Pet Tips

Sick Dogs and Cats that won’t Eat – Pet Tip 252

We all know how important nutrition is to good health. Food gives us fuel for energy and allows us to do things that we usually take for granted. The same goes for animals. However, when an animal is sick, or is in the hospital, it can often be very tricky to get them to eat properly. The term “anorexia” means that an animal is inappetent, uninterested in food, and has stopped eating. It is very important to keep the calories up in a sick patient since this is the time they need them the most. Nutritionists have calculated formulas for energy requirements for different sized animals that are healthy. Sick animals can need several times the normal values to improve!

There are a few ways to address the issue. One can try to encourage eating by giving many different types of foods and by warming the food up a little. Adding delicious flavours like a very small amount of garlic for dogs and a bit of tuna or tuna water for cats (some studies show a large amount of garlic is bad for dogs and regular canned tuna meals are bad for cats) can also coax a sicker animal to eat. Hand feeding can also coax some sick pets to eat. Sometimes cooing and praising will get pets to perk up and finally eat. Another thing that has been done in the past is force-feeding. This is not recommended these days though, other than for neonates (very young animals) or birds. If your non-neonate pet suddenly needs this type of feeding, its veterinarian should be contacted immediately.

For a very sick patient, there is another method of feeding veterinarians can try. This is known as ‘tube feeding’. There are several places the tube can go; through the nose or mouth, to the esophagus, stomach, or even the intestine. Doing this allows vets to bypass certain affected organs. For example, if a cat has cancer in its esophagus, it may find it very hard to eat, even if it wants to! Thus, a tube can be placed into its stomach, to bypass the esophagus, and still allow it to get nutrition. Tube feeding is an excellent way that sicker animals can get the nutrition they need, without having to swallow it down on their own. The tubes are fairly thin, and most animals do very well with them placed; some don’t seem to care at all! Different types of tubes can stay for different periods of time. Often the very thin ones (such as those that go from the ear to the esophagus) are quite short-term placements. This allows the animal to recover and when it feels well enough to eat on its own, the tube is removed. Others, such as the tube that is placed into the stomach, need to be kept in place for at least 2 months. In patients that have mouth or throat problems, some tubes are kept in for years.

One thing to watch out for is something called ‘refeeding syndrome’. This occurs when a malnourished animal gets too much, too quickly. This can lead to dangerous drops or rises in substances in its blood chemistry; and is life threatening. This can be avoided however simply by going slowly. An animal that has not been eating for a while needs to have food gradually introduced to it; whatever the method is. Thus, the first day it should have about half its energy requirements. That amount should increased slowly (at a rate determined by your vet) until it is getting all the calories it needs.

2 Responses to this Article, So Far

  1. Avatar Marlene says:

    My 16 yr old cat was just diagnosed with Pancreatitis. She is on antibiotics and pain medication for last couple days. Vet wants to put her on prednisone. I am unsure about this drug. Does it help with pancreattis and what are the possible side effects?

    Thank you

    • Avatar Marko says:

      Since you are paying the vet, your vet (or vet tech) will be the most qualified to answer this question and they should not charge you for it.
      Alternatively feel free to post this on our forum.
      Good luck!

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