Simon Tappin, Internal Medicine Specialist at Dick White Veterinary Referrals Centre, reveals how you can spot the signs that your pet might be suffering from anorexia.
Every pet owner knows the scenario; your pet is in a completely different room in the house than you, but as soon as they hear the pet food hit their bowls or smell that familiar smell they come running. Watching a dog enthusiastically enjoy their meal or a cat elegantly nibbling at their food is a wonderful site for an owner. So that is why changes in our pets’ appetite are always worrying.
If your pet stops eating for a lengthy period of time this is often referred to using the medical term, anorexic, which describes a lack of appetite. This can be confusing as the term anorexia is often used interchangeably in the popular press with the name of the condition, anorexia nervosa, a psychological condition seen in people, which is characterised by irrational food restriction, fear of gaining weight and a distorted self-perception. Although a variety of behavioural problems have been described in dogs (e.g. separation anxiety and noise phobias), behavioural changes of appetite aren’t well defined in pets and a change is much more likely to represent a potential medical problem.
As with people, appetite in our pets can be very variable, some animals like to graze whilst others stick to ridged meal times. Some dogs and cats will prefer wet or dry foods, as well as certain flavours and brands being more popular. Reduced appetite can happen for a lot of reasons, for example as with ourselves in hot weather, animals often eat less than usual and in cats it’s really important to make sure that they are not also being fed by the next door neighbours!
However a change in appetite can also signify that you pet is unwell, with a reduced food intake or reluctance to eat being one of the first signs of illness. If your pet is otherwise bright and well, then try tempting them with a slightly tastier diet e.g. some boiled white fish or chicken, for cats, and mixed with boiled rice or pasta for dogs, to see if this helps. Serving the food slightly warm so it has a tasty aroma and spending time coaxing your pet may also help their lack of interest in food. If their appetite returns to normal within twenty-four hours then there is unlikely to be a problem, however continued loss of appetite can quickly lead to problems, with the lack of calorie intake leading to weight loss as the body uses its own reserves to meet energy needs. Lots of facts can contribute to reduced appetite; these include pain, nausea and changes in gut motility.
Anorexia is especially important in cats, as they have specific ways of metabolising food which is built with small regular meals from hunting in mind. If they starve for long periods it can cause a liver disease called hepatic lipidosis or also known as Feline Fatty Liver Syndrome, which is a very serious condition as it requires intensive management and some cats may not recover.
So, if you are ever worried about your pet’s appetite and that it may have anorexia then you should discuss this with your vet – anorexia may just be your pet being fussy but it’s important to rule out significant disease sooner rather than later.