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Pet care: 5 tips to help a dog or cat that has lost its appetite

Veterinarian says adding flavour to their food can help — for example cats love oregano and dogs love sweet foods.

Veterinarian says adding flavour to their food can help — for example cats love oregano, and dogs sweet foods

Veterinarian Ted Morris said there are a number of reasons why a cat or dog may not be eating as they should. (Getty Images/National Geographic)

Have a dog or cat that's lost its appetite?

"There's a lots of reasons why they won't eat," veterinarian and regular North by Northwest guest Ted Morris told host Sheryl MacKay.

"Our pets are really good at hiding their illnesses, especially cats, so by the time they're starting to act sick they've usually been sick a fair bit longer than you realize."

Morris said cats who aren't eating should be taken to the vet as soon as possible, because not eating for a few days can cause them to develop a liver problem called fatty liver.

He said people shouldn't get too concerned if a dog doesn't eat for a day, but if it reaches a few days then they should be looked at by a vet. 

Morris says finding out the reason behind their loss of appetite is important — as it could be anything from cancer to being dehydrated and having tooth pain or arthritis.

Once the reason has been discovered and attended to, here are the steps owners can take to encourage their pets to eat again:

1. Try different foods

"Just offering them something different to eat" may work, Morris said. "I'll give them a buffet of a whole bunch of different options … and see what they gravitate to.

Experiment with kibble, canned food as well kitten or puppy food, Morris said. 

Loss of appetite can be a problem, especially in older pets, says veterinarian Ted Morris. (Getty Images)

He added that even human baby food could be one of the options, and that making the pets fresh food can "sometimes do the trick as well."

2. Warm up or chill food

"Warming up foods for pets who've got a bit of a compromised sense of smell can improve their appetite, and conversely if you've got a pet that's feeling a bit nauseated, chilling the strong-smelling diet will sometimes make them a little more interested in it."

3. Make sure they're comfortable

Morris says pet owners should familiarize themselves with the animal's body language. 

"Some animals, especially if they're not feeling well, they want a nice, quiet place to eat, especially if you've got a lot of pets in your house," he said. "So moving them to their own little private dining room will do the trick.

Meanwhile other animals are social eaters.

"They won't eat unless you are around, so you can sit on the floor in the kitchen with them and feed them the food from your hand, and give that extra attention they love."

4. Avoid force feeding and only feeding them treats

Morris said pet owners may be tempted to just let their pet eat treats because they're happy to see them eating again, but said that can lead to other issues like diarrhea.

He said force feeding also doesn't get that much food into the animal, and will turn them off that food.

5. Try flavour enhancers

Morris said there are some foods that can be added to pets' regular meals to enhance the flavour.

He said oregano can be sprinkled over cats' food ("it just works, it's crazy," he said) and parmesan cheese is also hard for both cats and dogs to resist.

"With dogs you can go for sweet things ... so a little bit of honey, or maple syrup or applesauce on their food. Cats love dairy so a little bit of yogurt, or a little bit of cream [works], and peanut butter is really popular with most of our beasties."

He said that medication may also be necessary if the treatment for the underlying problem and the tips above haven't worked to bring the pet's appetite back.

To hear the full interview listen to the audio labelled: Veterinarian Ted Morris explains why pets lose their appetites, and what can be done to get them back to the bowl


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