Normal or Not? Understanding Changes in Your Pet’s Appetite and Thirst

Your pet’s food and water intake speaks volumes about their physical and emotional health and can help you determine when they need veterinary care at All Creatures Animal Hospital. Here are some common reasons why your pet’s appetite and thirst may change.

Stress and pets

Stress is a common, often overlooked, influence on pet hunger and thirst. Stress can be not only a primary cause, but can also occur in response to other health conditions, such as pain or illness. Some stressed pets will have a voracious appetite, while others may develop an aversion (i.e., strong dislike) for their food. 

Minimizing stress in their environment may help restore your pet’s normal appetite. Common stressors include inter-pet bullying, relocation, new food or litter, inability to access resources (e.g., food, water, toys, litter box), and an unpredictable home environment.

Seasonal changes and pets

Pets may adjust their eating and drinking habits because of changes in weather and temperature, and their activity levels. They may increase water consumption and decrease food amounts in the summer to stay hydrated and reduce body heat caused by digestive processes. Alternatively, they may reduce their water intake during the winter and consume additional calories to stay warm.

If your pet’s appetite or thirst changes follow a seasonal shift, they may be responding to the environmental ambient temperatures, and you should monitor their behavior to ensure appropriate body condition and hydration.

Changes in your pet’s food or water

Changes in your pet’s food formula or brand can spark an abrupt appetite increase or decrease, depending on your pet’s interest and digestive tolerance for the new food. Pets who experience a digestive upset in response to new ingredients or a cold-turkey diet switch may develop an aversion to the new food. On the other hand, if your pet loves their new food, they may be more enthusiastic at meal times.

New foods can also influence your pet’s water intake. Wet food will decrease your pet’s water consumption, while dry food may increase their thirst. They may avoid water that is different in quality or odor, or in a new dish. Pets are sensitive to water freshness and may avoid suspicious sources or dirty bowls. 

Hormone-related conditions and pets

Your pet’s endocrine system is responsible for regulating many of the body’s internal processes, including metabolism, blood sugar, growth and development, and organ function, by producing and releasing hormones. Hormone excess or deficiency in the body can adversely affect appetite and thirst and lead to conditions that include:

  • Diabetes
  • Thyroid disease
  • Cushing’s disease
  • Addison’s disease

Pain and pets

Pets cannot rationalize or understand pain—they only know something is wrong. Unfortunately, this lack of understanding contributes to increased suffering and stress. Painful pets often try to hide their discomfort to avoid appearing weak and to protect themselves from perceived threats. However, decreased appetite, along with self-isolation and reduced mobility or physical activity, can be strong pain indicators in pets.

Dental disease and pets

Periodontal (i.e., dental) disease) is a common, harmful, but often underestimated condition in pets. Oral pain caused by a fractured tooth, inflamed gums, infection, or a decaying tooth root can prompt pets to eat less.

Other signs that dental disease is causing your pet’s decreased appetite include drooling, pawing at the mouth, bad breath, irritated gums, visible calculus (i.e., tartar), and blood on the food or in the water bowl.

Kidney or liver disease in pets

The kidneys and liver play major roles in many critical body functions, including metabolism, internal homeostasis (i.e., balance), and filtering waste from the blood. When these organs are diseased or damaged, pets experience nausea-induced appetite loss and increased thirst.

Kidney and liver disease may be primary (e.g., age-related deterioration) or secondary to another condition (e.g., toxicity, chronic medication).

Chronic illness and pets

Pets with chronic diseases such as cancer may be persistently or intermittently ill, similar to human flu-like symptoms. This generalized low, unwell, or run-down state can lead to reduced appetite and thirst. Dehydration and malnutrition can reduce your pet’s immunity, increase their opportunistic illness risk, and hasten their decline, so notify your veterinarian when your pet changes their eating or drinking habits.

Cognitive dysfunction in senior pets

Cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS) is a degenerative dementia-like brain disorder that affects senior cats and dogs. Affected pets may alter eating or drinking habits if they cannot locate their food and water dishes, or fail to respond to their body’s signals to regularly eat or drink. 

Food and water intake are closely linked to many serious age-related conditions in pets, so monitor your senior dog or cat’s appetite and thirst daily.

When should I be concerned about my pet’s appetite or thirst?

The All Creatures Animal Hospital team knows that determining whether your pet’s unusual behavior is normal or necessitates a veterinary appointment can be difficult. Some indications that your pet needs an exam include:

  • Persistent changes lasting more than a 48 hours
  • Anorexia (i.e., eating little to no food)
  • Extreme changes (e.g., voracious appetite or thirst)
  • Unusual weight gain or loss
  • Vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, hyperactivity, excessive urination, increased hiding, vocalizing, or confusion 

If you’re still unsure about your pet’s unusual eating or drinking habits, a comprehensive veterinary assessment at All Creatures Animal Hospital can provide answers and peace of mind. Contact us to schedule an appointment.

By |2024-02-15T00:12:13+00:00October 1st, 2023|Uncategorized|0 Comments

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