What is Anorexia?
Anorexia can be categorized into two types: true anorexia and pseudo-anorexia. True anorexia describes a cat that does not want to eat and won’t, whereas pseudo-anorexia describes a cat that wants to eat but cannot due to complications. Disease, tumors, inflammation, and pain are common causes of anorexia in cats. A cat that has stopped eating for any reason is considered to be in an emergency situation, as starvation quickly causes life-threatening hepatic lipidosis in felines.
Anorexia in cats is the term used to describe a sustained partial or complete loss of appetite. Your feline may appear uninterested in her food or she could try to eat, but leaves the food bowl soon after. Anorexia is not a disease in itself, but rather a clinical sign of an underlying disease or health complication. Anorexia can be the result of pain, cancer, systemic disease, and abnormalities with the structures that occupy the mouth. Detection of anorexia at home might include the unwillingness to eat, dramatic weight loss and hiding around the home.
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Symptoms of Anorexia in Cats
Anorexia can cause a wide variety of symptoms in cats that may be primarily linked to anorexia or an underlying disease. The symptoms could worsen over time or suddenly in conjunction to a high-stress situation. Clinical signs that a cat owner may be able to detect at home include:
- Weight loss
- Icterus (yellowing of the skin)
- Spending more time with the owner than usual
- Unwillingness to become active
- Excesses salivation
- Partial loss of appetite
- Complete loss of appetite
True anorexia describes a cat that does not want to eat and refuses to eat.
Pseudo-anorexia describes a cat that wants to eat, but is not able to eat.
Causes of Anorexia in Cats
Causes of true anorexia include:
- Side effect of medications
- High environmental temperatures
- Stomach ulcer
- Intestinal ulcer
- Gastrointestinal blockage
- Loss of the ability to smell
- Immune disease or imbalance
- Poison exposure
- Change of environment
- Change in food
- Systemic disease
Causes of pseudo-anorexia include:
- Tumors of the throat, tongue or mouth
- Damaged nerves that control swallowing or chewing
- Disease of the salivary glands
- Temporomandibular joint pain (lower jaw pain)
- Mastication muscle pain (chewing muscles)
- Eye abscess
- Periodontal disease
Diagnosis of Anorexia in Cats
The diagnosis of anorexia in cats will begin with a differential diagnosis between true and pseudo-anorexia. It is at this time the veterinarian will ask you about your feline behavior, focusing on her interest in food. The doctor will then review the cat’s medical history and conduct a thorough physical exam to reveal the presence of any irregularities that would prevent the cat from eating as usual. If the presence of an abnormality is unavailable, the veterinarian will choose to perform a variety of diagnostic tests including:
- Blood work, including a complete blood count, coagulation profile, and serum chemistry profile
- Blood pressure analysis
- Thyroid testing
- Urinalysis, focusing on evaluating the kidneys through the evidence of increased bilirubin
- Abdomen and chest ultrasound
- An endoscopy
- FeLV testing
- FIV testing
Treatment of Anorexia in Cats
Treatment of anorexia in cats focuses on treating the underlying condition that was found during diagnostic procedures. However, the veterinarian may provide supportive therapy to the feline to reverse dehydration, decrease nausea, and provide nutrition. Initial therapy is usually completed intravenously, but if the feline has not received adequate nutrition for greater than three days’ time, a feeding tube may be placed. The treatment plan your veterinarian chooses to address feline anorexia greatly depends on the underlying cause and how your feline reacts. Some cats’ underlying disease prevents them from tolerating food in the stomach, therefore an IV line may need to be placed to provide adequate nutrition. Nutritional therapy treatment requires hospitalization of the feline, as this therapy cannot be given at home and poses a risk for infection. The veterinarian may also choose to prescribe medications during the treatment period which could include:
- Steroids (inflammation reducers)
- IV fluids
- Pain medications
- Appetite stimulants
- Anti-nausea medications
Recovery of Anorexia in Cats
The prognosis for anorexia in cats depends on the underlying cause, the severity of the feline’s condition, and what the veterinarian has found present in the cat’s blood work. In general, a feline that refuses to eat has an overall poor prognosis. Your veterinarian will ask to reevaluate your feline periodically after the cat has been released home.