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Written by leading veterinarians to provide you with the information you need to care for your pets.

 
 
Your dog's nutrition is important for a healthy & happy life. petMD experts help you to know what to feed your dog, how much food to feed, and the differences in dog foods, so your dog gets optimum nutrition.
Nutrition Nuggets is the newest offshoot of petMD's Dog Nutrition Center. Each week Dr. Coates will use her expertise and wisdom to blog about the intricacies of dog nutrition.

Sick Dogs Need to Eat Sooner Rather than Later

October 23, 2015 / (1) comments

I recently wrote a post over on Daily Vet about sickness behaviors in animals. These are “a classic array of behavioral and physiological signs associated with illness, including loss of appetite and reduced feed intake, reduced activity, and attempts to withdraw from social contact.” The gist of the article was that sick animals act in this way because it helps them recover from illness, and we should support these behaviors rather than try to override them.

 

While sickness behaviors are generally beneficial, like most things in life, if taken too far they can be detrimental. This is especially true when it comes to a dog’s unwillingness to eat.

 

I don’t worry when a sick dog doesn’t feel like eating for a couple of days. If the gastrointestinal tract is involved in the dog’s illness a few days “off” can give it a chance to recuperate. Even if the GI tract isn’t the source of the problem, a few days without food will generally not do much in the way of harm.

 

But new research presented at the 2015 American Academy of Veterinary Nutrition meeting shows that taken too far, a lack of adequate nutrition is certainly detrimental to a sick dog’s welfare.

 

Scientists evaluated 490 dogs who were hospitalized for a day or more at the Veterinary Teaching Hospital of the Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona. They looked at many parameters, including body weight, body condition score, muscle condition score, laboratory data, diagnostic tests, reason for hospitalization, length of hospitalization, resting energy requirement, food intake, clinical signs, nutritional intervention, severity of disease, and outcome (discharged, died, or euthanized).

 

Dogs had a better chance of being discharged alive when they ate (or were fed) enough to meet their resting energy requirements. Other factors that improved outcomes were a higher initial body condition score and nutritional intervention. Worse outcomes were seen in dogs who were not eating on their own when they arrived at the hospital and/or were hospitalized for long period of times. A previous study by the same authors showed that length of hospitalization, age, body condition score, and vomiting at admission were all associated with a reduction in a dog’s body condition score during hospitalization.

 

For veterinarians, this research brings home the importance of calculating a dog’s resting energy requirement, updating it regularly (it changes with weight gain/loss), monitoring how much food a dog is taking in, and instituting appropriate interventions (e.g., anti-nausea medications and/or a feeding tube) in a timely manner.

 

For owners, the take home message is even simpler: If your dog is not eating well, don’t wait more than a few days to seek veterinary care (sooner if symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea, or discomfort are also present). The faster treatment is started the better the chances of a successful outcome for your dog.

 

 

Dr. Jennifer Coates

 

 

References

 

Using Behavior to Assess Animal Welfare Module. National Veterinary Accreditation Program. USDA.

 

Nutrition related risk factors for malnutrition and negative outcome in hospitalized dogs. Molina, J. et al. 15th Annual AAVN Clinical Nutrition and Research Symposium Proceedings. 2015.

Comments  1

Leave Comment
  • Good Advice
    10/23/2015 06:02pm

    That sounds like good advice for humans and pets alike.

    I know from experience that if you don't eat for a couple of days, you tend to lose your appetite. Of course, not eating at all (especially when recuperating) causes all sorts of problems.

 



ABOUT NUTRITION NUGGETS

JENNIFER COATES, DVM

Photo of Jennifer

... graduated with honors from the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine in 1999. In the years since, she has practiced veterinary medicine in Virginia, Wyoming, and Colorado. She is the author of several books about veterinary medicine and animal care, including the Dictionary of Veterinary Terms, Vet-Speak Deciphered for the Non-Veterinarian .

Jennifer also writes short stories that focus on the strength and importance of the human-animal bond and freelance articles relating to a variety of animal care and veterinary topics. Dr. Coates lives in Fort Collins, Colorado with her husband, daughter, and pets.


 
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