Anorexia in dogs almost sounds like an oxymoron, but the very dangerous condition is much more common than owners realize. As any dog owner can attest to, your dog will usually eat anything in site if given the chance. However, there are some psychological conditions as well as several medical conditions that can cause your dog to drastically lose their appetite. To fully understand how this condition can affect your dog, it is helpful to understand exactly what anorexia is.
What is it?
Anorexia in dogs starts with the basic understanding of exactly what the term means. The term anorexia best describes a situation where your dog has lost their appetite and as a result does two things; they simply do not want to eat, or they are unable to eat. The appetite in your dog is considered to be psychological, in that it is dependent upon memory as well as association. Hunger on the other hand, although it is also considered to be psychological, is different in that it is aroused by your dogs actual for food.
Anorexia in dogs cannot be compared to the same disease or condition in humans, although it is also considered to be psychological, but it is usually an obsession with weight. Your dog could care less about their weight and love to eat anything at any time of day or night, so when the suddenly stop eating, there is definitely something wrong with them. There are some occasions when your dog may become stressed as the result of a new family member, a new home, or even a new food. This is considered to be quite common in cats who are very picky eater to start with, but with dogs it generally will not last very long.
Even if there is stress, once you give your dog a few treats or mix something in their food, they very quickly return to normal. Because of this, if your dog does stop eating to the point that it actually develops into anorexia, it is almost always the result of a medical condition and there are several symptoms that you can watch for. If these symptoms appear at the same time that they stop eating, you need to haven your dog examined as quickly as possible.
Anorexia in dogs may show you some very distinctive symptoms, and if any of these occur at the same time they seem to be losing their appetite, something is very wrong. It does not matter how long they have refuse to eat if these signs do start to surface.
The first warning sign will be diarrhea that is generally associated with vomiting. Both may start out as just occasional, but in most cases will continue which leads to the next symptom; lethargy. Most every dog loves to run, go for walks, or play at any opportunity, so if they are not quite old and suddenly start showing no interest in any of these activities, there is usually a very good reason; they do not feel well. If your dog starts to lose weight, this is also a real warning sign.
Most owners know exactly how much their dog eats each day, and when they quit eating, you also need to check for the following symptoms that include any type of a labored or a difficulty in breathing, any sign of an infection, as well as any type of a discharge of any kind. If your dog suddenly has a strange change in their behavior or their personality, these are also real warning signs to watch for. However, perhaps the most telling of all warning signs will be a sudden excessive drooling by your dogs. Other than particular breeds, contrary to a lot of misconception, drooling in dogs is anything but common, especially excessive drooling.
Anorexia in dogs has several potential underlying causes and they can involve your dog’s stomach, esophagus, intestines, as well as their liver or pancreas. However, the underlying problem may also involve their blood, their kidneys, as well as their nose, mouth, skin as well as their brain. It is very important to understand that pain of any type can cause your dog to stop eating and develop anorexia, and the sooner you and your veterinarian identify it, they sooner it can be treated.
Gastrointestinal Problems and Diseases:
Leading the list of potential causes of anorexia in dogs will be any type of disease that affects your dog’s esophagus, their stomach, of their intestines. There are several types of disease that can affect these areas which can cause severe inflammation which makes it very difficult for your dog to eat. They want to eat, but in some cases they simply cannot as it has become very uncomfortable. Most of these diseases will be caused by some type of a worm infection, as well as some type of a virus. The more common viral infections include parvovirus as well as coronavirus.
It may also be the result of a fungal infection, ulcers, or even a food allergy of some type. It is a misconception that food allergies develop very quickly if you introduce your dog to a new food, as in some cases in can take several months for it to actually surface. There may also be something that is causing a slight or partial blockage of your dog’s digestive tract, also making it very difficult for them to eat and swallow. This could include tumors as well as a foreign object that has stuck in your dog system somewhere. However, with any type of Gastrointestinal problem or disease, there is one common symptom; excessive drooling.
The next potential cause of anorexia in dogs can be some type of a liver disease. The liver in your dog literally filters most of their waste products as well as toxins from their blood, and if something malfunctions, it will affect your dog’s brain. When the brain is affected, it basically blocks your dog’s sense of hunger and they simply do not want to eat. The most common liver diseases in this group include chronic hepatitis, some type of a liver shunt, as well as cirrhosis of the liver and liver cancer. Liver diseases will also cause excessive drooling, as well as vomiting and lethargy.
Diseases that affect your dog’s pancreas are the next list of potential causes of anorexia in your dog, as the pancreas plays a huge role in both digesting as well as dissolving the food your dogs eat. It secrets the digestive juices and helps dissolve your dog’s food into very small particles so their intestine can absorb them. If this organ in your dog becomes inflamed, it sends out very powerful dissolving substances into your dog’s internal organs instead where it is designed to go; their food. When this occurs, it also erodes and inflames the pancreas itself, which is extremely painful to your dog, and the result is absolutely no appetite at all.
Anorexia in dogs has several other potential causes, but leading the list is kidney disease. In fact, anorexia is the number one symptom of kidney disease. Kidney disease also causes ulcers in both your dog’s mouth as well as their stomach because of the buildup of waste products, and your dog will try to compensate for the inability to eat by drinking excessively. Diseases of the blood, including leukemia related anemia is also another potential cause as well as leukemia itself. Diseases of the mouth, nose, and throat can also lead to anorexia.
Anorexia in dogs, although it is not anywhere near as common in dogs as in cats, is still a very serious condition. It may be the result of a change in environment, but in the vast majority of cases, it is the result of something much more sinister. If you see your dog starting to lose weight, not eating, and have some or all of the common symptoms, they need help as soon as possible.
Bostwick, DR; Meyer, DJ. Bilirubin and bile acids in the diagnosis of hepatobiliary disease. Kirk's Current Veterinary Therapy XII Small Animal Practice. W.B. Saunders Company. Philadelphia, PA; 1995.
Bruyette, D (moderator). The brain on the wane: Roundtable on canine cognitive dysfunction. Veterinary Forum; July 1998: 54-59.
Epstein, M; Kuehn, NF; Landsberg, G; et al. AAHA Senior care guidelines for dogs and cats. Journal of the American Animal Hospital Association 2005; 41(2):81-91.