Undereating and anorexia are common problems in our feline patients. Poor nutrient intake is, at best, detrimental and interferes with healing and normal organ function. At worst, it is life-threatening.
Inappetence and anorexia can be caused by nausea (which may be of neurologic origin or caused by dehydration or GI inflammation). Other factors causing decreased food intake include:
- Difficulty in swallowing due to a tumor or mass in the mouth or esophagus
- Pain from an abscessed or broken tooth
- Liver or kidney failure
- High fever due to an infection in the body or from a virus.
- Dislike of the diet (e.g., boredom, altered palatability, spoilage).
- Aversion or fear because of environmental changes like a new house or housemates (people or pets).
Inappetent cats, and those not ingesting adequate protein, shift into a catabolic state. This means that their body starts breaking down stored fat and protein. This can create a disease called hepatic lipidosis. This is especially true and possibly a greater risk if the cat is fat.
An average 10 lb cat needs 230 calories each day. The best feline diet is high in protein and moderate in fat. The food needs to be palatable taking four factors into account: texture, aroma, taste, and consistency. Feeding bowls should be wide and flat to avoid interfering with whiskers. The environment should be non-threatening. Cats like it best if they are eating multiple, small meals throughout the day. Needless to say, cats are high maintenance.
If your cat stops or reduces its food intake, your veterinarian should investigate. A thorough history and examination of the mouth, as well as other parts of the body, may determine the presumptive cause. Diagnostic tests such as mouth and body x-rays may be needed or a complete blood count and chemistry.
Treatment will target the cause. If a cause is not readily determined, your veterinarian may send home an appetite stimulant. There are a few options but the easiest is a new product that is applied to the inside of the cat’s ear.
Cats are creatures of habit. If they do not eat, they are telling us something.