Question: My cat, Garfield, is seven years old and has recently gone off his food. I normally feed him a variety of commercial dry cat foods. My dog, Boris, has also been getting fussy and sometimes refuses to eat. Can you give me some holistic tips to improve their appetite?
G.G., via email
Answer: Any animal in good health will usually be ready for food—just like us humans. In the case of animals, though, it is the pattern of eating that is important. We all know of the fussy pet that only picks at its food and may not eat even once a day but after a couple of days suddenly eats a good meal. The old adage 'a healthy pet is a hungry pet' is for the most part very true.
Stress, changes in the family, depression, pain, fever, poor-quality or boring food, weather changes, parasites, lesions in the mouth, infections, constipation and cancer can all cause loss of appetite. If the cause is simple, then just changing their food or giving your pets more attention may solve the issue.
Severe gingivitis (inflamed gums) or dental disease can also cause your pets to go off their food. And it's quite normal for a cat that has eaten a mouse or a dog who has raided the trash to stop eating briefly.
To help Garfield and Boris get their appetites back, it's important to know exactly what symptoms they're showing.
Total appetite loss, where a pet stops eating completely, is usually a symptom of some underlying disease. If appetite loss is accompanied by other signs of poor health, these should be taken into account and the appropriate remedy given. If you're in any doubt, seek veterinary help.
Dogs and cats with painful lesions in their mouth may try to eat and then yelp or howl and back off from their food. Cats with respiratory infections can't smell their food, so they may come close to their bowl but walk away without eating.
These behaviors must be observed carefully and reported to your vet. If your pet is refusing all food, including his favorite treats, then there is definitely some underlying cause that needs veterinary attention.
After obtaining a full history and performing a thorough clinical examination, your vet will arrive at a diagnosis. Blood tests and X-rays may be needed if the vet suspects infectious diseases, pancreatitis, constipation, obstructions (foreign bodies in the digestive tract) or cancer.
Cats with ulcerative stomatitis may have mouth ulcers that prevent them from eating. Most cancers will also cause pets to lose weight and appetite. Dogs and cats that have eaten foreign objects may have a blockage that will make them stop eating. Appetite loss may also be due to liver or kidney failure.
In severe cases of appetite loss, your vet may prescribe capromorelin oral solution (Entyce), a relatively new drug that can help chronically ill pets who refuse to eat.
It acts by mimicking the hunger hormone ghrelin and has a low rate (less than 1 percent) of generally mild side-effects, such as vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, flatulence and excessive drooling.
However, for many pets, appetite loss can be managed naturally with holistic remedies or a change in diet or feeding routine.
Holistic and natural treatments
If Garfield and Boris refuse food but seem to be acting normally in every other way—alert, active and interested—there is nothing to worry about.
It is OK for a cat not to eat for 24 hours and for a dog to fast for 48 hours, but a sudden change in eating habits is certainly noteworthy.
If at all possible, you should examine your pet's mouth to check for any soreness in the gums, tongue or teeth. This is much easier with dogs than cats, but if your pet becomes aggressive, then stop immediately and take him or her to your vet as soon as possible.
You can try switching your pets' usual food for some tasty human food or another brand of pet food. If they gulp it down, there is nothing to worry about.
Feeding in a quiet place away from noise may be important for sensitive pets. This is especially important if the household is suddenly noisy because of a party or guests staying for the weekend. Cats in particular like to eat undisturbed. A quiet pantry or garage may resolve the issue.
Feed smelly food
Both dogs and cats have a very strong sense of smell and love smelly foods. Serving Garfield and Boris warm food can stimulate their appetites, as heating it up releases the food's pungent aroma.
Adding a little fresh garlic to pet food can enhance the smell and induce pets to eat. Large amounts of garlic can be toxic to dogs and cats, so stick to the correct dose. Small dogs can be fed 1⁄8 tsp of garlic a day, and dogs over 15 lbs (7 kg) can have a 1⁄4 tsp of fresh garlic daily.
The American Association of Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), which is responsible for monitoring the safety of animal feed products, has deemed garlic safe at these levels. Cats and dogs can develop anemia if fed large quantities of garlic over prolonged periods.
The acupoints ST36 (located in a depression on the outer side of the hind limbs just below the knees) and BL20 (located on both sides of the spine in the depression between the last two ribs) are useful to help stimulate the appetite. Applying light finger pressure on these points for 30 to 60 seconds once a day can correct any energy imbalances that have affected your pets' appetites.
Animal healing is a fantastic complement to veterinary care and can help rebalance your pets and help them recover their appetite. Find a qualified animal.
reiki practitioner or see my book, You Can Heal Your Pet, for how to give healing to your pet yourself.
Homeopathy can be beneficial for pets with appetite loss.
•If the appetite loss is due to a mild digestive upset, give your pets Nux Vomica 6c.
Suggested dosage: Take 3-4 times daily for 2 to 3 days
• If your pet literally walks away from the food as if just the thought of eating is making him sick or nauseated, Dr Francis Hunter, in his book Everyday Homeopathy for Animals, recommends Arsenicum Album 30C.
Suggested dosage: Take every 30 to 60 minutes up to 4 doses; repeat 3-4 times daily as necessary.
Nature's Own Stew
8 oz (230 g) free-range ground turkey or chicken or chicken breast
1 large carrot, grated
1 handful green beans, chopped into small pieces
1 handful basmati rice
1 medium potato, diced
1 handful frozen peas*
2 cabbage leaves, shredded
1) Place all ingredients in a large pot and add enough water to cover.
2) Bring to a boil and then gently simmer for 30 minutes until most of the liquid has been absorbed (top up the pot with water if it starts to dry out). Allow the mixture to cool.
3) Keep in the fridge for up to three days, or freeze for up to one month.
*Peas are a wonderful food to keep handy in your freezer or pantry as a source of protein; vitamins B, C and K; phosphorus; potassium; zinc; carotenes; and folic acid. Add a handful of peas to any fresh pet food recipe at the cooking stage to bulk up the fiber. Dogs and cats alike love lightly cooked peas.
Feeding tips for sick pets
• Avoid feeding snacks
• Feed little and often
• Tempt your pet with warm food (body temperature) or fresh, home-cooked food
• Don't leave food down if your pet doesn't finish it
• Offer fresh food each time
• Pamper your pet by hand-feeding or putting food in a small dish
• Feed in a quiet place
• Feed safe, home-cooked, human-grade food without salt or sugar, like chicken broth. Try the Nature's Own Stew recipe from my book You Can Heal Your Pet.
Rohini Sathish, DVM, MSC, MRCVS, MHAO, MCIVT
Dr Sathish is an award-winning holistic vet with 22 years of experience. After training in acupuncture, acupressure, energy healing, Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), animal communication and herbal medicine, she now actively integrates conventional veterinary treatments with complementary therapies and is co-author of You Can Heal Your Pet (Hay House UK, 2015). You can contact Dr Sathish at her website: www.rohinisholisticvetcare.com