10 reasons why dogs and cats lose their appetite

When your dog or cat loses her appetite

Inappetence can have many underlying causes, from physical to behavioral. Here are some common reasons your dog or cat may lose her appetite, along with tips to tempt her to eat. 

One of the clearest signs that something isn’t quite right with your dog and cat is when she goes off her food. A loss of appetite, or inappetence, is more common than you might think. While it’s often associated with medical conditions such as digestive problems, cancer, or many others, appetite loss can also be caused by behavioral issues, stress, or even a change in the environment. If your dog or cat isn’t eating the way she should, it’s important for your veterinarian to determine the root cause before taking steps to entice her to eat.

10 reasons why dogs or cats may lose their appetite

1. Medical conditions

Everything from parasites to cancer to kidney disease may cause a dog or cat or lose her appetite. So the first order of business when inappetence occurs is to have your dog or cat checked over by the vet, who can also help you with a treatment plan and any dietary changes that may be needed.

2. Surgery

Surgery is hard on dogs and cats. Typically, a treatment plan includes medications and post-op instructions. Many times, the stress from the operation is overwhelming for your animal. It may take her a few days to recover her appetite, during which a bland diet is a safe plan.

3. Medications

Some medications, including opioids, may cause stomach upset and diarrhea. For example, not all dogs tolerate the drug Tramadol very well and may have diarrhea. Talk to your veterinarian about the side effects of any medications your dog or cat may have to take.

4. Aging

Many senior animals lose their normal appetite at some point. Inappetence may occur after a health condition is diagnosed, or just over time as your dog or cat gets older. For example, it is normal for an aging dog to no longer be hungry at the beginning of the day. Wait a few hours, and try feeding her again to see if this makes a difference.

5. Stress

Any form of stress may cause inappetence in a dog or cat. A move or other change of environment can result in GI upset and loss of appetite. Loud or unfamiliar sounds such as thunder or construction noises are also stressful to animals.

6. Dental issues

Periodontal disease is very common in companion animals and poor oral health is one reason they may stop eating. Inflamed gums and tooth abscesses are very painful. Cats in particular are incredibly stoic, so it may not be obvious that dental discomfort is the reason for their reluctance to eat.

7. Change in diet

Cats especially can be averse to trying new foods, and may turn up their noses rather than eat something different. So if you’re changing your animal’s diet, don’t do it all at once. Slowly introduce the new food in small amounts to his regular meals, and gradually add a little more each day (while reducing amounts of the old food). This not only helps prevent GI upset, but can also help the animal better accept the new food.

8. Depression

The death of a family member, whether two-legged or four-legged, may cause depression in a dog or cat. Inappetence is common when an animal is depressed by the loss of a friend or companion.

9. Behavioral issues

Problems with behavior, such as separation anxiety, can interfere with an animal’s appetite. Excessive vocalization or destructiveness are common symptoms of separation anxiety, but inappetence can also occur. You may need to work with an animal behaviorist to solve the problem.

10. Fireworks

Fireworks are associated with several annual holidays, from New Year’s Eve to July 4, as well as Victoria Day and Canada Day weekends north of the border. Public and private fireworks displays may occur during the week leading up to the holiday, which means your dog or cat may be more stressed than usual and may not eat as well for a few days.

Most dogs love food, and so do many cats (although felines can definitely be more picky). So it’s worrying when your four-legged friend loses her appetite. By pinpointing and treating the cause while doing what you can to tempt her to eat, you should soon have her looking forward to dinner again!

Tips to tempt her taste buds

Depending on the cause of your dog or cat’s inappetence, there are numerous ways to encourage her to eat. Be sure to work with your veterinarian if your animal has a medical condition, since there may be certain foods or supplements she shouldn’t have.

  • Toppers: Break up a few natural freeze-dried treats and sprinkle them on top of her food. Other topper ideas include the liquid from a tin of water-packed salmon or sardines, a dollop of yogurt, or a bit of cheese. A few pieces of lean meat such as chicken or beef can also help stimulate his appetite. If you have a cat, try catnip as a topper!
  • Fasting: Skip a meal and see if your animal is hungrier later in the day. Do not fast her for more than half a day.
  • Baby food: Try a few jars of chicken or turkey flavored baby food as a small meal.
  • Hand-feeding: Give her small pieces of boiled chicken or ground beef by hand.
  • Environmental changes: Trying feeding her a meal in a different room, or use a plate versus a bowl.
  • Herbal therapy: An excellent herb to help with nausea is ginger, but there are many others that can help entice an animal to eat. Work with a holistic or integrative veterinarian when considering herbs for your dog or cat.
  • Acupuncture: This modality is known to increase an dog or cat’s appetite; many senior animals will be hungry following a session.
  • CBD oil: Along with its many other effects, CBD oil is known to help with appetite stimulation.
  • Bland diet (for dogs): Try boiling white rice and a breast of chicken, and feed a small amount to your dog.
  • Warmed food: Warming up your dog or cat’s food may help increase her appetite.

If she’s not eating, call the vet first

If an adult dog or cat only refuses one meal, there probably isn’t much to be concerned about. However, if two or three days pass and he still isn’t eating properly, schedule a veterinary appointment as soon as possible. A puppy or kitten that isn’t eating may signal a medical emergency; call the vet immediately if your youngster refuses a meal.

Your veterinarian will need to run a series of diagnostics and lab work to rule out any medical conditions and health issues behind your animal’s loss of appetite. Often, it is impossible to rule out many of these conditions without lab work. The tests may vary, but typically include bloodwork, a urinalysis and/or a fecal test. Depending on what the results show, further diagnostics may be required.

Once you’ve discovered what’s behind your dog or cat’s inappetance, your vet will implement a treatment plan that will often help your animal regain an interest in food. If her appetite still seems off, however, or if her inappetence is being caused by stress, depression, or aging, you can take further steps to entice her to eat more.

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