Anorexia (Loss of Appetite) in Dogs
Dr. Etienne Cote
Updated: July 8, 2014 Physical examination including buccal exam (looking at the gums), auscultation (listening with a stethoscope), abdominal palpation (feeling the size and shape of the organs in the belly), and taking the temperature and weight
Anorexia is a term used to describe the situation where an animal loses his appetite and does not want to eat or is unable to eat. Appetite is psychological, dependent on memory and association, as compared with hunger, which is physiologically aroused by the body's need for food.
There are many causes of anorexia. Often, a loss of appetite is the first indication of illness. Diseases of the digestive system (esophagus, stomach, intestine, liver, pancreas), the kidneys, the blood, the eyes, mouth, nose, and throat, the skin, the brain, and many other organs in the body can cause a loss of appetite. Pain of any cause can also make an animal less willing to eat.
Alternatively, some animals will occasionally refuse food for reasons that are much less serious, such as dislike for a new food, or behavioral reasons (new home, new animal or new person in household, etc.)
Regardless of cause, loss of appetite can have a serious impact on an animal's health if it lasts 24 hours or more. Very young animals (less than 6 months of age) are particularly prone to the problems brought on by loss of appetite.
Because of the numerous causes of anorexia, your veterinarian will recommend certain procedures to pinpoint the underlying problem. These may include:
Complete blood panel and urinalysis (urine test), to screen for certain diseases of the internal organs
X-rays of the chest and the abdomen
Fecal examination (microscopic evaluation of the stool to look for parasites)
Additional tests, depending on initial test results
Treatments are of two kinds: "specific" and "supportive."
"Specific" treatments are those that deal with the underlying cause. That is, they either slow down or eliminate the problem that caused the loss of appetite in the first place. Examples of specific treatments that reverse loss of appetite include giving antibiotics to eliminate a severe bacterial infection, surgically removing a foreign object that was blocking the intestine, treating dental disease that made chewing painful, and so on.
"Supportive" treatments are those that help sustain a dog that is debilitated as a result of not eating. Examples include fluid therapy such as intravenous fluids ("IV") or subcutaneous fluids (injections of fluid given under the skin), hand feeding or coaxing to eat, appetite-stimulating drugs, and others.
Supportive treatments do not reverse the problem that led to the loss of appetite. They simply help "carry" the animal through the most difficult part of the illness.