Most pets stick to a daily routine, eating and drinking the same amounts around the same times, and going to the bathroom at the same times too. As your pet ages, they may become less enthusiastic about food, which can be the result of a declining sense of smell. Beyond this, changes in eating or drinking habits are a red flag that your pet has developed an underlying medical problem and that our Town & Country Veterinary Hospital team should treat. Learn which health conditions commonly cause changes in pets’ appetite or thirst.

#1: Endocrine disorders in pets

The endocrine system’s hormones control nearly every bodily function, so an imbalance can have far-reaching effects. The endocrine system regulates thirst and appetite, so your pet’s eating or drinking habits will change if their endocrine system is functioning abnormally. Diabetes in dogs and cats, Cushing’s syndrome in dogs, and overactive thyroid (i.e., hyperthyroidism) in cats are the most common endocrine disorders. Treatment usually involves medications and diet changes. 

#2: Gastrointestinal diseases in pets

Stomach and intestinal problems are common reasons for a pet’s appetite to decrease, and they will also likely experience vomiting or diarrhea. These signs’ sudden onset can indicate an acute illness or intestinal obstruction, while gradual changes are more likely caused by inflammatory diseases or cancer. One related disorder, exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI), can make dogs ravenously hungry because they are unable to digest their food and absorb nutrients. Long-term medication and diet changes are necessary for primary gastrointestinal (GI) disorders.

#3: Kidney disease in pets

Chronic kidney disease (CKD) is a progressive condition that damages these organs and decreases their ability to function. The kidneys are responsible for the body’s fluid balance, among other processes. CKD’s main sign is excess thirst and urination because the disease causes excess water loss. Other CKD signs include poor appetite, nausea, weight loss, and bad breath. Treatments can slow the disease’s progression and help an affected pet feel better, but CKD has no cure. 

#4: Acute illness or pain in pets

Any condition that causes your pet pain, such as arthritis or dental disease, or makes them feel sick, including infections, parasites, or chronic diseases, can cause them to stop eating. Our Town & Country Animal Hospital team should examine a pet who has gone more than a day or so with little to no food intake so we can pinpoint the cause and begin treatments before the problem worsens. This is especially important for cats, who are at risk for developing hepatic lipidosis and sudden liver failure when they go too long without eating.

#5: Chronic stress in pets

Pets under extreme or chronic stress may feel less inclined to eat because they are anxious or scared. Cats may feel stressed because of a new household pet, a strained inter-pet relationship, unpredictable daily schedules, boredom, or illness. Dogs are more adaptable, but a noise phobia or separation anxiety could alter their appetite. If your pet’s appetite loss seems related to specific events, they could benefit from a consultation with a trainer or other veterinary behavior professional.

#6: Toxin ingestion in pets

Your pet is likely to develop sudden and severe kidney damage as a result of ingesting a toxin. If your pet’s urination or thirst increases suddenly, they may have been exposed to lilies, antifreeze, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), grapes, raisins, chocolate, rat poison, or other potentially deadly toxins. Seek immediate veterinary care, or contact the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) Animal Poison Control Center or the Pet Poison Helpline if you suspect your pet has ingested a toxin.

Diagnosing diseases that cause eating or drinking habit changes in pets

Our Town & Country Animal Hospital veterinary team is skilled in diagnosing problems related to pets’ eating or drinking habit changes. To gain insight to the nature of your pet’s problem and previous medical issues, our team will take your furry pal’s detailed history. To diagnose your pet’s condition definitively, we will perform a complete physical examination and  targeted diagnostic testing, which may include:

  • Basic blood panel
  • Urinalysis
  • Specialized hormonal blood testing
  • Abdominal X-rays
  • Abdominal ultrasound

A pet with a serious or complex problem, such as an uncontrolled endocrine disorder or multiple problems at once, may need to see a veterinary specialist. Our team can refer you to a veterinary internal medicine specialist if we believe your pet could benefit from such care.

If your pet’s appetite or thirst has been changing gradually, contact our Town & Country Animal Hospital team. However, if your pet’s health suddenly changes, or you suspect they have a serious illness or have ingested a toxin, contact Columbia Pike Animal Hospital, our sister facility that provides round-the-clock emergency care.