Your pet’s eating and drinking habits are the most obvious clues about their overall health, and a subtle change can indicate a serious health problem. If your four-legged friend’s appetite or thirst gradually or suddenly changes, a multitude of conditions could be the cause. Here are seven reasons your pet’s eating and drinking behaviors may change.

#1: Your pet has dental disease

The term “dental disease” encompasses numerous oral health issues, from gingivitis and stomatitis, to tooth-root abscesses and resorptive lesions. Any dental condition, no matter how mild its appearance, can cause your pet significant discomfort. Inflamed gums, fractured teeth, and exposed pulp are extremely painful conditions that can cause your pet’s food and water consumption to plummet. Pets can be in so much pain that they lap only the juice off pâté food and leave behind the solid portion. If your pet lingers by their food and water bowls, but leaves their food untouched, they may be too uncomfortable to eat or drink.

#2: Your pet has kidney disease

In a cat or dog with kidney disease, the kidneys fail to effectively filter toxins from the bloodstream, and water is pulled from the blood in an attempt to flush toxins and metabolic wastes from the body. This causes your pet to become dehydrated and they drink and urinate more. As toxins build up in their blood, they will feel nauseous and may vomit, their appetite will plummet because they are nauseous, and they may refuse to eat.

#3: Your pet has a hormonal or endocrine disease

Hormones affect every body function and a hormonal imbalance can cause changes in hunger and thirst. Here are three examples:

  • Diabetes — Diabetes has a similar effect as kidney disease. Water is pulled from the body to flush out waste—in this case, glucose—and the body tries to eliminate excess sugar through the urine. Glucose pulls along water, causing dehydration, excessive thirst, and frequent urination. Because of the lack of insulin, insufficient glucose leaves the bloodstream and enters the cells, where the glucose is typically converted to energy. With no energy, your pet always feels hungry.
  • Thyroid disease —  An increase in thyroid hormones—typically seen in cats as hyperthyroidism—can wreak havoc by causing excessive thirst, urination, and hunger.
  • Cushing’s disease —  In pets with Cushing’s disease, the adrenal glands secrete too much cortisol, a steroid hormone, which triggers an increase in hunger, thirst, and urination.

#4: Your pet has a gastrointestinal issue

A variety of conditions can lead to gastrointestinal (GI) issues, from mild stomach upset to a blockage. If your pet has diarrhea, constipation, nausea, or vomiting, they likely will have less appetite and thirst. Once the root problem has been solved, whether an intestinal parasite overload or a severe case of constipation, your pet’s eating and drinking habits should return to normal.

#5: Your pet is stressed or anxious

Stressed or anxious pets are unlikely to eat or drink, despite increased activity and excessive panting. We often see anxious pets in our hospital who are unwilling to take treats because they are stressed about being in a strange place. However, once the anxious pet arrives back home, they will eagerly take their treat. 

Changes in eating and drinking habits are commonly seen in pets with separation anxiety. These pets typically do not eat or drink much when their owner is gone, and then will gulp down water and food when the owner returns and they are no longer stressed.

#6: Your pet is taking medication

Altered GI function is a common side effect of many medications. For example, pets taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can develop vomiting or diarrhea, and they will refuse to eat. Conversely, steroids can cause excessive thirst and hunger. If you have started your pet on a new medication regimen and you notice side effects, contact our veterinary team

#7: Your pet is aging

Aging pets can develop a multitude of health issues that interfere with normal eating and drinking habits. Senior pets can develop cognitive dysfunction, which can affect their appetite and thirst because they forget they have eaten, or forget to eat at all. Endocrine and metabolic diseases and cancer can adversely affect your pet’s food and water consumption.

Changes in your pet’s eating or drinking habits can indicate a serious health issue that needs veterinary treatment. If your four-legged friend has snubbed their food, or is draining their water bowl, schedule an appointment with our Red Oak Animal Hospital team.