by Amanda L. Maus DVM
Anorexia, which is a very reduced or complete lack of appetite, can be very serious in cats. Decreased appetite can have many causes such as fever, intestinal disease, organ disease, or cancer. In addition to whatever the primary cause of the anorexia may be, several days of not eating well be caused by or can cause what is called fatty liver disease aka hepatic lipidosis. Even a few weeks of just eating 25-50 % less than usual can lead to this disease.
Fatty liver disease, although more common in obese cats, can happen in any cat suffering from anorexia and weight loss, and is the most common type of liver disease seen in cats. Jaundice, yellowing of the skin, is commonly seen with this disease. This disease causes significant nausea leading to more anorexia and vomiting. Affected cats are often lethargic and dehydrated as well.
Quick veterinary intervention is needed for this disease and most cats will recover with appropriate treatment. The main objective is to remedy the underlying cause as well as to control the nausea and vomiting and to provide nutrition. Advanced cases often require the placement of a feeding tube from outside the neck, into the esophagus, so that adequate feeding can be provided without trying to perform oral (by mouth) force feeding. Daily oral force feeding can lead to the cat not only resenting the caretaker, but also causes worse food aversion. The feeding tube may need to be left in place for up to 2 months in severe cases. In addition to antinausea medication, the cat may also require hydration therapy, electrolyte and vitamin supplementation, and liver support medications.
As you can see, anorexia in cats can be very serious and lead to severe consequences. Daily monitoring of your cat’s food intake can make a huge difference in catching diseases early on. Unexplained weight loss in cats is never acceptable. Early intervention is not only better for the cat’s health and chance of survival, but also can be less costly for the owner.