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When a Shih Tzu is Always Hungry


We've received a lot of emails from owners asking questions about why it may be that their Shih Tzu eats too much and seems to always be hungry with a never-ending appetite. The medical term for an increase in food consumption is Polyphagia.

In some cases, the Tzu will be gaining weight; however for others the appetite can seem excessive without any weight gain. 

A ravenous hunger may set in suddenly and can develop in both Shih Tzu puppies and adult dogs.

This section is going to cover all of the reasons why a Tzu may appear to always be starving. As you read though, you will be able to narrow down the possible reasons why this is happening and steps that you can take to help your Tzu eat a normal amount of food that is appropriate for his age and body size.

Here we will discuss:

• Puppy VS Adult Eating Problems

• The Top 4 Reasons Why a Shih Tzu May Seem to Constantly be Hungry

• The Problem of Eating Quickly

• Medical Conditions that Cause an Insatiable Appetite

• Red Flags to Watch Out For

Puppy Vs Adult and How This Relates to Appetite

Each dog breed matures and grows at varying rates. In general, toy breeds dogs are considered to be adults at the age of 1 year. This holds true for the Shih Tzu as well. In regard to when a Shih Tzu stops growing, it is never exactly on the 1 year mark, but is close. 

Most of the weight gain and growth (both width and height) will occur during the 1st year. This is a time of rapid changes, but also with intermittent growth - there may be some weeks that there is little change and then a period of extremely fast growth. 

Right around the age of 12 months, growth will slow. Although, up until 14 to 16 months, a Shih Tzu may still gain an inch or so in height and the body may lean out a bit.

There are 2 elements that affect the amount of food that a puppy needs:

1- A puppy's metabolism is higher than that of an adult dog. Shih Tzu puppies are hyper, often revved up and burn a lot of calories just being puppies: running, bouncing around, etc.

2- During the 1st year, the body requires a lot of food to fuel growth spurts. The puppy will not be eating to maintain, he will be eating to gain weight and fill out in stature. 

With this said, while a Shih Tzu puppy will eat quite a bit of food, there are many other elements to look at to decide if he is ingesting the proper food and elements that may cause a heartier appetite than is normal. Let's read on…

The Top 4 Reasons Why a Shih Tzu May Always be Hungry

1. Type of Food - When a dog eats and eats without ever feeling satisfied and full, this is often due to the type of food that he is ingesting. Foods that lack proper nutrients will be ingested, they will pass right through the body - since they offer the body very little in terms of what it needs to maintain itself - and then the dog will be hungry again only an hour or so later, since his body did not receive what it needed when he last ate.

2 components are to blame:

A: Fillers are at fault for much of this sort of problem. Fillers are ingredients that are added to a manufactured dog food with the sole purpose of plumping up the food to make it appear that there is more than there actually is. 

They offer very little to no nutritional value, passing right through the body. For this reason, bowel movements will be large, since just about all fillers are useless to the dog; they come right out. In addition, many are fibrous ingredients, which causes rapid turnaround in the digestive system, which means more bowel movements.

Some of the foods that can cause a Shih Tzu to be hungry all of the time, since the dog is only receiving a percentage of real food in his meals are: corn, feathers, peanut hulls, straw, weeds, soy, cottonseed hulls and citrus pulp.

B: Other ingredients such as by-products offer very little nutritional value and can therefore cause a Shih Tzu to appear to be eating too much, when in fact the dog is only hungry because he didn't receive a lot of actual food in his dish.

When you read the list of ingredients on dog food, it can be misleading because you'll usually see a 'good' word such as chicken, beef or lamb. However, when the word by-product follows that word, it means that it can be: paws, livers, heads, brains, stomachs, lungs, spleens and/or intestines of other animals.

The above may also be referred to as meat meal, meat by-product, or meat and bone meal. 

