One of the most common reasons pet parents bring their fur babies to veterinarians is a reduced or loss of appetite. Sometimes the pet is also vomiting, but often the only concern for the family is the pet’s lack of appetite. Invariably, families report they have tried multiple types of commercial foods to entice their pet. Many have even cooked special homemade meals only to have their pets sniff or lick the food and then quickly turn away from the food bowl. Unfortunately, pet parents fail to recognize what their pet is telling them with this behavior – their pet is nauseated.
Clinical Signs of Nausea
Approaching a food dish to sniff and/or lick only to then walk away from the food dish is, perhaps, the most underappreciated sign of nausea in dogs and cats. Many ill pets will initially eat a food but when that meal makes them feel ill, they subsequently refuse to eat future offerings of that food. When a different delectable is offered, they’ll repeat this behavior. Other common signs that a dog or cat is possibly nauseated include:
Reduced or complete loss of appetite
Bruxism (teeth grinding)
Pawing at their mouth
Assuming a hunched body posture
Lethargy and increased reclusiveness
Vomiting / dry heaving
Causes of Nausea
There are many causes of nausea in dogs and cats, and it may be helpful to think of them in two main categories: diseases of the gastrointestinal tract (GIT) and diseases outside of the GIT. Common diseases of the GIT that can cause chronic nausea include:
Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
Cancer (i.e.: lymphoma, adenocarcinoma)
Infectious diseases (fungi, protozoa, intestinal parasites)
Severe constipation / obstipation
Diseases outside the GIT frequently implicated in chronic intermittent vomiting are:
Chronic kidney disease
Hyperthyroidism in cats
Inflammatory liver disease
Hepatic lipidosis in cats (aka: fatty liver syndrome)
Central nervous system disease
The Importance of a Diagnosis and Nutrition
Determining the definitive cause of a pet’s nausea can be quite challenging. Pet parents are encouraged to be proactive, partnering with their family veterinarian and perhaps even board-certified veterinary specialists to figure out what ails their fur babies as quickly as possible. Why? Pets who don’t eat appropriately certainly won’t get better! Even if a pet is nauseated and will not eat, nutritional support remains of paramount importance for maximizing a successful outcome, and should be implemented as soon as possible. Prolonged periods (>48 hours) without food can lead to additional complications, for example the development of hepatic lipidosis (fatty liver syndrome) in cats. Force/coax feeding is never recommended because doing so readily promotes the development of food aversion.
Think about it this way. If you were nauseated, would you want someone shoving food in your mouth? No. Not only would you not like it, you would likely never want to have that food again either! The use of a temporary supplemental feeding tube to provide adequate nutrition for a patient who is not quite ready to eat on his/her own is well tolerated and can truly be lifesaving.
Nausea is a relatively common clinical issue for dogs and cats, but is often under-recognized by pet parents and sometimes even by primary care veterinarians. Families should be aware of the subtle ways your fur babies tell them they are nauseated, and seek medical attention for them as soon as possible.