The control of food intake is possible thanks to the interaction of gastrointestinal, nervous, and environmental factors that, together, work to maintain the energy levels and bodyweight of the animals. However, when an imbalance of these control mechanisms occurs, alterations related to food intake appear, such as polyphagia.
If you want to know what polyphagia is in dogs, its symptoms, causes, and treatment, don’t hesitate to read the following BestPetsLover article in which we also explain what types of this disorder exist.
What is polyphagia in dogs?
Polyphagia is a clinical sign consisting of excessive consumption of food. The control of food intake occurs thanks to the interaction of various factors such as:
- gastrointestinal factors.
- nervous factors.
- Environmental factors.
However, when an imbalance occurs in any of these factors, and eating compulsion appears that causes dogs to consume more food than usual.
Some keepers ration their dogs’ food “intuitively”, taking into account only the amount that manages to satisfy the animal’s appetite. However, this practice can be problematic when the ratio provided does not match:
- The amount of food: which depends on age, breed or size, and activity level.
- The energy that the dog needs daily.
Knowing the volume of food that a dog needs to be based on the energy density of its ratio is essential not only to meet its nutritional and energy needs but also to be able to assess the appearance of alterations in food intake, such as polyphagia.
Whenever you have doubts about the amount of food you should give your dog, do not hesitate to consult your trusted veterinarian. In addition, you must bear in mind that energy needs can vary over time due to various factors (age, activity level, atmospheric temperature, stages of pregnancy or lactation, etc.). For this reason, you must consult your veterinarian relatively frequently, to guarantee optimal management of your pet’s diet.
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Types of polyphagia in dogs
Canine polyphagia always manifests itself in the same way: with excessive consumption of food. However, in a didactic way we can classify it into three different types to facilitate its understanding:
- Pathological polyphagia: it is the polyphagia that appears in diseases such as diabetes mellitus, hyperadrenocorticism, exocrine pancreatic insufficiency, insulinoma, gastrointestinal parasites, or neurological pathologies. Check this post on How to detect neurological problems in dogs? for more information on the subject.
- Physiological polyphagia: is one that takes place in certain physiological situations to cope with an increase in the body’s energy demand, such as states of growth, pregnancy or lactation, and other non-pathological situations such as increased physical activity or decreased ambient temperature.
- Iatrogenic polyphagia: it is the one that we produce, either as a result of improper management of our pets’ diet or due to the establishment of a pharmacological treatment that produces polyphagia as a side effect.
Some authors also classify polyphagia as follows:
- Primary polyphagia: it is a consequence of the existence of a pathology that affects the Central Nervous System, specifically, the satiety center located in the hypothalamus.
- Secondary polyphagia: it is produced by non-neurological factors.
Causes of polyphagia in dogs
As we have explained in the previous section, canine polyphagia can be caused by pathological, physiological, or iatrogenic causes. Next, we explain in more detail each of the causes that can give rise to this clinical sign in dogs:
- Neurological: alterations that affect the satiety center located in the hypothalamus are included, such as hypothalamic tumors, head injuries, and inflammatory or infectious processes at the level of the Central Nervous System.
- Endocrine: among which acromegaly, diabetes mellitus, Cushing’s syndrome (or hyperadrenocorticism), or insulinoma stand out. It also occurs in cases of hyperthyroidism, although it is a much more frequent process in cats than in dogs.
- Causes that produce loss of nutrients: as occurs in exocrine pancreatic insufficiency, in massive intestinal parasites, or intestinal pathologies such as Inflammatory Bowel Disease.
- Tumors: since neoplastic cells have a high energy demand.
- Physiological: such as growth, pregnancy, lactation, cold, and intense physical activity. All of them have the common point that they increase the energy demand of the organism, which in turn increases the appetite.
- Behavioral: due to boredom, stress, or competition for food when several dogs live together. It should be noted that polyphagia is considered normal in some breeds, such as the Labrador Retriever or the Pug.
- Dietetic: hypocaloric or low nutritional quality diets produce polyphagia by not meeting the energy demands of the animal. On the other hand, the change to more palatable or tasty diets also causes polyphagia.
- Pharmacological : some drugs such as benzodiazepines, corticosteroids , progestogens, antihistamines or anticonvulsants can cause polyphagia as a side effect.
Symptoms of polyphagia in dogs
Polyphagia is in itself a clinical sign that can manifest as follows:
- More frequent consumption of food in dogs that have food freely available or “ad libitum”.
- Consumption of a greater amount of food than normal in dogs that have food freely available or “ad libitum”.
- Continuous search for food at home or on the street.
- Continuous demand for food from caregivers or guardians.
- “Theft” of food: it is common that, in this obsessive search for food, dogs manage to get hold of food from the pantry or the garbage, or even eat the food of other pets with whom they live.
