The way your little tiger gulps his food when you put his dish down, you would never imagine that a cat could suffer from anorexia, a disorder in which a person or animal stops eating.
We normally associate anorexia with teenage girls who have distorted images of themselves or other psychological problems. However, unlike humans, anorexia has nothing to do with body image and everything to do with how the cat is feeling and how his body is working. Something is causing a lack of appetite, and if it's not taken care of in 24 hours, it can cause serious problems and can even be deadly. In young animals, it's an even more urgent situation.
Although sometimes it's just a matter of a cat being finicky about his vittles or being freaked out by new surroundings, sometimes it's more serious. Often, a loss of appetite is the first indication of illness. It can be caused by diseases of the esophagus, stomach, intestine, liver, pancreas, kidneys, blood, eyes, mouth, nose, throat, skin or brain. Pain can be a big turn-off as well.
When an illness is the cause, loss of appetite can be accompanied by symptoms such as drooling, vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy or sluggishness, weight loss, labored breathing, discharge of pus or blood or sudden changes in behavior.
If you notice that your cat is not eating, take him to the vet for a physical exam, which includes looking at the gums, listening with a stethoscope, feeling the belly and taking your cat's temperature. Based on that examination, your vet may recommend tests, including a complete blood work-up, urine test and x-rays of the chest and abdomen. A fecal exam may also be in order, so make sure to take a sample with you. There are other tests that may be given, depending on what the exam turns up.
Methods of Treatment
There are two general ways – "specific" and "supportive" – to treat anorexia. Specific treatments are those that deal with the underlying cause. They either slow or eliminate the problem that caused the loss of appetite in the first place. Examples of specific treatments include giving antibiotics to eliminate a severe bacterial infection, surgically removing a foreign object blocking the intestine or treating a dental disease that makes chewing painful.
Supportive treatments are those that help sustain an animal that is debilitated as a result of not eating. Examples include giving intravenous fluids ("IV") or subcutaneous fluids (injections of fluid given under the skin), hand feeding or coaxing to eat and administering appetite-stimulating drugs. Supportive treatments do not reverse the original problem. They simply help carry the animal through the most difficult part of the illness.
Dehydration is also an issue. To combat it, some animals can benefit from being given oral rehydration supplements, such as infant electrolyte solutions (e.g., Pedialyte®). Your veterinarian will be able to tell you how much is appropriate.
How to Help Your Cat Recover
Your veterinarian will also advise you on helping your cat recover fully. Some common steps include: Making your cat's food more appealing. This is sometimes done by warming the food so that it is easier for the animal to smell it or mixing in home-cooked ingredients specifically suggested by your veterinarian. Any warmed food should be checked to make sure it is not too hot, which could scald the animal's mouth or digestive system.
Starting your cat on a therapeutic diet prescribed for a specific medical condition. To encourage your cat to eat it, you have to mix the new food with the previous diet and then gradually decrease the amount of the prior diet over several days.
Offering your cat food by hand or with an oral syringe. Kittens may need to be fed a milk replacer, which is available through the vet, by an oral syringe if they have not yet been weaned.
Anorexia is a serious illness that can be deadly to your little tabby. If you see he's just not interested in his food, no matter what you might think the reason is, better get him to the vet immediately.