Not eating – When 2 Worry?!?!

Pets that stop eating can certainly stress out their owners. Some pets will stop eating altogether, while others may just eat less. This is a frustrating topic, since “not eating” can be an indicator of such a wide variety of problems! I’ll attempt to sort out when we don’t sweat it, and when you need the vet right away. This is a rough topic, so no clear cut answers!
First, realize not eating / anorexia / inappetance is not a diagnosis, but a symptom. We need to address the underlying cause. Most of the time, our first reaction is to try a different food. That is fine, as some pets are spoiled, and the new food is all they need. Most of the time, a new food will not solve the problem, as the problem is not the food, but the pet!
Also remember – your pet will not starve to death in a couple days! If he or she is not eating, but drinking and acting normal, starvation is not a concern. Yet, the underlying cause that is making them not want to eat could be a whole other issue!
Of course, there are many other factors at play. Is the pet vomiting? Energetic or lethargic? Drinking water? Is the stool normal? A pet that is lethargic  or vomiting and not eating needs to be seen by a vet, obviously.
If your pet never ever skips a meal, cleans the bowl every time, and suddenly eats reluctantly and leaves a little food behind, that makes me worry! Yet, some pets are grazers, not reliable eaters, and skipped meals are the norm. Those are pets we don’t worry as much. If you have the food down all the time, yet have a hard time getting your dog to eat, or knowing he is eating, try going to two set meals a day. This way, the body can get on a schedule and expect it, he will be hungry (and eat!), and you will know if he is eating or not!
Loss of appetite is one of those frustrating super vague symptoms that could be associated with thousands of various diseases.

  • Does your pet eat soft food and not hard? Refrains from chewing? Could be a broken tooth or other oral malady.
  • Does your pet have a cough or sneeze? We all know sinus discharge affects our sense of taste!
  • Have you had major changes, such as a new pet, renovations, or a move? Animals can stop eating from stress (ask any boarding kennel!).
  • Does your pet have no interest in food? Or maybe is just eating less? Could be ANYTHING!

And yes, some underlying causes are more difficult to diagnose than others! We always start with a history and physical exam. Often blood tests are the next step, depending on age and breed of the pet. Sometimes we progress to x-rays, or even ultrasound, looking for an answer. And yes, sometimes we do all that and STILL have no diagnosis!
The main scenario that requires a prompt vet visit in association with anorexia is fat cats. Skinny cats, believe it or not, I worry less about when they stop eating than overweight or even obese cats. What is the big deal? Click here for more on hepatic lipidosis, or “fatty liver syndrome.”
Bottom line – sudden loss of appetite is like the “check engine” light on your car. Something is not right. It could be minor and self-resolving after a day or two, or major and life threatening, and it doesn’t give you any indication as to what! Doubt you feel any better. Like I said, frustrating topic!
In the words of my first boss: Welcome to the world of veterinary medicine!