When most people think of anorexia, they think of an eating disorder characterized by distorted body image and unwarranted fear of becoming overweight. However, this type of anorexia is limited to humans. Cats can also experience anorexia but not in the way that you’d think.
Anorexia nervosa refers to a psychological eating disorder that can develop in humans. Cats can experience anorexia, a medical term for a general loss of appetite. Rather than a medical condition in itself, anorexia in cats is usually a symptom of an underlying health problem.
Learn more about anorexia in cats, its causes, what signs to look for, and how to treat this condition.
What Is Anorexia?
Cats who have anorexia may experience a partial or complete loss of appetite. This condition can be categorized into two main types: true anorexia and pseudo-anorexia. With true anorexia, a cat does not want to eat and won’t. With pseudo-anorexia, a cat may want to eat but cannot due to complications. Regardless of the type, a cat that has suddenly stopped eating should be promptly examined by a vet. Anorexia is considered an emergency situation that can be life-threatening if not immediately treated.
What Causes Anorexia in Cats?
Anorexia in cats can have many different causes, depending on the pet’s age and overall state of health. Some of the most common causes of anorexia in cats include:
- Oral Diseases
Cats that develop painful oral diseases may choose to stop eating due to discomfort. The teeth and soft tissues in the mouth can succumb to infection, tumors, fractures, chronic gingivostomatitis, and many other conditions. Some cats are physically unable to eat foods like dry kibble due to missing teeth.
- Stress and Anxiety
Cats are very sensitive to stress and can suffer anxiety when exposed to certain stimuli or new environments. For example, a new pet in the house or moving to a new home could cause your pet stress. Cats that are in heat may also experience anxiety which can cause anorexia.
- Food Rejection
Some pet owners make the mistake of suddenly changing their cat’s food. When this happens, the cat may reject the new food and lose weight over time. When changing your cat’s food, it is important to perform the change gradually by adding a little of the new food into the old food.
When a cat ingests a poisonous substance, such as human food that is toxic to cats or a certain type of plant, it can experience damage to its digestive system and other areas of the body. This may cause your cat to not feel like eating. Depending on the toxic substance, your cat may require urgent treatment from a vet.
What are the Signs of Anorexia?
Anorexia in cats can cause a wide range of symptoms. These symptoms can worsen over time depending on the cat’s level of stress and other factors. Some of the most common signs of anorexia include:
- Weight loss
- Excessive salivation
- Yellowing of the skin
- Loss of appetite
- Unwillingness to be active
How Is Anorexia in Cats Treated?
If your cat has stopped eating, it is important to see your vet as soon as possible. Your vet will start by distinguishing between true and pseudo-anorexia by reviewing the cat’s medical history and performing a physical exam to look for signs of abnormalities. There are also a variety of testing that your vet may perform to get a diagnosis, such as blood work, thyroid testing, X-rays, urinalysis, ultrasound, endoscopy, FeLV testing, and FIV testing.
Treatment for anorexia in cats focuses on treating the underlying medical condition that was identified during the diagnostic process. Your vet may also recommend certain measures to help restore your pet’s health, such as supportive therapy to reverse dehydration, provide nutrition, and decrease nausea. This initial therapy is typically delivered intravenously; however, some cats that have not eaten for a longer period of time may require a feeding tube.
If a cat is unable to tolerate food in the stomach, your vet may need to place an IV line to ensure that your pet receives adequate nutrition. In most cases, nutritional therapy requires your cat to be temporarily hospitalized. This type of therapy cannot be provided at home as at-home care poses a greater risk of infection. During this time, your vet may administer certain medications to your cat. Some of the most common medications used in the treatment of anorexia include:
- Steroids – Used to treat mild inflammatory conditions
- Antacids – Used to treat stomach problems
- Appetite stimulants – Used to treat loss of appetite
- Pain medications – Used to reduce or relieve discomfort
- Anti-nausea medications – Used to treat nausea and vomiting
The prognosis for a cat suffering from anorexia is not always clear. If your vet can identify and treat the underlying medical condition causing the anorexia, your pet is likely to make a full recovery and resume eating. However, if the ailment is related to a condition that cannot be easily treated, such as cancer, there is unfortunately a poorer prognosis for returning to normal eating habits.
When to Get Help
Anorexia in cats is a serious condition that can worsen very quickly without professional intervention. If you notice any signs that your cat has stopped eating or is losing weight quickly, it is important to see your vet as soon as possible to determine the cause and develop a treatment plan.