By law and fully legally, this so-called meat can come from: road kill, pets that have been euthanized at animal shelters, deceased animals from the zoo and chickens that have died during delivery.

Some people have a hard time coming to terms that this is allowed. It is so disturbing that many owners just don't want to believe it. 

Therefore, a Shih Tzu may seem to eat everything or eat too much, but be malnourished at the same time if he is being fed a low quality food. Aside from the ravenous appetite, symptoms of malnourishment are:

• Changes to the coat including hair loss bald patches
• Flatulence - strong or frequent passing of gas or burping
• Runny bowel movements or hard feces
Vomiting bile (stomach acid) - this will be a yellowish foam
• Lack of energy
• Possible depressive behavior
• Eventual tooth loss, weaken bones and vision problems

If your Shih Tzu is hungry all of the time and you are feeding him commercial dog food, look carefully at the list of ingredients for any of the above mentioned fillers and/or by-products. 

Choose a high-quality food, or if his appetite has led to a weight gain, take safe steps to help your Shih Tzu lose weight by combining low-calorie kibble, snacks, and gradual increase of exercise. 
2. Increased Activity - Just like humans, when a dog burns more calories, the body requires more fuel. Some owners may not even realize that there has been an increase in exercise and other activity. This change usually occurs for those that live in areas that experience a change in season. 

During warmer months with pleasant temperatures, dogs are walked, brought out to dog parks and taken along with owners to run errands more often. 

If your Tzu is exercising more, it is perfectly okay to plan out a higher ingestion of calories. This can be done by adding an additional snack(s) or by a slight increase in the size of meals. 

You may have been following guidelines as to how many calories a Shih Tzu needs and the ones we provide are excellent general resources, however each dog is so unique and individual that your Tzu may happen to need up to 100 more calories per day than another of the same age and weight… it all has to do with metabolism and activity.
Shih Tzu with food bowl
If you feel that your Tzu rightly does require more calories, it is best to plan for this as opposed to just offering more food at random times which can lead to unwanted weight gain. You can begin by offering 1 more snack per day, especially if there is a specific time in the day that your Shih Tzu appears to want to eat everything in the house… Or if it is just a general craving for more food, portions can be made a bit larger. 
3. Weather - Canines tend to eat less during hot summer months and more during colder winter months.

Sometimes an owner may not notice the decrease in the summer, but the heartier appetite during the winter is very apparent. These seasonal fluctuations are very normal and over the course of a year it all evens out.

Alternatively, there can be an increased hunger during hot weather if a dog is not drinking enough water. Since all natural foods contain water, a dog may eat if that is his only option to hydrate. Be sure to keep clean, cool water available at all times, no matter the temperature. When you are exercising your Shih Tzu, bring water with you in a 2-in-1 travel container (the lid is the bowl) or with a collapsible bowl.

4. The Need to Chew - If a puppy is teething he will have an insatiable need to chew (see also: Chewing problems) and this can often present as eating more food, especially if he is being fed kibble that is crunchy and offers a comparable texture that comforts and 'gets' at the itchy gums like chew toys do.
With adult Shih Tzu that seem to always be hungry, this may be due to anxiety or stress that presents as a nervous chewing habit leading to the consumption of extra food. All sorts of situations can cause a dog to feel stress. 

The top reasons are: being left home alone, a change in human family members (a new baby in the house or a family member has moved out),. a change in pets (another pet passes away or a new puppy is brought in) or transitioning to a new home.

For teething puppies, offer ice cubes - plain or flavored - which are low or no calorie alternatives that allow for some great, crunchy chewing without the ingestion of added food. Proper teething toys will that are rotated with help as well.

For adults that suffer from separation anxiety, taking a good look at the at-home setup and making some improvements can help. This may include a bigger gated off area so that the dog does not feel as confined, the addition of music playing in the background, etc.
All Shih Tzu dogs that really struggle can improve with the addition of a toy that emits a soothing heartbeat (found on the Shih Tzu Supplies page) and/or benefit from having a dog walker come in to break up the day with a bout of exercise at the midway point of being home alone.

