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We Take This Personally

As veterinary staff members, we try not to take too many things personally. It is a fact that our job often causes us to meet people and pets on some of the most stressful days of their lives, and even if it is not stressful, it can still be costly. As such, we try to let as many things as possible roll of our backs.

You may not be aware, however, that many of us do take one thing very personally - when your pet won't eat in the hospital! We take it personally because we know that this can make or break a successful patient outcome regardless of the disease or condition. This causes us to get creative and to think outside of the box on numerous occasions. In some cases we are limited by dietary restrictions or pet or owner preferences, however, we often try as many things as we can think of for your pet when he or she is not eating. If we aren't limited, we often try one or all of the following:

  1. Meat baby food. Meat baby food can be a tasty alternative for cats and dogs that don't want to eat in the hospital. The fact that they can lap it up without chewing seems to be appealing and the fact that it is a novel consistency and/or flavor seems to increase the success rate.

  2. Canned food varieties. Offering different canned foods can be a novelty for both cats and dogs who may not have much variety at home. Having something easy to chew that smells different from what he or she may have started associating with nausea can be helpful. Fragrant cat food can be a tasty treat for dogs, however, it is less ideal to feed cats dog food because it can completely lack or lack appropriate levels of taurine, a necessary nutrient for cats. It can also be too low in protein.

  3. Dry food. Sometimes dogs and cats prefer dry food, and offering a variety of dry food can be much more appealing if canned food is not their thing.

  4. Dog food concoctions - Move over Gordon Ramsey! At times we combine several types of foods like shredded meat and canned food with or without soaked kibble in an attempt to get the appetite centers tingling.

  5. Treats. Sometimes tasty treats such a pill pockets or treat pastes can entice a picky animal to eat. Sometimes even tossing kibble like a treat can be effective.

  6. Deli meat and/or cheese. These human food items can be very appealing to an inappetent pet.

  7. Shredded meat. Lean shredded meat can be enticing and it is helpful that some of these meats come in shelf stable cans that are easy for vet hospitals to keep in stock.

  8. Appetite stimulants. Appetite stimulants such as mirtazapine, capromorelin, and cyproheptadine can be helpful to stimulate a dog or cat's appetite center.

  9. Antiemetics. Nausea can be a potent cause of inappetence, and therefore, eliminating or reducing it with medications can help with appetite.

  10. Sedatives and anesthetics. Surprisingly sedatives such as diazepam (Valium) and anesthetics such as propofol can help to stimulate appetite, albeit the correct dose. We have all seen patients undergo general anesthesia that becoming raveously hungry once they recover. Obviously, we would not advocate for inducing general anesthesia just to stimulate appetite, but it is something many of us have witnessed.

  11. Pleading, begging, commanding. Sometimes we will try to beg, plead, or demand an animal to eat to see if it will work.

  12. Singing and dancing. I have done this and have seen colleagues do this before with variable success rates. It seems to work best late at night in my experience. ***Ahem Dr. Stewart!***

  13. Pretending to eat the food ourselves. Sometimes if a can or dog sees us showing interest in the food ourselves, it can encourage them to eat. The social nature of it can also be helpful for some pets.

  14. Privacy. Some pets prefer to eat secretly.

  15. Hand feeding. Sometimes dogs and cats prefer to be babied or pampered, and want to be hand fed. We are more than happy to oblige if it will get our patient eating.

  16. Syringe feeding. Syringe feeding, when it is safe to do so and for the right patient, can get gut motility going enough to trigger enough of an appetite that the patient wants to eat on his or her own.

  17. A dab of food on the nose. Sometimes getting a patient to just taste food can get their appetite started. One my residency mentors seemed to have this technique perfected.

  18. Calling in reinforcements. Sometimes we ask the owner of the cat or dog to try to feed their pet in a quiet space. We also often ask the owner to bring food items or treats that the pet has liked in the past.

  19. Feeding tubes. Feeding tubes can be extremely effective if all else fails. Unlike in humans, feeding tubes are not typically offered as a palliative or hospice type treatment, but instead are offered in patients that we think have a reasonably good to great prognosis with adequate nutrition.

Vet peeps - are there any things I have missed? Comment below.

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