Weight loss in heart failure

Published on: 20th March 2020

Poor appetite and weight loss are common and often frustrating problems that we encounter in dogs and cats with heart disease.  A key part of caring for our pets is providing them with food and it can be frustrating and stressful when they refuse food especially in individuals who previously had a good appetite.

One of the keys to successfully managing heart failure is ensuring that medication is administered regularly and, whilst some pets are happy to eat medication in food, this approach only works well if pets are consuming the food. Failure to receive medication often results in animals feeling weak and therefore eating is less appealing and so a vicious circle develops.

Weight loss can either be associated with reduced intake of food or may occur as a symptom of heart disease due to the body working less efficiently – analogous to a car using more fuel when the engine isn’t working well.

So what can we do?

Provide varied, tempting foods – sometimes smelly foods or a novel food works well.

Gently warm the food.

Offer little and often.

If food is declined, remove it and try again later.

Be prepared that a food that was well received one day, may be regarded disdainfully the next.

Give medication by pilling rather than in food for a few days.

There is some evidence that giving fish oils can reduce weight loss in heart failure in dogs but this should only be done if it does not affect palatability and calorie intake.

Call us for advice – many dogs and cats with heart failure have intermittent loss of appetite so there’s lots of things we can suggest tailored to your individual pet. For example sometimes we give certain medications by injection for a few days, we can discuss a change in medication strategy, sometimes a blood sample to check kidney function and body salt levels which can affect appetite is appropriate and we could also consider the short-term use of appetite stimulants.

In summary, although weight loss and intermittent reductions in appetite are common in dogs and cats with heart failure this is usually a temporary problem. By getting to know you and your pet well we can often deduce the key to getting them eating and also successfully administering medications.