Can Dogs Get Anorexia?

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Anorexia is a distressing condition in humans marked by a decrease in appetite or refusal to take food that is often linked to emotional and mental disorders. Dogs are known for being highly food motivated, and being excited about feeding time. As such, dogs are not usually associated with having trouble eating, however, anorexia, or decreased appetite occurs in dogs as well. As in humans, there can be a behavioral component, however it is often associated with a physical condition in dogs. Behavioral components of anorexia in humans can be complex stemming from psychological problems and stress, and may also be contributed to by predisposing genetic factors and/or physical and medical factors. With humans, there has been a lot of stigma attached to anorexia and other associated eating disorders that complicates diagnosis and treatment of the disorder. While dogs do not have to deal with the stigma of an eating disorder, the complexity of the condition can be similar in dogs, with multiple factors, both physical and emotional, contributing to the development of anorexia.

Can Dogs Get Anorexia?

YES!

In dogs, there are two types of anorexia recognized, pseudo-anorexia, where the dog is hungry but has trouble eating due to physical limitations with handling, masticating, and consuming food, and true anorexia. True anorexia is marked by an actual decrease in appetite, or desire for food. While hunger (which is a physical drive) may exist, appetite (which is mentally driven) may be diminished resulting in your dog refusing to, or avoiding eating.

Does My Dog Have Anorexia?

Pet owners experiencing a dog that refuses to eat or does not eat enough can experience real frustration. When your dog experiences a decrease in appetite that persist for more than a few days and is not associated with an acute illness, as a pet owner you will be naturally concerned. The first step to determining what to do for your dog is for you and your veterinarian to determine if your dog has pseudo-anorexia, that is he wants to eat but is limited by a physical condition such as:

  • Teeth problems, periodontal disease

  • Mouth disorder, pain when chewing from disorders in muscles used for mastication and temporomandibular joint disorder

  • Abscesses or tumors in the facial or throat area causing pain

  • Esophageal blockages

  • Nausea or gastrointestinal disease

If the decrease in consumption seems to be from a true lack of interest in food and appetite, and not merely the inability to consume food, your veterinarian will consider other causes such as:

  • Emotional stress, separation anxiety, PTSD, change in environment, boredom, fear, or depression

  • Chronic pain: pain anywhere in the body can result in decreased appetite.

  • Disease with organ dysfunction or infection.

  • Unpalatable food, which may be associated with inability to smell and disorders of the olfactory system

  • Toxicity

  • Immune system disorder

  • Cancer

  • Gastrointestinal disorder or blockage

  • Side effects from medications

Your veterinarian will perform a thorough physical examination and conduct blood and urine tests as well as radiographs to help pinpoint the cause of anorexia so that it can be addressed.

Read more about decrease in appetite in dogs at: Loss of Appetite in Dogs.

How Do I Treat My Dog’s Anorexia?

Once any physical disorders or conditions contributing to anorexia have been addressed, there are several things veterinarians and pet owners can do to help address behavioral and emotional components of anorexia in their dog.

Make Food More Palatable

  • Make sure food smells good

  • Put dressing or canned food on dry food

  • Change brand of commercial food, try premium or gourmet brand or offer cat food

  • Try home cooked or raw, high protein diets

  • Heat food up

Change Eating Environment and Situation

  • Change container; avoid plastic which may exude its own scent

  • Find a location where they do not feel distracted

  • Take food away and present it again to evoke your dog's curiosity, as dogs are most interested in food when it is first presented.

  • Experiment to determine the time of day dog is most likely to consume food.


Exercise

  • Work up your dog's appetite with a walk, work, or play

Pet owners may need to provide liquified food in a syringe temporarily to meet nutritional needs if required. There are also measures your veterinarian can take to resolve anorexia conditions in your dog:

  • Address underlying physical or medical conditions

  • Prescribe medications to stimulate appetite

  • Administer food via a feeding tube if your dog is experiencing severe malnutrition from anorexia

  • Provide intravenous fluids for dehydration, if this becomes an issue, and address electrolyte imbalance

  • Provide prescription diets

  • Spayed or neutered dogs tend to gain weight which is often a problem, but in an underweight dog may be beneficial.

Check out our guide to Loss of Appetite in Dogs for more information and to get your questions answered by an in-house veterinarian.

How is Anorexia Similar in Dogs, Humans, and Other Pets?

A decrease in appetite in dogs, other animals, and humans is often related to a combination of physical, emotional and behavioral factors.

  • In humans and animals, addressing any physical disorders is the first step to treating anorexia.

  • Making adjustments to address behavioral needs may be required for all animals and even people.

  • Providing support for restoring emotional health is required to successfully treat anorexia in dogs, cats, and people.

How is Anorexia Different in Dogs, Humans, and Other Pets?

Differences in anorexia experienced in dogs as opposed to other animals include:

  • The inability of your dog to verbalize emotional distress, requiring pet owners and veterinarians to decipher the nature of emotional and behavioral problems contributing to the condition.

  • Dogs more often have a physical component responsible for anorexia condition, which needs to be addressed.

  • Some smaller dogs and cats require urgent treatment for anorexia, due to their small body size and metabolisms they have difficulty adequately metabolizing fat stores in the liver and deprivation of food can result in liver disease.

Case Study

While many cases of anorexia in dogs have physical causes, which must be addressed, some are purely emotional or behavioral. For example, a pet owner had a husky that would not eat when other dogs in the home were present. The owner began by feeding the dog in a dog crate with a blanket draped over it, to eliminate the sight and sound of the other dogs. Gradually, the owner began leaving the door of the crate open, then removing the blanket, then slowly moving the dog to the room where other dogs were present. Now the husky has no problem eating with other dogs present. Behavioral modification was the key to resolving this dog’s anorexia condition.