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Weight Loss in Dogs

By: Dr. Bari Spielman

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Diagnosis In-depth

Certain diagnostic tests must be performed to reach a definitive diagnosis of an underlying cause of weight loss. A thorough work-up begins with a set of broad tests that assess the overall health of the animal. More specific diagnostics are then performed, depending on the results of the initial tests. The following tests should be considered when working up the patient with weight loss:

  • Multiple fecal studies (flotation, direct smear and zinc sulfate suspension) are important to rule out chronic intestinal parasitism.

  • A complete blood count (CBC) evaluates the presence of infection, inflammation, leukemias, anemia, and other blood disorders.

  • A biochemical profile evaluates kidney, liver, and pancreas function, as well as the status of blood proteins, blood sugar, electrolytes.

  • A urinalysis assesses kidney function, helps detect infections of the urinary tract, protein loss from the kidneys and provide information on the hydration status of the patient.

  • Chest and abdominal radiographs (X-rays) evaluate the heart, lungs, and abdominal organs.

    Your veterinarian may recommend additional diagnostic tests to further investigate the cause of weight loss and to help determine appropriate therapy. These are selected on a case-by-case basis and include the following:

  • Serum trypsin-like immunoreactivity (TLI) is used to diagnose certain disorders of the pancreas that affect digestion and absorption.

  • Abdominal ultrasonography evaluates the abdominal organs and helps detect abnormal structures or masses that may be associated with weight loss.

  • Bile acids are paired blood tests obtained before and after a meal that evaluate liver function.

  • Various hormone assays may be indicated to rule out endocrine disorders.

  • Endoscopic examination and biopsy of the gastrointestinal tract may be recommended to search for diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease, gastrointestinal ulceration, neoplasia (cancer).

  • Exploratory laparotomy (abdominal exploratory surgery) allows close inspection of all abdominal structures. It also allows large biopsy samples to be obtained and may be indicated in difficult-to-diagnose cases.

    Therapy In-depth

    Your veterinarian may recommend one or more of the diagnostic tests described above. In the meantime, treatment of the symptoms might be needed, especially if the problem is severe. The following nonspecific treatments may be applicable to some pets with weight loss. These treatments may reduce the severity or provide some relief from the symptoms. Nonspecific therapy is not a substitute, however, for definitive treatment of the underlying disease responsible for your pet's condition.

  • If an underlying cause has been identified, treat or remove it if possible.

  • Provide sufficient caloric nutrition in the form of adequate amounts of an appropriate, high-quality diet.

  • Force-feeding may be tried in some cases.

  • Parenteral (intravenous) nutrition for patients who cannot take in food orally due to vomiting or regurgitation involves the use of gastric or intestinal feeding tubes, or the administration of liquid nutrients intravenously.

  • Supplementation with vitamins and minerals is necessary for malnourished animals.

  • Appetite stimulants may be useful in some cases.

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