While not every pet will stop eating when they are ill or dying, lack of appetite is a common occurrence in those at the end of life. We often hear pet owners describe how long it has been since their pet ate a good meal, or anything at all. Typical of cats, refusing to eat can be a sign of discomfort. Dr. Amanda Doran puts it this way, “Not eating is an animal’s way of telling us that something is wrong.” There can be many underlying causes to a pet’s change in appetite and sometimes without an exam and further diagnostics it can be really hard to tell what the cause is. For some diseases this can be a sign that the condition is progressing, or it could be a new dental condition or nausea. There may be a treatable cause and there may be other palliative options.
So what do we do when our pet is suddenly turning up their nose at their once-favorite treat? We may have a few options.
- Medical intervention. Some pet owners may turn to their regular veterinarian to see if an appetite stimulant may be appropriate. Reaching out to your veterinary team can be a great place to start.
- Try other foods. Offering a change from your pet’s typical food may encourage them to eat a bit. For cats, switching the brand of food (unless it is a prescription diet!) or changing from dry to canned food may help. Dogs will sometimes decide that a little bit of lunch meat is a good snack. Heating up or adding water to your pet’s food can sometimes entice them to take a few bites.
- Consider euthanasia. If your pet is nearing the end of their life and them no longer eating is just one of the symptoms you are noticing, it may be time to consider helping them with euthanasia.
When pets go more than 2-3 days without eating, we start to worry about internal changes that could cause discomfort or pain. Our pets are experts at hiding pain, so it’s not always easy to tell that they’re uncomfortable. As Dr. Amanda says, “we have a very narrow window of opportunity to say goodbye on our terms and we are not sure when that will close.” In these cases, it can be a kind option to consider euthanasia a bit sooner rather than later in order to spare your friend any suffering.