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APPETITE LOSS

Your pet may turn up her nose at her kibble if she's not feeling 100 percent. The trick is to determine whether the appetite loss is temporary and harmless or if it indicates a more serious problem.

Causes

Appetite loss can be a sign of many different illnesses, from a mild gastrointestinal upset to life-threatening conditions such as cancer or kidney failure.

On the other hand, a pet who refuses to eat may not be sick at all. For example, pets often express their resistance to new foods by staging short hunger strikes. Or your four-legged companion may be feeling the heat during the dog days of summer (sorry kitty) and choose to lay off the chow.

What You Can Do at Home

To figure out whether your cat has truly lost her appetite or simply dislikes what you've offered, try making the food more appealing. For example, add a little water or canned food to moisten up a dry food. Or if you feed your pet canned food and it's been refrigerated, warm it slightly in a microwave.

If that doesn't work, offer your finicky friend her favorite tasty treats. Most cats will enjoy chicken- or beef-flavored baby food. Kitties also like canned tuna or fish-flavored canned cat foods. If your pet eats with gusto, it probably wasn't her appetite, but check in with your veterinarian. He or she can examine your pet for medical problems and help you re-evaluate your pet's diet.

When to Call the Veterinarian

Call the doctor immediately if your pet has additional symptoms, including lethargy, vomiting, or diarrhea, or if your pet refuses to eat for more than a day.

An early diagnosis is especially important with cats. If they go longer than a few days without eating, it can lead to a serious liver problem called hepatic lipidosis. And because kittens have low energy reserves and need to eat frequently, they can develop low blood sugar if they go for very long without a meal.

What the Veterinarian Will Do

Your veterinarian will weigh your pet to see if she has lost weight. The doctor also will ask you a series of questions and examine your pet carefully to pinpoint the source of the trouble. Depending on what the exam shows, diagnostic tests such as blood tests and X-rays may be necessary.

Literally hundreds of conditions can cause appetite loss, so remember to be patient. It may take your veterinarian some time to make a diagnosis, but once the underlying problem is remedied, your pet's appetite should return.