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Low Appetite, Decreased Enthusiasm for Food, or Finicky Eating Behavior in Cats and Dogs

Finicky eating behavior and decreased appetite are often related in cats and dogs.  Food preferences and minor behavioral issues are responsible for many instances of finicky eating behavior.

However, a very large number of diseases suppress appetite in pets.   Pets with suppressed appetites may eat less, or may become more selective (finicky) about what they eat.

Common Non-medical Causes

More common causes are listed first. Less common causes are listed later.

  • Food preference is a leading cause of reduced enthusiasm for food.   Like people, pets may be disinclined to consume a food that they do not find palatable.
  • Some animals will refrain from eating as a form of attention-seeking behavior.  This is common when pets discover that their owners will give them attention or attempt to hand feed them when they do not eat their food.
  • Stress, fear, or anxiety may cause decreased appetite.
  • Occasionally owners have inappropriate expectations regarding their pet's appetite.  In these cases, the pet eats normally, but the owner perceives that its appetite is inadequate.
  • Pets that have already been fed by another family member, or that have surreptitiously consumed food in the owner's absence may appear to have a low appetite for several hours.

Common Medical Causes

More common causes are listed first. Less common causes are listed later.

  • Any disease or syndrome that causes gastrointestinal upset may suppress appetite or lead to finicky eating behavior. Dietary indiscretion (eating garbage or inedible substances), intestinal parasites, intestinal infections, inflammatory bowel disease, and problems with the pancreas are among the common causes of gastrointestinal upset.
  • Infections of the bladder, respiratory system, skin, eyes, or ears may cause pets to eat less.
  • Metabolic diseases, including kidney disease and liver disease, may suppress appetite.
  • Decreased appetite may be a sign of pain in pets.
  • Dental disease may cause a preference for soft food or a decreased enthusiasm for food in general. As well, any type of injury, disease, or tumor in the mouth, throat, or esophagus may suppress eating.
  • Glandular diseases such as hypothyroidism may lead to decreased enthusiasm for food.
  • Decreased appetite is a side effect of many medications.
  • Decreased appetite is common in dehydrated pets.
  • Any type of serious illness, such as heart disease (cats, dogs), cancer, untreated diabetes (cats, dogs), or bodily infections with bacteria, fungi, or viruses can suppress appetite.

Recommended Course of Action

A veterinarian should evaluate any pet that consistently exhibits poor appetite or finicky eating behavior. By performing a physical exam, measuring the pet's weight, and possibly running blood and urine tests, veterinarians usually can determine whether a medical condition is contributing to the problem.

Copyright © Eric Barchas, DVM All rights reserved.
The contents of this page are provided for general informational purposes only. Under no circumstances should this page be substituted for professional consultation with a veterinarian.