Going off their food is a common sign that a pet is sick. However, a pet who is eating well — or too well — can also be suffering from illness. Here’s what I told a reader.
Q: My pet always eats well, and lately he’s been eating more than usual. I’ve always thought that a good appetite means he’s healthy, but something just seems off about him. Should I be worried?
A: We all like to see our pets enjoy their food, but eating a lot isn’t always a sign of good health. It’s normal for pets to have a big appetite when they’re growing or have an active lifestyle. Pregnant or nursing animals also eat more food than normal. But an increased appetite in the absence of those situations can be cause for concern.
Puppies and kittens with a pot-bellied appearance who are eating but losing weight may have an infestation of intestinal parasites such as roundworms. A fecal exam will tell the tale.
Pets who eat ravenously and still want more but are losing weight may have a health problem. Those signs can indicate diabetes mellitus in dogs and cats; hyperthyroidism in cats; or exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI, for short), in which the body has difficulty digesting food and absorbing nutrients.
Increased appetite accompanied by seizures can signal insulinoma, a pancreatic tumor. An unexplained appetite increase along with hair loss and increased thirst and urination can indicate a condition called Cushing’s disease.
If your pet has any of these signs, your veterinarian will conduct a physical exam and ask questions such as what your pet eats, how often, how long since you first noticed the problem and whether you’ve noticed other changes in your pet’s daily routine and habits. She may recommend screening tests such as various types of blood work or a urinalysis. Once the problem is determined, your pet can be treated.
Read more, including spots for pet-friendly vacations, in Pet Connection, the weekly nationally syndicated pet feature I co-write with Kim Campbell Thornton and my daughter, trainer Mikkel Becker.