Many people attribute weight loss in a geriatric pet to the normal aging process. Often, a pet will lose a significant amount of body mass before the owner is aware. The fact is, every change in the body has an underlying cause, even when the reason is not obvious. Weight loss may be a symptom of chronic disease, and there may be other subtle symptoms that are also written off to old age. Muscle loss is the most serious form of weight loss and can be very difficult to reverse.Unexplained weight loss can occur for a number of reasons, the most common of which is caused by organ dysfunction. Renal insufficiency (kidney failure) and Congestive Heart Failure (CHF) are the most frequent underlying causes of muscle loss in pets. Metabolic disorders such as Cushing’s disease and Diabetes Mellitus can cause chronic weight loss as well.
Hyperthyroidism is very common in older cats. Weight loss will occur despite an increased appetite, and the cat will vomit frequently. Other symptoms usually accompany these problems that cause muscle wasting. Increased water consumption is always a symptom of a disease process, but changes in appetite and attitude are also common. Senility or cognitive dysfunction is a possibility when an animal gets older, but contributing factors must be ruled out when there is weight loss.
In the case of unexplained weight loss, a thorough examination and blood work will be performed. A blood chemistry panel and urinalysis can reveal a number of disease processes that lead to weight loss. Routine wellness checkups can help monitor the pet’s weight to discover trends over time. Twice a year veterinary visits are recommended for all geriatric (over seven) pets. Because dogs and cats age much faster than a human, a year is almost the equivalent of a human decade.
The prognosis for managing a disease is always better when discovered early in its progression. The chance of slowing or even reversing the weight loss depends entirely on treating the underlying cause. Increasing the amount of food given to a pet is likely to be a temporary solution. The metabolic changes that are causing the pet to shed pounds cannot be overcome by increasing the calories.