Whenever we detect polyphagia in a dog, it is important to pay attention to the presence of other clinical signs that may be indicative of disease and can help guide the diagnosis. Some of the signs that may accompany polyphagia are:
- Increased weight.
- Polyuria: increased volume of urine.
- Polydipsia: increased water consumption.
- neurological signs.
- Digestive signs: such as vomiting or diarrhea.
Diagnosis of polyphagia in dogs
The diagnosis of canine polyphagia should focus on the following aspects:
- Assessment of the diet: it is essential to know if it is an iatrogenic polyphagia caused by poor dietary management. To do this, the type of ration consumed by the animal (commercial feed or homemade ration), the quantity, the number of feeds per day, and the energy or caloric density of each ration must be assessed. In turn, the nutritional needs of the animal must be taken into account, to check if the ratio it receives is following its requirements.
- Assessment of weight changes: although it may seem contradictory a priori, we must know that polyphagia can be accompanied by both weight gain and loss. Normally, neurological, pharmacological, dietary, behavioral and some physiological causes are usually accompanied by an increase in weight. On the contrary, some pathological causes such as diabetes mellitus or exocrine pancreatic insufficiency are accompanied by a loss of body condition.
- Assessment of the physiological state: as we have explained, various physiological situations produce an increase in energy demand and, therefore, cause polyphagia. Therefore, during the diagnosis of this alteration, it must be taken into account if the animal is in any of these situations, to rule out that it is a physiological polyphagia.
- Detection of other clinical signs: the detection of other clinical signs by the caregivers or the veterinarian help guide the diagnosis in the case of pathological polyphagia.
- Complementary tests: provided that the causes of physiological and iatrogenic polyphagia have been ruled out or that signs of disease have been detected, complementary tests should be carried out to reach a definitive diagnosis of the disease-causing polyphagia. In general, blood tests, urine tests, and other laboratory tests should be performed to detect endocrine diseases, coprological tests to detect digestive parasites, imaging tests (such as X-rays, ultrasound, and magnetic resonance imaging), etc.
Prevention of polyphagia in dogs
Before talking about prevention, we must know that not all cases of polyphagia are preventable. As is logical, iatrogenic causes, that is, those that we produce ourselves due to poor dietary management or the administration of some drugs, are perfectly avoidable. However, there are many pathological causes of canine polyphagia that cannot be prevented.
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In this section, we are going to focus on the main causes of polyphagia that can be avoided with correct preventive measures:
- Adequate diet: a balanced diet according to the needs of the animal will be essential to avoid the dietary causes of canine polyphagia. Similarly, adjusting the caloric density of the ratio in animals with higher energy demands (such as pregnant or lactating bitches) will prevent the physiological causes of polyphagia.
- Comply with the vaccination and deworming program: as we have mentioned, there are infectious and parasitic causes capable of causing polyphagia. Consequently, it is essentially vital to consent to the immunization and deworming timetable to forestall the presence of polyphagia because of these causes.
- Prevent behavioral changes: both stress and boredom caused by loneliness or lack of physical and mental activity can cause psychogenic polyphagia in dogs. For this reason, it is important to dedicate the time and attention they need to our pets, to avoid the appearance of this type of behavioral alteration. Also, if you live with several dogs, remember the importance of supplying each one with the amount of food they need, in separate bowls and, whenever you consider it appropriate, in separate places, to avoid problems of competition between them.
Treatment of polyphagia in dogs
The treatment or correction of polyphagia in dogs can vary depending on the cause that originates it. Therefore, in this section we are going to address the treatment of canine polyphagia based on the underlying cause:
- Pathological polyphagia: to reverse pathological polyphagia it is necessary to establish a specific treatment of the disease that originates it. Depending on the pathology, the treatment can be pharmacological, surgical, and/or dietary.
- Physiological polyphagia: Physiological polyphagia appears in states that produce an increase in the energy demand of the organism. To prevent its appearance, simply provide a ratio with higher energy density, to meet the needs of the animals.
- Iatrogenic polyphagia: when polyphagia is caused by inadequate feeding management, dietary errors must be corrected by adjusting the quantity and composition of the ratio to the needs of the animal. When polyphagia appears as a side effect of drug administration, it is generally not necessary to suspend treatment, since polyphagia is not a serious adverse effect. However, it is important to inform the veterinarian who prescribed the treatment about the appearance of this side effect and, even if an increase in the animal’s appetite is detected, not to increase the volume of the ration. When the cause of polyphagia is behavioral, the triggering element must be eliminated or corrected through behavioral therapy.
This article is just instructive, at BestPetsLover.com we don’t have the power to recommend veterinary medicines or make any kind of analysis. We invite you to take your pet to the veterinarian if it presents any type of condition or discomfort.