Click here to learn more.
Vetstreet. All rights reserved.
Vetstreet does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. See Additional Information ›
If humans can have eating disorders, is it possible that pets can too?
While dogs and cats can suffer from issues with eating, their problems don’t always parallel the disorders that commonly afflict humans.
Plus, diagnosing an eating disorder in a pet comes with an added caveat: It can be difficult to determine if the cause is behavioral, medical or even nutritional.
Check out these six bizarre yet classic eating antics commonly observed in four-legged family members.
For the majority of pets who eat too much, “it’s not an eating disorder as much as a feeding disorder,” says Dr. Julie Churchill, Ph.D., Diplomate ACVN, Associate Clinical Professor at the
University of Minnesota Veterinary Medical Center. “Owners assume that if their
dog is begging, it means he’s hungry.”
But dogs eat less to satisfy hunger, and more because food seeking is a normal canine behavior.
“It’s a preserved evolutionary trait from when dogs hunted, and it was feast or famine,” explains Dr. Churchill. “Dogs are gluttonous, opportunistic feeders — they’re capable of eating 16 percent of their body weight in one sitting, and they don’t turn it off when they’re full.”
And while cats were also born to hunt, it’s rare to spot a fat barn feline.
“Cats may hunt to excess, but they usually don’t eat to excess,” says Dr. Churchill, adding that
obesity occurs in kitties “who don’t have a hunting ‘job,’ and have a food source that’s too available.”
Of course, that’s not to say that there aren’t behavior and medical problems that can lead to overeating.
Certain medications can cause overeating, and it can also be a sign of an underlying medical condition, including
Cushing’s disease and gastrointestinal diseases.
“I have seen cats who are cranky and irritable if they’re the slightest bit hungry,” adds Dr. Christopher Pachel, Diplomate ACVB, of the Animal Behavior Clinic in Portland, Ore. “They launch themselves at their owners with teeth and claws bared.” In such cases, Dr. Pachel recommends training to modify the behavior, but it’s sometimes also necessary to adjust a cat's diet in consultation with a veterinarian to avoid adding weight.
While a dog can miss a day or two of meals, any prolonged stint without eating can be disastrous for cats, who can develop
hepatic lipidosis, also known as “fatty liver disease.” In most cases, no amount of begging or wheedling can coerce these
cats to eat, and they will literally attempt to starve themselves to death.
According to Dr. Pachel, although anorexia is often the first sign of illness, it can also have behavioral roots: “After the loss of a family member, whether it’s a pet or a person, pets may show signs that are consistent with
depression, including social withdrawal and loss of appetite."
Like this article? Have a point of view to share? Let us know!
Take our breed quiz to find your next pet.
Get all the best pet news and information sent right to your inbox!
Thank you for subscribing!
Get expert advice on keeping pets safe
during fireworks, barbecues, hot weather
and other Independence Day hazards.
Do you know what "brachycephalic" means? How about "borborygmi?"
Take our quiz to test your…
Many dogs love to swim, but certain
bodies of water can hold dangers that
aren't visible to the naked eye.
The medium-size Mudi is a sheepdog
who tends to make an intelligent, active
and easy-to-groom companion.
Parasites are no fun for dogs. Learn how
to protect your canine from heartworms,
hookworms, whipworms and more.
A dog diagnosed with the dangerous parasite may have to take antibiotics, get drug injections and stop exercising.
Check out our collection of more than 250 videos about pet training, animal behavior, dog and cat breeds and more.
Wonder which dog or cat best fits your lifestyle? Our new tool will narrow down more than 300 breeds for you.
Visit HealthyPet magazine for interviews with pet-loving celebrities, health advice from our experts, training tips and…
If the video doesn't start playing momentarily,
please install the latest version of Flash.
Thank you for subscribing.