Just as is the case with humans, pets tend to establish and maintain some basic eating habits that may vary only a very little bit over time. Of course as is also the case with humans, a pet’s eating habits can be healthy or unhealthy, helping them maintain a healthy, happy, and active lifestyle or contributing to discomfort and numerous health issues. Needless to say, pet health is primarily dependent upon the choices owners make in the type and quantity of food they feed their pet. Pet foods vary widely in quality, and can even accommodate special nutritional needs that some pets may have. However, even where a pet owner has taken the time to consult with their pet’s veterinarian prior to selecting the best pet food for their beloved companion, they may occasionally notice changes in their pet’s eating habits. It’s important to recognize which changes are normal, and which changes warrant a visit to the vet.

Pet Eating Behavior

There are many possible reasons for why a pet’s appetite and eating habits change, and these reasons can actually vary not only from breed to breed but indeed also from pet to pet. They may be related to age, health, and even climate, which means that what’s normal for one of your dogs may not be normal for another of your dogs–even if they are the same breed and the same age.

Due to the wide variances in normal eating habits, determining what’s normal and what’s problematic can be a bit tricky. Eating less than usual can be a sign of illness, but it can also be a sign of warmer weather. Likewise, eating more than usual can be a sign of illness, or it can be a sign of cooler weather. Furthermore, while illness can cause changes in eating habits, so too can an increase of stress or exercise. The best approach is to watch your pet, or each of your pets if you have more than one, and familiarize yourself with their normal eating habits. When you become familiar with your pet’s normal eating habits, you will notice when changes warrant a trip to the vet’s office. You can also consult with your veterinarian to determine what eating habits are normal for your pet or pets.

Generally speaking, a pet’s normal, healthy eating habits should include eating their normal food with interest and satisfaction. While some pets will gorge when they eat as a matter of habit, pets should not act starved on a regular basis or seek to supplement their meals by scrounging for extra food or by eating non-food items. It can be normal for dogs to eat a little bit of dirt and for cats to eat a little bit of grass, but dogs that are chowing down on dirt regularly or cats that eat a large serving of grass every day need to be checked by a veterinarian to determine whether they are experiencing a health condition that needs to be diagnosed and treated.

Some of the health conditions that can contribute to a change in a pet’s eating habits include:

  • Fever
  • Cancer
  • Food allergies
  • GI problems
  • Viral infection
  • Tick-borne illness
  • Ingestion of something toxic
  • Injury or pain in mouth or throat
  • Internal organ disease

Any change in your pet’s eating habits should be discussed with your veterinarian, especially if the change is a decrease in appetite and especially if your pet is young. A pet that completely stops eating is experiencing a medical emergency and should be rushed to the veterinarian without delay. Some of the issues contributing to changes in eating habits are minor and can be easily addressed, but can exacerbate over time if not handled early on, while others are major and demand fast resolution. It’s best not to take any chances and always check with your veterinarian when any eating habit change has occurred in your pet.