Cute brown and white lying on the floor, licking his lips, stops eating his dinner--full or taking a break?

Do Dogs Know When to Stop Eating? What to Do if They Won’t!

Last updated on January 19th, 2024 at 06:42 pm

If you have a dog who gobbles down his two meals every day, you may wonder if he would stop eating if he were full. Or you may have a dog who eats what they wants and leaves the rest in the bowl. But is your pooch really full, or just a picky eater?

In general, most dogs will stop eating when they are full. However, it does seem that some dogs come to this conclusion sooner than others! There are a few other factors such as a dog’s personality, breed, medical issue, and enviroment that may impact their need to either keep eating or to stop.

And, yes, some dogs are more picky and selective about what they eat and may not finish a meal. But, in most cases even the picky eaters will eat their kibble if they are truly hungry! Keep reading to learn more.

Why Most Dogs Will Stop Eating When Full

Most dogs will stop eating when they are full, but there are some exceptions. Some dogs may continue to eat even when they are full, especially if they are highly food motivated or have a medical condition that affects their appetite or digestion. See this great article at Chewy’s website which discusses feeding schedules for pets and how owners can contribute to bad habits if not careful.

However, in general, dogs have a natural instinct to stop eating when they feel full, just like humans do. This is because they have a hormone called leptin that helps regulate their appetite and signals to the brain when they have had enough to eat.

It’s important to monitor your dog’s eating habits and to provide them with appropriate portions to prevent overeating and obesity. If you notice that your dog is not eating or is overeating, it’s a good idea to consult with your veterinarian to rule out any underlying medical issues or nutritional imbalances.

If you are not sure what to feed your dog and want to give him more than just dry kibble, be sure to get our free eBook, Homemade Food and Kibble for some great ideas.

Understanding Dog’s Eating Behavior:

More Than Just Hunger

Dogs, much like their ancestors, wild wolves, have a survival instinct when it comes to food. This instinct can manifest differently in each dog, influenced by various factors including breed, age, health conditions, and even past experiences. It’s not just about the amount of food or the meal times; it’s about understanding the unique needs of each furry friend.

Senior Dogs and Their Changing Appetites

As dogs age, their bodies undergo significant changes, including their taste buds and digestive systems. Older dogs, particularly those facing health issues like kidney disease, liver disease, or dental disease, might experience a loss of appetite. It’s crucial for pet parents to monitor their senior dogs’ food intake, ensuring they’re getting enough nutrients without overeating. Sometimes, warming up their food or adding different flavors can help stimulate their appetite.

Health Issues Impacting Appetite in Dogs

Loss of appetite in dogs can sometimes be a red flag for underlying health problems. Conditions such as gastrointestinal issues, heart disease, kidney failure, or even behavioral issues like separation anxiety can affect how much food a dog consumes. It’s essential to keep a close eye on any sudden changes in your dog’s eating habits, as they could indicate a more serious health concern.

Diet and Nutrition: Wet Food, Dry Food, and Treats

The debate between feeding wet food and dry food often boils down to the individual dog’s preference and health needs. While some dogs might prefer the texture or taste of wet food, others might thrive on dry food. For the fussy eater, a mix of both could be the solution. Additionally, the inclusion of human-grade ingredients in a dog’s diet can make a significant difference in their overall health and food motivation.

The Role of Regular Feeding Schedules in a Dog’s Life

Establishing a regular feeding schedule helps maintain a dog’s metabolic health and provides mental stimulation. Regular meals, given at the same time each day, can prevent overeating and help manage weight gain. For dogs that are particularly food-motivated, having a set feeding time can also reduce anxiety and behavioral issues related to food.

Hydration and Its Importance Alongside monitoring food intake, it’s just as important to ensure your dog is drinking enough water. A healthy adult dog needs an ounce of water per pound of body weight each day. Always keep their water bowl filled with fresh water to encourage regular drinking, especially if your dog’s diet consists mainly of dry food.

Why Does My Dog Always Seem Hungry Even After Eating a Full Meal?

