Dear Dr. Dana,
My 15-year-old cat is gradually losing weight. Should I be concerned or this a normal part of the aging process?
Weight loss when planned can be beneficial to overweight animals but if you begin to notice your pet losing weight, especially over a short period of time then an alarm bell should go off in your head that this can indicate a serious problem.
The first step you should take is to document any changes in normal daily activities, such as eating, drinking, bathroom habits and sleeping. Additionally, you should monitor the volume of food and water intake over a 24 hour period. Tracking weight changes by using a step-on bathroom scale or a scale at your veterinarian’s office is also helpful in investigating true weight loss. A weekly weight would be sufficient to monitor drastic fluctuations in body weight.
Here are some of the common conditions I often observe associated with weight loss:
Kidney disease: As dogs and cats age it is important to evaluate the kidneys for any signs of dysfunction, including an increase in water consumption and urination, decreased appetite and vomiting. I generally recommend a senior blood panel and urine test to help to detect kidney dysfunction. An appropriate treatment plan can be recommended by your veterinarian based on the stage of kidney disease.
Gastrointestinal diseases: The GI tract can be affected by intestinal parasites, inflammatory bowel disease and food allergies, which can often lead to unplanned weight loss in pets. An animal that is not absorbing proper nutrients and having chronic diarrhea will start to lose weight and muscle mass. A good place to start is collect a fecal sample and submit for analysis. This is used to rule out any intestinal parasites, such as roundworms, hookworms, giardia or coccidian.
Dental disease: This is another common condition that can make your pet lose weight. When there is significant buildup of tartar, plaque or gingivitis this can lead significant pain. Other dental issues can result from severe periodontal disease including tooth root abscesses or even fractured teeth. Monitoring your pet’s food intake will help you determine if dental disease is the underlying cause for their unexplained weight loss. When in doubt consult with your veterinarian so he or she can examine your pet’s mouth.
Diabetes mellitus: This is an endocrine disorder caused by either a lack of the hormone insulin or an inadequate response to insulin. Common clinical signs include fluctuation in weight, increased drinking and urination, weakness in back legs, lethargy, and muscle wasting. Your veterinarian can make a diagnosis through a detailed medical history, physical examination and often with blood and urine tests. Treatment often involves insulin injections and diet modifications.
Liver disease: This vital organ is important for removing toxins from the body, providing coagulation factors and aiding in digestion. When the liver is affected you may observe gradual or drastic weight loss.
Hyperthyroidism: This is a common disease of cats and in rare cases, dogs. This disease most frequently causes significant weight loss, in addition to vomiting, diarrhea and overactive behaviors (eg. Eating, drinking, urinating, energy level). This condition is caused by a non-cancerous tumor on the thyroid gland that directs the body to overproduce thyroid hormones. Your veterinarian can complete blood testing to diagnosis this disease. It can be treated with surgery, medical therapy or through a treatment involving radioactive iodine.
Infectious diseases: Diseases such as Feline infectious peritonitis (FIP) can be the underlying cause for weight loss in your cat. This deadly disease is caused by a coronavirus which attacks the walls of the intestinal tract. It is not highly contagious among the majority of cats, especially those in single cat households that have relatively clean environments. Generally cats housed in larger populations and those with a weakened immune system are at the greatest risk. Infectious diseases in dogs such as parvovirus and distemper virus are highly contagious and can cause life-threatening clinical signs in dogs, including weight loss, vomiting and diarrhea. These two diseases can be prevented by vaccinations.
Cancer: This is another unfortunate condition that causes weight loss. Different types of cancers cause varied clinical signs in our animals. Any unexplained weight loss, in addition to decreased appetite and lethargy should be investigated for an underlying cancer as the cause. To further evaluate it may be recommended to perform x-rays or ultrasound. If there are any abnormal lumps or bumps on your pet then a biopsy or cytology (evaluation of cells) should be performed.
If you are noticing weight loss I would recommend scheduling an evaluation with your veterinarian. This way he can perform a thorough examination and perform some basic tests such as bloodwork, urine testing or x-rays to rule out some of the diseases listed above.
Dr. Dana Koch, a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, works for HousePaws Mobile Veterinary Service. Her professional interests include dentistry, pocket pets, preventative medicine and internal medicine. She services Bucks County, Philadelphia and South Jersey.
Send questions to Pet Project, Burlington County Times, 4284 Route 130, Willingboro, NJ 08046; email email@example.com; www.facebook.com/HousePawsMobileVet
For more information about HousePaws Mobile Veterinary Service, go to www.housepawsmobilevet.com/
Cat’s weight loss could be a cause for concern – Entertainment & Life – Bucks County Courier Times