Monitoring your pet’s eating and drinking habits is an excellent way to assess their overall health. You can improve your pet’s outcome by ensuring prompt veterinary care when you detect subtle changes or patterns early. But, what exactly should you look for and what could the changes mean? We provide the answers in this Mercer Street Veterinary Hospital guide to help you assess your pet’s eating and drinking habits.
Appetite and thirst warning signs for pets
Changes in your pet’s appetite and thirst aren’t always as obvious as eating or drinking more or less. Rather, owners frequently report unusual changes in their pet’s routine or behavior, such as:
- Picky or finicky behavior
- Increased grazing or leaving food in the bowl
- Begging, food stealing, or getting into the trash
- Weight loss or gain
- Hanging around the water bowl or faucet
- Drinking from unusual water sources (e.g., puddles, toilet, plant trays)
Causes for appetite and thirst change in pets
Pets exhibit unusual eating or drinking habits for countless physical and emotional reasons. When you visit Mercer Street Veterinary Hospital, your pet’s veterinarian will rely on behavioral history, examination findings, and diagnostic testing (e.g., blood work, imaging) to determine or rule out the most common causes, which include:
- Seasonal changes — Some pets naturally adjust their food and water intake according to the season. The digestive process demands significant energy and increases your pet’s body temperature, so some pets eat less in the summer, for example. Because pets—especially dogs—rely on evaporative cooling (i.e., panting) to regulate their body temperature, pets drink more water to stay appropriately hydrated.
Alternatively, pets may consume extra calories to stay warm during the winter, but they do not need to drink as much water.
- Food changes — Pet food formulas (e.g., dry, semi-moist, dehydrated, or wet) vary in sodium and moisture content, which can influence how much or how little your pet drinks. Pets usually eat less if a specific food is unappealing or upsets their digestion.
- Endocrine and metabolic disorders — Your pet’s endocrine system includes glands that secrete hormones that influence organ function and regulatory processes throughout the body. Inadequate or excessive hormones can disrupt the necessary balance and your pet’s eating or drinking habits may change. Common conditions include:
- Hyperthyroidism — Excess thyroid hormone speeds up your pet’s metabolism and causes a ravenous appetite. This condition is most common in cats.
- Cushing’s disease — This adrenal or pituitary gland disorder causes increased cortisol (i.e., a natural steroid), which prompts increased thirst and appetite.
- Diabetes — When the pet’s pancreas fails to produce adequate insulin, they experience high blood sugar and significant fluid loss, which causes insatiable thirst and frequent urination.
- Cancer and chronic illness — Cancer and other long-term illnesses put your pet’s body in survival mode, which, depending on your pet’s health and condition, may spur an increased appetite. This is because extra energy is demanded or nutrition is stolen (e.g., cancer robbing your pet’s nutrients), or complications, such as nausea or pain, cause appetite loss.
Many medications for cancer and chronic illness treatment or management can also influence your pet’s appetite and thirst. Notify your veterinarian if your pet’s eating or drinking habits unexpectedly change after starting a new medication or therapeutic treatment.
- Kidney disease — The kidneys act as gatekeepers by filtering your pet’s blood and deciding what to keep (e.g., electrolytes, water, healthy blood cells) and what to eliminate through the urine (e.g., excess vitamins or minerals, byproducts, waste). Damaged kidneys lose their filtering ability, resulting in a larger release of water and vital molecules and excessive thirst and dehydration.
- Pain — Painful conditions frequently result in appetite loss or changes in eating behavior (e.g., leaving food behind, grazing). Pain may be directly related to the act of eating, such as dental or neck pain, accessing the food (e.g., traveling to the food bowl may be difficult for arthritic pets who have to navigate stairs or distance), or associated pain (e.g., nausea, gastrointestinal discomfort after eating).
- Cognitive dysfunction in senior pets — Cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS) is a progressive age-related disorder similar to Alzheimer’s disease, where affected pets’ appetite and thirst may increase or decrease because of forgetfulness or disorientation. Additional complications, such as hearing or vision loss, can also make finding the food or water bowl a challenge.
- Stress and anxiety — Increased stress or anxiety can influence your pet’s eating habits. Like humans, some stressed pets respond to increased cortisol (i.e., stress hormone) by eating more, while others may refuse to eat.
If your pet has changed their food or water intake, an underlying physical or emotional cause may be to blame. Before altering your pet’s diet or making any other adjustments, schedule an appointment at Mercer Street Veterinary Hospital.
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