There are several reasons why a dog may always seem hungry, even if they are getting enough to eat. Some of the most common reasons include:

  • Insufficient food: if your dog is not getting enough food or is not getting the right nutrients, they may feel hungry all the time. Be sure to feed your dog a high-quality, well-balanced diet that meets their nutritional needs.
  • Feeding schedule: if your dog is used to eating at certain times of the day and you deviate from that schedule, they may feel hungry even if they have already been fed. Try to establish a consistent feeding schedule for your dog.
  • Medical issues: certain medical conditions, such as diabetes, hypothyroidism, and Cushing’s disease, can cause increased appetite in dogs. If you are concerned about your dog’s appetite, it’s a good idea to consult with your veterinarian.
  • Behavior: some dogs are highly food-motivated and may constantly beg or act hungry even if they have already been fed. It’s important to establish clear boundaries and avoid giving your dog table scraps or other treats that could contribute to their feeling of constant hunger.

If your dog always seems hungry, it’s important to address the underlying cause to prevent overeating and obesity. Be sure to monitor your dog’s eating habits and consult with your veterinarian if you are concerned.

When to Seek Veterinary Advice

If you notice your dog stops eating for a long time, shows a lack of appetite, or exhibits any other sudden changes in behavior, it’s best to consult a veterinarian. This is especially true if there are new medications involved, as these can have side effects that impact a dog’s appetite. A vet can help determine if there’s an underlying medical issue and advise on the best way to address it.

Certain Types of Dogs and Breeds Really Love to Eat!

While every dog is an individual and may have different motivations, some breeds are known to be particularly food motivated. Here are a few examples:

  • Labrador Retriever: Labs are known for their love of food and their willingness to eat just about anything. They are often used as service dogs or in search-and-rescue operations as they are highly trainable and food motivated.
  • Beagle: Beagles are another breed that is known for their love of food. They have a strong sense of smell and a natural instinct to forage for food, which can make them particularly motivated by treats.
  • Border Collie: Border Collies are highly intelligent and trainable dogs that excel in obedience and agility competitions. They are often motivated by food rewards.
  • Shetland Sheepdog: Shelties are another breed that is known for their food motivation and trainability.
  • Pugs, like many other dog breeds, have a genetic predisposition to overeat and gain weight. Additionally, pugs have a lower metabolic rate, which means that they require fewer calories to maintain good health. Even so, many pugs have a strong appetite and may continue to eat even when they have had enough food.

Food Obsessed Dogs

My first dog was a Beagle, and I quickly learned that our food could never be at Beagle level! One time we had just barbecued some chicken and placed it all on a huge plate. We took the plate with us into the family room to watch the news, but were interrupted by a long-distance phone call.

Unfortunately, we forgot about the plate of chicken, and of course, when we returned the plate had been licked clean! Luckily, our Beagle survived but did seemed sluggish and a little unwell for the next couple of days.

A lot of dogs are really food obsessed. Pugs, Labs, and Beagles fall into this category, as well as Dachshunds, Basset Hounds, French Bull Dogs, Welsh Corgis, Golden Retrievers, and Rottweilers. Some people think it is programmed into their genetic memory, but it could also just be a personality characteristic in some dogs and breeds.

Free Food or Scheduled Meals? The Big Debate!

Probably the hottest debate outside of what to feed your dog, is when to feed him. Many advocates of more freedom prefer to allow their dog to graze and eat whenever he wants to. Others, maintain that a dog should only be allowed to eat one or two scheduled meals per day. Read more about this debate in this great post written by

The Argument of When and How to Feed

Some argue that dogs are scavengers by nature and were used to hunting for food all day long to avoid starvation. But others maintain that dogs have been domesticated for thousands of years and now expect humans to feed them. Both of these arguments are valid depending on your dog, her individual needs, and what she is used to.

Although this is more true for cats, some dogs prefer to eat a little at a time. They may eat half of their breakfast, walk away and then nibble some more a little later. When they are full, they stop eating. Other dogs, which I have seen with my own pets, gobble everything you put down in a few minutes and then want dessert!

If your dogs seem disinterested in their food and only nibble at it, they may not like it. Be sure to see my post, how to tell if your dog likes their food for more information.

Regardless of how you feed your dog, do not allow them to overeat and become obese. As with humans, obesity will slow your dog down, shorten his/her life, and can lead to medical issues as your dog ages. On the other hand, if your dog is a picky eater, you will want to ensure that your pooch is getting sufficient nutrients for good health. You may need to visit the vet for an evaluation.

