Weight loss and Wasting

 When pets loose weight progressively over a relatively short period of time, it is often an indication of a serious problem or disease. At times the continuous weight loss is associated with loss of appetite (anorexia), muscle wasting, weakness, ambulation difficulty and depression. This condition is known as wasting or cachexia and indicates a severe, often fatal disease. Cachexia is more common in older or in very young patients, but can occur in pets of any age or gender.

Weight loss may result from lack of nutrition or from access of combustion or utilization. Lack of nutrition can occur due to inadequate food quality or quantity, problem in assimilation or swallowing, lack of appetite, vomiting or regurgitation. Diarrhea, parasites, malabsortive intestinal diseases (such as inflammatory bowel disease) and digestive disorders related to liver or pancreas disease, prevent nutrient absorption. Major organ failure (i.e. liver, kidney or heart), Chronic inflammation, infection or other systemic disease such as diabetes, hyperthyroidism and cancer are common causes of wasting. Persistent exaggerated physical activity, extreme temperatures and pregnancy or massive and prolonged lactation may contribute weight loss and possibly cachexia.

The veterinarian should examine any pet exhibiting noticeable weight loss. The degree of weight loss can be evaluated by comparing the current weight to previous weights. Based on the history and the physical examination, the doctor will decide which tests to run. A complete blood test, urine test, fecal examination and sometimes x-rays are often the preliminary choices. More specific tests and procedures, such as endoscopy, biopsy/histopathology, ultrasonorgaphy or specific serology might be warranted, depending on the findings.

 Treatment also varies depending on the diagnosis and is aimed at treating the underlined disease as well as providing adequate nutrition. Parasite control, environmental and nutritional management suffice in cases such as parasite infestation, extreme weather conditions, pregnancy or diet deficiencies. Other conditions may require hospitalization, tube feeding, surgery as well as appropriate medications.

 The prognosis depends on the underlying cause or disease and is often guarded to severe.

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