Does Anorexia Exist In Domestic Cats?

Skinny Cat
Skinny Cat
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Does Anorexia exist as a medical health problem in the domestic cat? I don’t think it does and I was prompted to write this article because of an article recently written by Jo, in which the term “anorexic” is interpreted much more widely with respect to domestic cats; meaning a loss of appetite caused by an underlying illness which makes the cat feel ill, lethargic and unwilling to eat.

But for humans the term “anorexic” means a mental health condition in which the person believes that they are overweight even when they are not and therefore they stop eating or find it very difficult to eat. In respect of people, it is a problem with a person’s perception of their body shape.

People are not quite sure what causes this human mental health condition labelled “anorexia” but, on my reading of the condition, it would seem that it has a lot to do with a lack of self-esteem, confidence and self worth. It may also be related to depression which can, in fact, arise out of a lack of self-esteem. I’m not going to explore that any further because I don’t know the answers except to say a lot of commentators suggest that the cause for girls is an over-emphasis in the media on body shape and being “attractive”. Boys also suffer from it because they are also under pressure, more so these days, to have an excellent body shape.

The point of this very short post is that anorexia does not exist in domestic cat because they don’t and cannot have this human mental health condition. Anorexia is a product of the human condition, social pressures and commerce. Therefore we cannot call a cat anorexic. What we can call the cat who is consistently underweight is that they have a loss of appetite and it is up to the veterinarian to decide what is causing it. It will invariably be an illness which is quite possibly associated with old age.

Lots of geriatric cats initially put on weight because they are less active but eat the same amount and then towards the end of their life they lose weight because of chronic illness resulting in a lack of a desire to eat which is then sometimes referred to as anorexia.

You won’t find veterinary books referring to anorexic cats. You might occasionally see it online but I my opinion it’d be incorrect. However, the term is used more widely for cats as indicated in Jo’s article. This is not a criticism of her article but more exploration of the language used in relation to cat health.

8 thoughts on “Does Anorexia Exist In Domestic Cats?”

  1. True, Michael,

    That’s why it’s important to make that distinction and educate folks that if their vet diagnoses their cat to be anorexic that they understand exactly what that means and not get confused between the two. It should be up to the veterinarian to explain exactly what the diagnosis means to avoid a huge misunderstandig.

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  2. I really do need to clear up the difference between “anorexia” and “Anorexia Nervosa” http://eatingdisorder.org/eating-disorder-information/anorexia-nervosa/ an eating disorder in humans.

    There is a major difference between “anorexia”- meaning a loss of appetite for an extended period of time- which has little to no connection with the psychological problem termed “Anorexia Nervosa” which refers strictly to human emotional problems.

    Since cats do not concern themselves with body image, cats do not suffer from Anorexia Nervosa- they do suffer from anorexia – http://www.virtualhospice.ca/en_US/Main+Site+Navigation/Home/Topics/Topics/Symptoms/Lack+of+Appetite+and+Loss+of+Weight.aspx which can be caused by a medical condition and pain.

    Anorexia in cats is not a mental condition- it is purely physical and when the underlying cause is found and treated appropriately-including getting a cat to eat again by various methods, the cat will once again start eating normally. But it is not a psychological problem in cats, so domestic cats can become anorexic. It’s just a simple terminology unlike the diagnosis of Anorexia Nervosa in humans.

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    • Thanks Jo. I agree that anorexia means “loss of appetite and inability to eat”. I also agree that the word is used differently between cats and humans. The trouble for me is that we might tend to believe that cats suffer from a mental condition if described as “anorexic”.

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  3. If the animal reaches a point of starvation it also starves the cats mental abilities { Brain function as well]. This is what I was attempting to convey.
    Eva say’s

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  4. Any animals body will refuse food if it is on the edge of starvation.The body just can’t function properly any longer and begins to shut down. Usually there is heart failure in some degree and all organs are affected. This is why a victim will succumb to this condition [ anorexia ] if the Body and Brain have been deprived past the breaking point.
    Please remember that many children die in Africa_even when help finally comes_& someone intervene’s.

    Starvation is a devastating disease no matter what language it’s in and no matter what living being it inhabits*afflicts*/

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    • Any animals body will refuse food if it is on the edge of starvation.The body just can’t function properly any longer and begins to shut down

      Sounds correct but of course what got the cat to that point would have been illness and not a mental illness.

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