As pets get older, proper food and nutrition is especially important to maintain your senior pet’s health and wellness. By the time a pet reaches senior citizen status most owners have a good sense of their pet’s eating habits. These eating habits may change since an older pet is generally less active and may naturally eat less. Always consult with a pet care specialist to determine which food is best for your pet to ensure the proper nutrients are being provided. Other factors to consider when feeding a senior pet is the texture of the food, whether to add supplements or antioxidants, and digestibility. Any change in appetite, however, may be a symptom that something is wrong. For senior pets, a noticeable increase or decrease in appetite may be the sign of a serious condition and a trip to the veterinarian for a check-up may be necessary.
Sudden Changes in Appetite
If you notice a sudden change in your senior pet’s appetite, it is important to rule out any obvious reasons. For example, a pet may not eat because of stress due to a change in environment or routine, an upset stomach or simply not feeling well. Other pets may eat less because the food does not taste or smell as appetizing since senses may be less sharp. Also, the weather and change in season may cause your pet to occasionally skip a meal as well. However, if your senior pet consistently refuses to eat or greatly reduces food intake, this will result in weight loss, lethargy and sometimes dehydration which can be very serious. If you can’t identify a possible reason for the change, you may want to consider other possibilities including a medical condition. Similarly, a sudden increase in appetite in senior pets, while less common than a decrease in appetite, can be part of the normal aging process of pets or the symptom of a medical condition. In general, excessive weight gain should be avoided in older pets since obesity can cause many medical conditions.
Foreign Body Ingestion
One reason your pet may have a sudden decrease in appetite may be due to an obstruction or blockage in the intestinal tract. While this occurs more commonly in dogs, which are more likely to eat a foreign object than cats, this can occur in senior pets who generally have senses that are not as sharp and may eat a foreign object by accident. Other symptoms that may indicate an obstruction include vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, inability to have a bowel movement, lethargy and other changes in behavior. If you suspect your pet has eaten a foreign object, have them examined immediately. Obstructions can be very serious and life-threatening if appropriate intervention isn’t taken. The veterinarian will complete a complete examination and take x-rays to determine the presence of a foreign object or blockage. Treatment may include surgery or hospitalization and monitoring if the object is expected to pass naturally. In most cases, the prognosis is good and follow-up x-rays will confirm that the obstruction has been cleared.
Common Endocrine Diseases Found in Pets
Another reason your senior pet may be eating irregularly may be due to an endocrine disorder, which is a category of medical conditions effecting glands and hormones.
Common endocrine disorders in pets include:
- Cushing’s disease.
A noticeable change in appetite is one of the more obvious symptoms as well as increased thirst and urination, skin problems or hair loss, lethargy and change in weight.
The Symptoms of Hyperthyroidism
Thyroid disease such as hyperthyroidism changes a pet’s metabolism and is common in dogs and symptoms include weight gain despite a decrease or no change in appetite, dull coat and flaky skin and hypothyroidism occurs most commonly between the ages of four and ten. Feline hyperthyroidism is characterized by increased appetite, weight loss, increased water intake, vomiting and increased heart rate and is found mostly in older cats with an average age of onset around 12 years old. A blood test will be needed to diagnose hypothyroidism, and treatment includes life-long anti-thyroid medication. Fortunately, hypothyroidism is generally manageable.
Cushings diseases is another endocrine disorder that appears in dogs at age six or older but is rare in cats.
Symptoms of Cushings disease include:
- Increased appetite
- Increased drinking and urination
- Hair loss on the body
- Skin appearing thin
- Lethargy and a pot-bellied appearance
Cushings diseases can be difficult to diagnose and requires various blood and urine tests by a veterinarian. There are different causes of Cushing’s disease and treatment will depend on the diagnosis. Generally, medication and/or surgery is necessary for the dog to regain its health. The primary cause of Cushing’s disease is a tumor on either the pituitary or adrenal gland, so prognosis will depend on the size of the tumor. For small tumors, the prognosis is very good with proper treatment.
Any decrease in your senior pet’s eating should be monitored. An increase in appetite is not as common as decreased appetite in senior pets, but may also be a symptom of a medical condition. Maintaining a healthy weight is particularly important for senior pets because excess weight can cause heart disease, as well as joint and bone problems. Losing weight can cause dehydration, lethargy and other complications. While a slight change in eating habits is not necessarily unusual for an older pet, a sudden or dramatic change is a concern. Always ensure that your senior pet is getting enough food and nutrients to maintain a healthy, happy lifestyle.