What To Do When Your Pet Stops Eating
Eating is a necessity of life, for humans and animals. Our bodies need similar nutrients to survive, including a mixture of water, vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, protein, and fat. While sometimes humans choose not to eat out of protest or religious fasting, this is not so with animals.
If your pet's appetite has changed or they've stopped eating altogether, it's important to figure out why.
Causes for change to an animal's eating habits vary widely and not all of them signal a major problem. However, if the appetite change is sudden or your pet refuses to eat for more than 24 hours, veterinarians advise having them checked for illness.
In bigger animals, like dogs, a short term change in appetite usually doesn't cause harm. For small animals, like cats, the issue needs to be addressed quickly as it takes only a few days for major body changes to begin. The breakdown of body proteins for nutrients will overwhelm the liver and lead to organ failure.
Illness isn't the only reason for a change in appetite, so we've compiled a list of the most common eating issues that apply to a variety of animals.
First and foremost, illness needs to be ruled out. As humans we know that when we get sick, we don't always feel like eating. The same is true for animals. The types of illnesses can include:
- kidney failure
- intestinal issues
Some of these problems can easily be treated with medications or minor surgery, such as infections and toothaches. For the more serious concerns, such as kidney failure and cancer, progress of the disease can be slowed and long-term prognosis for the animal improves when caught early. Your vet can recommend specific foods and methods for feeding during serious illnesses.
This is a separate concern from illness, because pets don't have to be sick to experience pain. Check your pet for injury. If nothing is visible, pain can also stem from aging and arthritis. Certain breeds of dogs suffer from hip problems, like dysplasia, which is painful. Discuss these possibilities with your vet as well, as supplements and medications can reduce pain and increase comfort, resulting in a better appetite.
"Pain could be the cause of appetite loss for your #pet. And, remember, pets don't have to be sick to experience pain." TWEET THIS
Has your pet had any recent vaccinations? While they prevent many serious diseases among animals, they can have side effects. Loss of appetite is common after vaccinations but isn't considered serious. This change should be short term and improve within a day or two after the shots. If it lingers, it's time to call your vet.
Stress & Change
Humans aren't the only ones who suffer physical symptoms from emotional or environmental stressors. A change in the animal's surroundings and routine will sometimes be enough to keep them from eating.
Common stressors for animals include:
- Owners leave for extended periods of time, like vacation
- Moving to a new home
- Traveling with you to an unfamiliar place - This can be due to both car sickness and the new environment.
- New members in the household
- Loss of an owner or family member
Though they are "just animals", pets have feelings too. Some of these issues take a bit of time and will eventually resolve on their own. However, it's possible for animals to experience depression and anxiety like their human counterparts. This is why a consultation with your vet is a must when appetite changes persist.
Pickiness & Food Aversions
If illness and psychological issues are ruled out, you could quite possibly have a "picky eater." Like a small child, they will eat something for a period of time and then decide they no longer like it. Or, perhaps you've changed brands of food due to health issues or ingredients. If this is the case, remember that it takes animals time to adjust to new things—including food.
When feeding canned foods, you may have to observe and record the flavors and brands they do and don't eat so you know what to buy. It also helps to mix new foods into old favorites, making the change gradual and less noticeable.
Points to Remember
Appetite change or loss happens for a variety of reasons, some serious and some not. It is always wise to consult with your veterinarian first to rule out medical causes that need treatment. Animals are emotional creatures just like humans and they need time to adjust to new places and faces, as well as changes to their diet. Once the underlying cause is found and addressed, your pet's appetite should improve.
If you have more questions or want further information about your pet's health and wellness, please contact us. We look forward to hearing from you and helping you care for your pet in the best way possible.
About Dr. Natalie Waggener
Dr. Natalie Waggener has 17 years of experience in emergency work and general practice in Rhode Island, Florida and Massachusetts. She has a special interest in dentistry, wellness care and rehabilitation therapy. She is currently licensed in both Massachusetts and Rhode Island.