Some pets live to eat (and their waistlines may show it) and other pets eat to live. But what if your pet has stopped eating? In the veterinary world, we call this anorexia. Pet parents often confuse this with the human eating disorder anorexia nervosa, but it is completely different. Anorexia in your pet means that he or she has simply stopped eating.

What is anorexia in pets?

Anorexia is a big cause for concern, and should not be ignored. In fact, even if you notice a decreased appetite, you should mention it to your veterinarian. Decreased appetite is a sign of illness, and if you wait until the appetite is completely gone, it could make for a more difficult recovery, especially in cats. Cats are prone to a condition called hepatic lipidosis. When they go off their food, their bodies mobilize large amounts of fat for energy. These fats must be processed by the liver before they can be used, which puts a burden on the liver and can lead to liver failure.

Petplan pet insurance founders Chris and Natasha Ashton have first-hand experience with anorexia. Their Birman cat, Bodey, fell ill while the couple was still in school and was diagnosed with anorexia, leading to a $5,000 hospital bill (and the idea for Petplan USA).

Is it anorexia?

Of course, there are reasons other than illness that can cause a decreased appetite in our pets. Some pets become “spoiled” by table scraps and other people food, and will hold out for these foods in lieu of their pet food. You can nip this in the bud by not feeding your pet table scraps! Some pets, especially dogs, will eat less when it is very warm out, so this may be the cause of your pet’s summertime anorexia.

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What you can do

If you notice anorexia in your pet, schedule an appointment with your veterinarian. In the meantime, you can try offering your pet a tasty alternative to her normal diet to see if it whets her appetite. Canned food is particularly effective in both dogs and cats. I have also found that meat versions of jarred baby foods are irresistible to our pets -chicken and turkey seem to work best in cats, while I’ve yet to find a version that dogs will not eat. Just be sure to check the ingredients - you want a jar that has only meat and water. Some brands have added onion powder, which you’ll want to avoid.

Canned tuna, boiled eggs, and low sodium broths can also be used to entice your pet to eat. Remember that with the exception of canned pet food, these foods are just meant to get your pet’s appetite back and are not meant to be a substitute for normal pet food.

Anorexia is one of the first things that pets will show us when they are ill. Don’t ignore this important symptom; if your pet’s appetite is off more than a couple of days, it’s time to schedule a visit to your veterinarian to determine why so that we can get your four-legged friend back on track.

Aug 11, 2011
Pet Health

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