Dogs and cats regularly go through spells where their food and water intake change, but while these fluctuations can be normal, they also can be a sign of underlying illness, injury, or a behavior issue. Throughout your pet’s life, their appetite and thirst can be great indicators of their overall health, and subtle changes can mean it’s time to schedule an exam with our Caring Hands Animal Hospital team.

While there are many reasons for altered eating and drinking habits in pets, here are some of the most common ones our team has rounded up.

#1: Your pet has dental disease

Oral pain and infection are one of the most common reasons for changes in your pet’s eating and drinking habits, since up to 90% of pets have dental disease by age 2. As oral bacteria multiply and infiltrate the gingival tissue and supportive tooth structures, your pet develops painful inflammation and infection. Gingivitis, loose teeth, tooth-root abscesses, and diseased bone can significantly affect your pet’s ability to eat and drink. You may notice your furry pal avoiding hard kibble and treats, or only licking the juice off their canned food. They also may wait for ice-cold water to turn tepid before drinking.

#2: Your pet has a chronic health condition

In many cases, altered appetite and thirst are the first signs your pet has a chronic health condition. Some of the most common chronic medical problems pets develop include:

  • Kidney disease — Older pets, especially cats, regularly experience decreased kidney function. As the kidneys fail to efficiently eliminate waste products from the bloodstream, the accumulated toxins cause nausea, vomiting, and lack of appetite. Another task tackled by the kidneys is urine production, but failing kidneys cannot concentrate urine as well. This leads to excessive thirst and urination as the body tries to compensate for declining kidney function.
  • Diabetes — Diabetes occurs when the body fails to metabolize glucose properly for energy. The blood glucose level rises, and the body tries to regulate it by pulling in water to flush out the excess sugar. This causes your pet to drink and urinate more, and, since they cannot efficiently convert glucose to energy, they also eat more.
  • Cushing’s disease — Cushing’s disease develops in pets with an overactive adrenal gland that produces too much cortisol (i.e., a steroid hormone). As a steroid, cortisol triggers an increase in your pet’s appetite, thirst, and urination.
  • Hyperthyroidism — Thyroid hormones manage many metabolic functions, and when the thyroid gland produces too much, your pet eats and drinks more than usual. In general, cats are more likely to develop hyperthyroidism, while dogs are more prone to hypothyroidism.
  • Arthritis — Arthritis develops in the vast majority of pets, decreasing their mobility and causing significant discomfort. An arthritic pet is unable to navigate their home as well and also may struggle to bend down to reach their food and water, which means they may not eat or drink as much as usual. Plus, pain itself puts a damper on appetite and thirst in pets.

#3: Your pet is stressed or anxious

Your pet’s mental state can influence their appetite and thirst. Some pets have separation anxiety, and may only eat and drink when their family is home. Heightened tension between household pets also can induce stress and anxiety, which can cause a pet to shun their food and water bowls in favor of hiding. 

Conversely, if a pet suffers from boredom, they may handle that stress by eating excessively as entertainment. Senior pets with cognitive dysfunction may eat more than they should because they may have forgotten they’ve already eaten. Or, a senior pet may fail to eat or drink because they can’t find the bowl.

#4: Your pet’s medication is causing adverse side effects

Sometimes, the medication used to manage your pet’s health condition can cause unwanted effects. For example, a pet taking corticosteroids for an autoimmune disease will drink, urinate, and eat more than usual because steroids increase these behaviors. Pets with congestive heart failure who take a diuretic drug to reduce fluid retention will drink and urinate more. If your pet is taking a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) for arthritis pain, they may feel nauseous or experience gastrointestinal upset, causing them to eat and drink less.

Prescription medications may cause a multitude of side effects, so inform our Caring Hands Animal Hospital team of any adverse reactions you notice when giving your pet their medicine. We likely will be able to prescribe a different medication or dosage that your furry pal can tolerate.

If your pet’s appetite has bottomed out or they are gulping down water as if they’ve been in a desert, schedule an exam and diagnostic testing with our Caring Hands Animal Hospital team.