Pros and Cons of Free Food Versus Scheduled Meals

There are pros and cons to either plan. Leaving food down all day can eliminate the problem of needing to rush home to feed your dog. But it can also be messy and attract ants or other critters. If your dog is a gobbler, he may gain weight if you allow him to eat all that he wants.

I have owned Beagles, Pug mixed breeds, and a Terrier mix. And they all had huge appetites and could really pack the weight on! So, I have found it much better to give my pups two scheduled and measured bowls of food each day.

My sister, on the other hand, has had a much different experience. She has two small mixed breeds who will sometimes graze all day and only eat when they are truly hungry. They can be picky eaters, and my sister sometimes worries they are not getting enough food. So, she does all she can to entice them to eat their dog food including the addition of a scrambled egg every morning!

Just make sure that if you switch your dog from scheduled meals to a free food plan, go slowly! Your dog may gorge himself initially since he has been used to having his food restricted. Additionally, going from free food to scheduled meals may cause your dog some anxiety, so integrate a new schedule by giving 3 or 4 divided meals at first before going to two meals a day.

Other Issues Impacting How Much a Dog Will Eat


If your dog is chronically overeating, he may have a metabolic or thyroid problem. If your pooch is undereating she may have the stomach flu or other infection. Dental problems can also impact your dog’s ability to chew and eating may become painful. Chronic illnesses such as cancer or other serious conditions can deflate your dog’s appetite. So, be sure to take her to your veterinarian for a check-up.

I had a Beagle who was simply ravenous all of the time. She even figured out how to open the refrigerator door and pull out food. She was also getting very thin even though she ate quite a bit. Her sister did not seem to be quite this hungry and maintained her appropriate weight.

As it turned out, my poor Beagle was truly was starving! After several vet appointments, a young, wise vet did some research. He discovered that she had a rare disorder. She was missing some key enzymes needed to digest her food. The food was passing right through her and she could not absorb the nutrients. Once we started supplementing her food with the missing enzymes, her weight came back and she no longer seem so hungry.

Owner Habits

If you have allowed your dog to have table scraps or beg for treats, your dog will keep working the system! And, he may always act like he is hungry. Eating is fun and also a way to get attention and break up an otherwise boring day. And, I will admit, that I have been guilty of this myself!

If you are going to give your dog some human food, add it to his regular meal and not directly from your plate. Don’t give your dog treats when he begs. Give him a treat when he has earned it by working on some training commands, or as a snack right before bedtime. Make sure that the human food you give your dog is okay for him to eat. See my two posts on feeding dogs — Is It Okay to Dry Feed Your New Rescue Dog Kibble?, and Can I Feed My Dog Homemade Food and Kibble? for more information about appropriate foods.

Environmental or Prior History

Dogs with challenging backgrounds may worry a lot about getting enough to eat. Dogs who have been in hoarding situations in which food was not always plentiful, may become anxious about mealtime. The same could be true for stray dogs who have had to scavenge for food each day just to stay alive. In these cases, free feeding may be best as long as they do not gain too much weight.

If you have more than one dog in your home, you may have a challenge if one likes to graze all day, but the others need to be on a scheduled meal plan. You may need to keep their food in separate rooms or purchase a microchip-activated feeder like this one from Amazon.

Closing Thoughts

As with us, dogs have varied eating habits influenced by a myriad of factors, from their breed to their health status. Most dogs will regulate their food intake based on their needs, but it’s up to us, their pet parents, to ensure they’re getting a balanced diet and to recognize when there might be a deeper issue at play.

Keep a watchful eye on your dog’s behavior, and don’t hesitate to seek professional help if you’re concerned about their health and well-being. Remember, a happy dog is a healthy dog!

Like humans, dogs love to eat! Some dogs will have a tendency to overeat or not eat enough. But for the most part, dogs will stop eating when they are full. Some dogs may eat until they are stuffed, but they will usually stop eating before they become full to the point of being sick.

How much your dog eats depends mostly on what he is used to, his health, and his current living situation. Don’t forget to get your free eBook, Homemade Food and Kibble!

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