Wednesday, February 25, 2009

How do I get thee to eat? Let me count the ways…..Part II

So we’ve talked about how we are at fault in making our pets overweight. We somehow get the idea that dogs and cats who have no control over the food they are offered would hold out for some theoretically yummier food that they haven’t ever seen or tasted before. Not.

But animals often stop eating when they are sick. Animals with acute conditions will give you signs of a new development by not eating, often before they show other signs of illness like vomiting, diarrhea, coughing, respiration difficulties, lethargy, etc. Those with chronic disorders signal that they are escaping good control or management by not eating well – often before primary signs of that disorder recur.

Let me list just a fraction of the reasons that a *sick* dog or cat won’t eat:
1. Dehydration. Which can be a part of many, many, many disorders.
2. Constipation. Animals absorb bacterial toxins from the accumulated feces through a compromised colon, and just feel under the weather. Or uncomfortable from the back-up.
3. Nausea. Another sign of many, many, many disorders. And not one that’s always easy to diagnose, except in those animals who are actually vomiting, but sometimes they will salivate or smack their lips.
4. Pain or discomfort. Also not easy to diagnose in some cases. If your general practitioner or internist can’t find the reason your pet isn’t eating, I think it’s a good idea to have a veterinary acupuncturist evaluate your pet using different methods- they often find real pain where no one else can using traditional Chinese medical examination techniques.
5. Infection – fever, pain, dehydration – all of these associated problems make animals with infections less likely to eat.

What I’ve listed above are general causes for loss of appetite. You may or may not be able to pinpoint those causes at home. Here’s the rub- you still don’t have the key to resolving the problem because a diagnosis is needed. This is why your vet wants you to come in for an exam, and usually labwork. Your pet is going to regain his or her appetite only after the renal disease, inflammatory bowel disease, cystitis, food allergy, hepatitis, pancreatitis, ketoacidosis, diabetes insipidus, gastrointestinal obstruction, gas, back pain or other serious disorder is diagnosed and appropriately managed.

My particular challenge in practice as a nutritionist is to convince people that they need more than a yummy diet. Just this week, 2 clients expressed their surprise when I recommended labwork to find out why their pets weren’t eating. I’m very happy to charge an office visit and diet formulation fee, but I want your pet to eat my diet, and if he or she is sick, we are all going to lose. Your close attention to your pet’s appetite is a powerful diagnostic tool, and diet is a powerful treatment. Let’s keep them in their proper places.

So the take-home message is as I’ve said – if your pet isn’t eating, he or she is either over-fed or sick. Learn how to do a body condition score, keep ‘em lean, and if anorexia persists for longer than 2 days, get ‘em checked out.

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