A closer look: Lack, Loss, or Decreased Appetite (Dysrexia, Anorexia, and Hyporexia) in Cats
Dysrexia (either hyporexia or anorexia) is very common, as it is frequently a symptom of nearly all underlying diseases in cats and may also occur due to pain and injury.
Changes in appetite are often subtle, and are not always cause for concern. If reduced, poor, or lack of appetite is noted and offering more palatable foods (wet/canned foods, treats, or fresh cooked meats like chicken) is not enticing, then prompt veterinary care is warranted.
The metabolism of cats is more sensitive to lack of calories than other pets, and cats are not capable of tolerating long time periods without eating. Cats who go without eating for as little as a few days are at risk for developing life-threatening fatty liver disease. Obese cats are at highest risk of life-threatening complications if they do not eat enough calories.
Cats that are anorexic and have jaundice (yellow gums, eyes, and/or skin) require urgent veterinary care.
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Appetite changes are a secondary symptom of almost every type of disease in cats.
Cats of any sex, age, lifestyle, or body condition may be affected by appetite loss. Dysrexia can vary from a subtle reduction in appetite, to a complete loss of appetite/not eating (anorexia). A reduced appetite may also come and go, may be sustained, can become progressively worse, or develop into a complete loss of appetite over time. All severities of dysrexia warrant veterinary attention, as severe, prolonged dietary restriction can lead to life-threatening fatty liver disease, especially in overweight/obese cats.
The risk posed by the underlying cause associated with changes in appetite varies widely. For example, while some conditions are mild, require little to no treatment, and resolve quickly (within days), other conditions may be severe, life-threatening, have a poor prognosis, or may be incurable and require lifelong veterinary monitoring and management.
Testing and diagnosis
The list of underlying conditions that may lead to appetite suppression or loss is vast, and the diagnostics required to identify the cause reflects this. Initial diagnostics usually involve any or all of
- Physical examination
- Blood work
- Diagnostic imaging (X-rays and ultrasound)
More specialized testing may be required depending on the specific case. Referral to a specialist may be required for some conditions, such as cancer or neurological disease.
Treatment options depend on the underlying cause of the appetite suppression, but may include medications, diet change, supportive care, environmental management, dental cleaning, or even surgery. Cats that develop additional complications from appetite loss may require hospitalization and more intensive treatment.
Some of the conditions associated with appetite loss are serious and cannot be treated. In these cases, palliative care and hospice are potential treatment options.
Some cats are very picky eaters, but this behavior pattern does not indicate an underlying medical condition. A cat who is merely being fussy is unlikely to lose weight or show other symptoms like lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea, coughing, or sneezing.
Additional symptoms can vary depending on the underlying condition.