My Pet Won't Eat. Is He Anorexic?

hand holding food bowl out to dog

In humans, anorexia is a serious health condition that is as much a psychological problem as it is a physical one. The term is also commonly used by veterinarians to describe pets who either have a drastically reduced interest in food or who refuse to eat entirely. Animals suffering from anorexia typically don’t starve themselves by choice — a diminished or nonexistent appetite in pets is almost always a side effect of a medical condition.

Causes of Poor Appetite and Anorexia

Before veterinarians can make a diagnosis, they need to look at a couple of key factors, including what the pet's normal eating habits are, as well as the degree to which your pet’s appetite is currently affected. It’s also important to assess any lifestyle changes. Sensitive pets can stop eating and drop weight if they’re unhappy about a new brand of food. Many pets may also have poor appetites due to behavioral reasons, including anxiety over being left behind while their families are on vacation, for example. These are all things your vet will consider.

Here are some common medical causes behind a poor appetite or anorexia:

  • Gastrointestinal disturbances, including pancreatitis and gastrointestinal obstructions
  • Cancers of many varieties
  • Oral maladies, such as periodontal disease
  • Fever
  • Pain
  • Parasitic diseases and other infections
  • Anemia

What Your Veterinarian Will Do

Depending on the symptoms, here is what you can expect from your vet if your pet shows signs of a poor appetite or anorexia:

1. Take a history. Most veterinarians will begin by asking a few basic questions to help them understand the history of the problem: When did you first notice the reduced appetite or anorexia? What is your pet’s normal appetite like? How have the symptoms progressed, if at all? How has your pet been acting in general?

2. Do a physical evaluation. Examining the entire body is a crucial part of the process.

3. Do laboratory testing. Blood, fecal and urine testing may be useful if your veterinarian suspects certain underlying causes. Aside from a basic urinalysis and a CBC (complete blood count) and chemistry panel, your vet may choose to order other tests to help identify specific gastrointestinal, infectious or parasitic diseases, among others.

4. Order X-rays and imaging studies. X-rays may be helpful in these cases, especially when orthopedic pain, cancers or gastrointestinal disturbances are suspected. Some pets may require more sophisticated imaging, such as an ultrasound, to identify possible tumors and visualize organ shape and architecture.


With poor appetite and anorexia, treatment depends entirely on the underlying cause.

What You Can Do at Home

A pet who suddenly stops eating or has begun eating less needs to be evaluated by a veterinarian. When a cat stops eating, additional problems brought on by an abnormal feline metabolism can quickly come into play. If you notice other significant symptoms in your pet — diarrhea, vomiting, lethargy, limping or fever — seek medical care quickly. If you absolutely can’t get to the vet immediately, there are some measures you can take to keep your pet comfortable.

Confine Him. Keep your pet quiet, comfortable and as contained as possible without causing undue stress.

Offer Treats. As long as your pet isn’t vomiting, try to tempt your cat or dog with a favorite snack or a low-fat, meaty tidbit.

This article was written by a Veterinarian.

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