Anorexia in Pets: Signs and Treatments


If you’ve ever owned a pet, you know that they’re as much of your family as any other loved one—and just like us, they can suffer from health problems too. While the majority of the time your pets will be in tip-top shape, there are times when illness may take hold.

There’s no need to worry, though; by knowing what signs to look out for, you can effectively treat your pet’s condition and help them feel better again in no time!


What is anorexia?

Anorexia is a condition characterized by people, dogs, or cats not consuming enough food. It most often develops out of depression, anxiety, addiction, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or personality disorders such as borderline personality disorder. 

People with anorexia may refuse to eat at all while pets with anorexia may only consume water. The risk of developing anorexia increases with age.

In humans, it’s most common for women to develop anorexia than men; but in dogs, males are more likely than females to have this disease. Once diagnosed, there are many treatment options available that can help.

If you think your pets might be suffering from anorexia, contact your veterinarian for advice on how to proceed. You’ll want to watch them closely for signs of lethargy, listlessness, decreased activity levels, lack of appetite, and changes in weight, or behavior.

Your vet will probably recommend a number of tests to determine the cause of their weight loss and make sure they’re healthy enough before trying any form of treatment.


Causes of Anorexia

The root cause of anorexia is typically a gastrointestinal disorder, which can be related to problems like pancreatitis or IBD. These are chronic diseases that need time for diagnosis and treatment.

Additionally, pets can develop eating disorders due to stress or boredom. Whatever the case may be, veterinary care is needed as soon as possible.

Be sure to keep an eye out for any strange behavior such as drooling excessively, not using their litter box, weight loss, and lethargy.

Seek out veterinarian services right away if you see these signs because your pet’s health could quickly decline without intervention. If they have lost a significant amount of weight or have stopped eating, they will require immediate hospitalization.

Treatment includes intravenous fluids and nutrition therapy until they are healthy enough to eat on their own again. In severe cases where the animal cannot hold down food orally, it will need to be fed through tubes directly into its stomach.


Treatment Options

Vomiting or refusing food altogether, sudden weight loss or decreased appetite, lack of energy, lethargy. Treatment for anorexia can include a prescription for appetite stimulants as well as increased exercise opportunities.

Without treatment, this condition can lead to serious health problems such as liver damage or malnutrition. Speak with your veterinarian if you suspect your pet has developed an eating disorder.

When dealing with pets, it is not always clear what is causing their refusal to eat – it could be an underlying illness that needs veterinary attention.

Your vet will take a complete medical history and perform a physical exam on your pet. Depending on what is found, additional tests may be ordered to pinpoint the problem.

These might include blood work, X-rays, urinalysis, ultrasound imaging, or endoscopy of the digestive tract. Tests are usually done one at a time until the problem is identified.

Some common reasons why cats refuse to eat are hairballs, dental disease, kidney disease, or diabetes. In dogs, common causes of anorexia are gastrointestinal diseases like inflammatory bowel disease or pancreatitis.


Preventing Anorexia

Here are some preventative measures you can take if you want to reduce your pet’s chances of developing anorexia.

-Don’t place your pet on a strict diet plan; instead, change their diet gradually by substituting healthy foods for unhealthy ones. For example, gradually wean them off dry food while adding wet food with vitamins back into their diet.

They may not like it at first, but they’ll learn to enjoy it over time as long as you’re consistent with the new pattern. If your pet is refusing food due to illness or old age, consult your veterinarian before making any changes to their diet.

-Ensure that pets have ample opportunity for exercise and mental stimulation. Both are important factors in preventing anxiety which can lead to anorexia later on.

Provide interesting toys or puzzles for them to play with and offer opportunities for exploration both inside and outside the home.

Make sure that there is plenty of space available so that they don’t feel cramped or restricted from moving around freely.


Tips for Healthy Weight Gain

Here are a few helpful tips on how you can help your pet gain weight. 

1) Feed your pet several small meals throughout the day. Doing this can stimulate appetite, prevent overeating, and help meet your pet’s nutritional needs.

2) Feed your pet foods with high-fat content. This can be especially helpful for pets that need to gain weight without much change in their physical activity level.

3) Avoid feeding your pet any table scraps or people’s food.

4) Offer food at different times of the day (for example, breakfast, lunch, dinner).

5) Provide nutritious snacks between regular feedings.

6) Monitor what your pet is eating by weighing them regularly (approximately every week). If you see no changes after six weeks, consult a veterinarian or animal nutritionist for additional assistance.

It may also be worth consulting with a veterinary behaviorist who specializes in animal anxiety disorders. Anorexia can result from an underlying condition such as kidney disease, diabetes, cancer, arthritis, pancreatitis, chronic vomiting, and diarrhea.

If you suspect an underlying medical issue, talk to your vet about further diagnostic testing and treatment options.


Final Thoughts on Pet Anorexia

While anorexia is not a common condition in dogs, it does exist. If you suspect your dog may be suffering from anorexia, bring them to your vet immediately.

Your vet will first confirm whether or not your dog has lost too much weight and/or if they are exhibiting signs of depression or lethargy.

From there, they will be able to tell you what steps need to be taken next. Treatment can range from dietary changes to medications, depending on the severity of your pet’s condition.

To ensure that their recovery goes as smoothly as possible, continue feeding them despite their refusal to eat while simultaneously exercising them regularly.

For severe cases, hospitalization may be necessary to provide more intensive care. As with humans, anorexia is best treated early before any serious complications develop.

If left untreated, pets can experience heart problems, organ failure, low blood pressure, and a compromised immune system which makes them susceptible to infections.

The earlier the issue is detected, the better for both your dog and yourself!

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