A prolonged period of inappetance or failure to eat food is called anorexia. Anorexia should be differentiated from food aversion which can occur in both dogs and cats if the food they are presented with is unpalatable


The control of food intake is very complex, involving centres in the brain (see satiety).

Some common causes of anorexia include:

    1. Pain
    2. Inflammation
    3. Infection
    4. Cancer
    5. Dysphagia
    6. Fear - strange surroundings


The consequences of prolonged anorexia is starvation. As a result the animal utilises body stores of nutrients for energy. Initially body fat stores (as adipose tissue) are broken down to provide energy, but later the animal will breakdown it's own protein muscle mass to provide the energy it needs. Weight loss is the result with loss of lean body mass which can have serious consequences.

Sudden anorexia in obese animals (particularly cats) can be fatal due to mobilisation of body fat resulting in acute hepatic lipidosis and liver failure.


If your animal stops eating for more than 24 hours seek veterinary attention. This is particularly important if you have an overweight cat because anorexia can be fatal due to acute liver failure.


There are several techniques for managing animals with anorexia :

  1. Feed a highly palatable ration.
  2. Encourage feeding by hand feeding initially, but if this is unsuccessful
  3. Try force feeding (food can be fed from a "sawn-off" syringe case using the plunger to push the food into the animals mouth)
  4. Direct feeding into the oesophagus or stomach may be necessary using a naso-oesophageal or nasogastric tube
  5. Direct feeding into the stomach using a percutaneous endoscopically placed gastrostomy (PEG) tube is need in debilitated animals
  6. Special foods can be delivered direct into the small intestine (jejunum) via a naso-jejunal or jejunal tube.



Last updated : October 2013