should hit kids or dogs. Negative reinforcement, let alone physical violence, is one of the *least* effective ways to teach children and it is even less effective with animals.)

    If you catch a 2.5 year old right *in the act* of playing with an electrical socket and spank them, they might understand that playing with the socket is why you spanked them. It's not guaranteed, but they might grasp that A = B because B happened right after A. They may also think you hit them for any number of other reasons, or just think that's what people do.

    If you find out that a two year old was playing with the electrical socket a few hours after they did it, take them to the socket, tell them you know they played with it and that it's naughty, then spank them, you'll have a very confused toddler who has *no* idea why you just hit them. They may be able to repeat what you said - that they were naughty - but there is *no* connection in their mind between what *they* did hours ago and what *you* did now. Their minds simply don't work that way at that age.

    It's the same with a dog. Their mental ability is around a 2-3 year old. They can recognize that you're upset, but cannot connect that what they did back then is why you're upset now.

    If you catch a dog *while* they're digging in the trash and scold them, they'll - eventually - make the connection that digging in the trash is bad.

    If you come home, find the trash on the floor, and scold the dog, the dog is going to make a connection between the trash being on the floor and you being upset - but he's not going to realise that you're upset with him because *he* put the trash on the floor. He doesn't see the trash and think, "Oh yeah. I dug that out before my last nap. Oops."

    Meaning that you're teaching him that trash being on the floor upsets you - but not teaching him to stay out of the trash. He literally *can't* think next time you're gone, "Digging in the trash gets it all over the floor, which is bad, so I can't dig in the trash." Delayed cause and effect simply doesn't exist with dogs. He may get upset when there's garbage on the floor because he knows you don't like it, but that's it.

    In short, you have to catch your dog in the act to have your scolding do anything but confuse him. In the meantime, I suggest walking him more, making sure he gets plenty of exercise (a tired dog is a good dog - lol.) You may also want to try treat filled Kongs. Some people actually fill them with peanut butter and treats or such and then freeze them. That can keep a dog entertained for hours.

  5. Positively

    You are close, Crystal 🙂 Positive does indeed mean adding something to the environment, when we are talking about learning theory. Positive reinforcement means adding something to the environment to reinforce the behavior. The example you used of hitting a dog would presumably be done to decrease or to stop a behavior (which method we obviously do NOT recommend!) so in your example, this would be positive punishment. Thanks for writing! The Team at Positively

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