Abnormal weight loss

1st April 2018

At Bollington Veterinary Centre we see many pets that are overweight, and we’ll spend lots of time giving advice on how to help them shed those extra pounds.

We also see the opposite, where our patients are struggling to keep weight on. If an animal starts losing more weight than is planned or expected, we get concerned as it may be a sign of something more serious that needs to be investigated.

There are many reasons why an animal may start to lose weight, so to help explain we thought we would go through some of the more common causes.

1. Bad teeth

Periodontal disease will cause pain, which in turn will lead to weight loss. Dogs and cats find it uncomfortable to eat and chew properly if they have bleeding gums, abscesses and loose teeth. Infections in the mouth associated with poor dental hygiene and health is probably the number one condition we see and treat in our clinic. Treatment for the underlying condition should, in most cases, resolve the weight loss problem.

2. Worms

If you’ve been using a wormer for your pet to treat weight loss, check with us that it’s still effective. Many parasitic worms have become resistant to wormers and no longer work as well as we’d like.

Along with weight loss, symptoms of intestinal worms can include vomiting, diarrhoea, a dull looking coat and reduced appetite. Call us if you’re worried.

3. Cancer

The dreaded cancer can cause all sorts of problems for our pets, and in many instances will be the cause of unexpected weight loss.

Tumours of the gastro-intestinal tract may affect the stomach, small intestines, large intestine or rectum. Common signs to look out for include;

  • Vomiting
  • Reduced appetite
  • Diarrhoea or soft stools
  • Blood in faeces
  • Constipation
  • Abdominal pain
  • Weight loss

Middle aged and older animals are generally more at risk, but it can also affect the young. Look out for the signs and let us know if you’re worried.

4. Kidney Disease

As dogs and cats age, they are more at risk from long term damage to their kidneys. As kidney cells are damaged, the kidneys become inefficient. This in turn causes toxins to build up in the blood, inappetence, vomiting, and weight loss. It’s for these reasons that at Bollington Veterinary Centre we highly recommend regular health checks as your pet ages. There is much that can be done to help if we catch the problem in the early stages.

If you have an older dog or cat and want us to check their kidneys, book an appointment and bring a fresh urine sample from your pet.

5. Hyperthyroidism

This is a condition that affects cats in particular. It’s extremely common and is one of the most dramatic causes of weight loss. A benign tumour of the thyroid gland usually triggers the problem. Some of the common signs we see include;

  • Unexpected weight loss
  • Increased appetite
  • Fast heart rate
  • Diarrhoea
  • Vomiting

The good news is that there are several ways to treat the condition with some very good results. Let us know if you’ve noticed and signs and we’ll be sure to help.

6. Diabetes

At our practice we’re always on the lookout for diabetes in both cats and dogs. It’s relatively common and needs attention and careful monitoring. Animals will usually start to lose weight despite eating relatively well. They’ll often drink more water and have less energy. It can also be difficult to spot, as the signs can be very subtle.

7. Heart disease

There are many forms of heart disease that can affect our pets, and as part of our routine health examinations we are always assessing cardiac function. Some of the diseases are acquired whilst others are congenital and passed down from the parents. When the heart is diseased it becomes and inefficient pump. Some breeds are more at risk from heart disease such as;

Dog: Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Boxer, Doberman

Cat: Maine Coon, Persian and Siamese.

8. Dietary changes

There is such a huge choice of diets available these days it can be quite overwhelming. It’s essential though that you choose the right diet for your pet. Always ask us for some advice as we can help you select the most appropriate in terms of nutrition.

Some animals may not be able to digest certain foods as well as others, so even though they are eating a reasonable sized meal, they may not be getting all the nutrients they need, and as a result will start to lose weight.

If you plan to change your pet’s food, check the ingredient labels carefully.


ABC - finding the cause of weight loss

What will we do if your pet is losing weight?

A. Ask lots of questions

We need to get as much information as possible, so we’ll ask you questions such as;

  • When did you first notice the weight loss?
  • Mow much weight has been lost?
  • Has your pet’s appetite increased/decreased?
  • How much water is drunk each day?
  • Is your pet active and alert or quiet and lethargic?
  • Any vomiting or diarrhoea?

B. Be thorough

We’ll check your pet over very carefully looking at all the body systems;

  • Gums – what colour? Pink, pale, red
  • Teeth – any signs of disease?
  • Heart – rhythm and heart sounds
  • Lungs – respiration rate and rhythm. Any unusual sounds?
  • Abdomen – relaxed or tense? Anything unusual to feel?

C. Check everything

We’ll discuss our findings and suggest a series of further tests and investigations, if necessary, to give us more accurate information. Some of the tests and investigations we might use include;

  • Haematology – a blood test where we perform a complete blood cell count. A high white cell count might indicate an infection or inflammation. A low red cell count may indicate anaemia.
  • Biochemistry – we’ll measure a variety of chemical in the blood that help us determine if there is any underlying liver, kidney, pancreatic or other organ disease.
  • Radiographs - we might take x-rays of the chest and abdomen to see if there are any obstructions, swelling or defects that might alter appetite.
  • Ultrasound – we can use an ultrasound scanner to look within tissues for any unusual changes.
  • Endoscopy – this is where we pass a camera to look at the lining of the oesophagus, stomach or lungs.
Call us if your pet is losing weight