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Anorexia (Loss of Appetite) in Cats

By: Dr. Etienne Cote

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Treatment In-depth

Treatment of anorexia can be specific or supportive.

  • Specific treatments. Specific treatments are those that deal with the underlying cause. That is, they either slow down or eliminate the problem that caused the anorexia in the first place.

    Of course, specific treatment is ideal because it deals with the loss of appetite at its source by treating the underlying disease. However, specific treatment requires an exact diagnosis, meaning that in some cases many tests may need to be performed in order to precisely identify the underlying disease.

  • Supportive treatments. Supportive treatments are those that help sustain an animal that is debilitated as a result of not eating. 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.

    On the other hand, supportive treatments can be given in almost all cases and are most useful in the four following situations:

  • To support the animal while an exact cause of the problem is being sought (e.g. tests being run)

  • In conjunction with specific treatments, to sustain the animal until the specific treatment takes effect

  • When the illness is not so severe as to warrant further tests or specific treatment, and the supportive care simply helps the animal's natural recovery

  • When humane or financial considerations make testing or specific treatment impossible

    Supportive treatment is often simpler than specific treatment, but it also carries the risk of not addressing the underlying problem. Commonly used supportive treatments include:

  • Injectable fluids. These can be given intravenously ("IV") or subcutaneously (under the skin). Often, the loss of appetite produces serious dehydration, which can become life threatening long before the risk of starvation. Therefore, injectable fluids are given in an attempt to rehydrate the animal and provide some electrolytes as nutrients. They are not equivalent to a balanced meal, but can be indispensable for preventing dehydration.

  • Parenteral nutrition. Special solutions containing multiple nutrients (usually electrolytes, amino acids, sugars, and lipids) can be given intravenously ("IV") and are much more balanced than the simple fluid solutions described above. Major drawbacks to using parenteral nutrition include a substantial risk of infection, lesser availability compared to regular injectable fluids, cost, and the fact that most animals requiring fluids do not need more than the regular fluids described above.

  • Feeding tubes. These may pass through the nose (nasogastric tubes), throat (esophagostomy tubes) or stomach wall (gastrostomy tubes). In animals where lack of eating will itself produce serious consequences, these tubes may be extremely useful.

  • Appetite-stimulating drugs. These do not always work and they may cause grogginess. Therefore, they should be used with caution.


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