If a dog is stressed and eating too much due to a change in environment, time is the best fix for this. It is not uncommon for dogs to suffer from depression due to the loss of a family member, either animal or human. Offering quality time with new and interesting activities can help, which would include bringing a dog to a new place that he has never visited before (lake, different dog park, pet store, etc.)

Many owners consider bringing a new puppy into the house and there are both pros and cons to this idea. While a new dog may provide companionship, it can also be seen as an upset to the household, which can rise tension and/or cause jealousy issues. This will need to be carefully considered and done on a case by case basis with attention being put on the happiness of the dog and how much responsibility an owner can reasonably handle.

Health Conditions that Can Cause a Shih Tzu to be Overly Hungry

There are a few medical issues that can cause a dog to overeat and/or gain weight. Though, most have other symptoms that are usually noticed first.

Cushing's syndrome - A malfunction of the adrenal glands causes an overproduction of the cortisol hormone. While increased appetite is 1 sign of this, other signs and symptoms are much more apparent: Hair loss, a darkening of the skin, increased thirst (and subsequent increased hunger if water is not available), a distended stomach, weakness and loss of muscle mass.

Canine diabetes - During the onset of diabetes, insulin related tumors can cause an increase in appetite. With this disease, a dog may eat a lot but actually lose weight.

Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency - This is rare with the Shih Tzu breed (90% of all cases involve the German Shepherd or Rough Coated Collie), however it is a condition in which there are not enough enzymes being created to properly digest food. The food then passes out of the body before nutrients can be absorbed and this causes a dog to always be hungry. 

Bacterial overgrowth - With this health issue there is an overgrowth of bacteria in a dog's small intestine, which causes damage that results in nutrients from food not being absorbed. In turn, a dog becomes very hungry and eats more without gaining weight.

Behavioral / Conditioning Issues

In some cases, owners may not realize that their Shih Tzu eats too much only because too much food is being offered. It's a trap that owners can fall into without realizing it. You're cooking dinner; your Tzu just ate but is looking at you with those puppy dog eyes. 

You give in and feed him a bite of your food. You wonder, "How can my Shih Tzu eat so much?' but what's really happening is that even a satiated dog is tempted by the smells and sight of human food and will rarely turn down an offering even if his stomach is full.

This sort of habit can easily be corrected by sticking to a strict feeding schedule and not offering any food except during meal and snack times. Your Tzu may miss the attention, however the extra food can easily be substituted with pats, kisses and perhaps a few minutes of play time.

Red Flags

If your Tzu shows any of the following signs -along with a higher than normal appetite - this is your signal that it is time for a vet visit:
  • Sudden and rapid weight gain
  • Increased thirst
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Discomfort or pain (a dog may whine, lie still and not want to be touched and/or retreat away to a quite location due to feeling vulnerable)
  • Overly bloated stomach
  • Trouble breathing
  • Loss of bladder or bowels
  • Excessive weakness
  • Dizziness (may stumble into walls, etc.)
  • Sudden aggressiveness

Eating Fast

While we're on the subject of Tzu seeming to eat everything in the house like a starving animal, it should be noted that eating very quickly can give the impression that a dog is always hungry. 

Some dogs do wolf down their food as if they think it's their last meal and this is not good for the stomach or the digestive system. This can be resolved by using a slow-feed dog bowl (be sure to choose stainless steel) or by placing slow-feed stainless steel balls into the dish that you already have. Both work to displace food so that it takes longer for a dog to eat his meal.
See Also:

How Many Calories Does a Shih Tzu Require - How much is needed to fuel this toy breed and making sure that your puppy or dog is eating enough. 
Shih Tzu is Chewing, Licking His Paws - The most common reasons why this happens, what you can do and at-home treatment to correct any damage to the skin and coat. 
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