Pets Digestive disorders, their factors and prevention

Often, owners of cats and dogs have to deal with some behavioral abnormalities associated with pets’ nutrition. A dog may try to eat something that is not intended for food or not to eat at all; a cat may prefer pickle or sweets that are usually not typical for them... How to react and what to do in such situations, when and which intervention is necessary – the following article is on this matter.

Anorexia, refusal to eat

Lack of appetite is a symptom of many diseases, which may take a long time to enumerate them all. Anyway, at any disease suspicion, it is necessary to consult your veterinarian. Even if we exclude a disease, the following reasons may become crucial for reduction or loss of appetite: active search for sexual partner, food and territorial competition, situation, when the dominant dog does not let the subordinate specimen to come to its bowl or serves as a source of constant pressure, when, consequently, a subordinate animal prefers to avoid food; as well as the state of stress associated with the abrupt change of the animal's environment. Social problems and fear of the dominant specimen make it impossible to approach the place of feeding, without mentioning a fact of eating itself.

In such cases the problem is solved by elimination of disturbing factors. In competition between animals, it makes sense to delimit and divide eating places, feed animals at a different time and make sure that a dominant dog will not drive the weaker away from its feeding place and will not show aggression before or immediately after feeding.

The deterioration of food like drying, rancidification, souring, hardening, also leads to its abandonment. Dogs prefer to avoid such feedstuff, and the owners should take control of this carefully.

Selective poor appetite often appears as a result of extra concern of the owners about animal’s feeding. Each time, when a dog refuses food or eats less than usual, the owners start to pay increasing attention, replacing its food for more delicious or persuading a dog to eat. Animal forms a habit to get attention and contact by refusing to eat or it plays with food that finally results in appetite failure. You should not ever come this way, unless you are dealing with extremely weak and exhausted animal, but even in this case you need to stop such tendency immediately after the animal has recovered from its hard state.

Another common problem that causes the disturbances in nutrition and refusal to eat is the animals’ pamperedness, which occurs in the absence of feeding schedule, when food is available all day, and your dog can take it any time, yet, in addition, dog gets morsels or doles from the table. The situation is very similar to those, when spoiled children are trying to kill appetite by taking candies and chips between wholesome foods.

To order such spoiled dogs you should establish a strict feeding schedule and maintain fixed conditions, kind of a ritual before feeding - following certain commands, or feeding strictly before or after walk. Also you need to limit the time of food access, cleaning the bowl between feedings and allotting a specific short time for a dog to eat. Part of table food and morsels you should give together with the general feedstuff or as a reward in training.

Also when correcting the appetite you should increase physical activity, half an hour of active walk stimulates the appetite much better and safer than regular tasty pieces, added to the bowl.

You should encourage your dog, stroke it, talk to it softly when it is taking a food or treat, and ignore it, when it has stopped eating, do not make your dog to eat more and take a food away until the next time.

Special interactive toys, which you may fill up with dry food, can also stimulate the dogs’ appetite. The inaccessibility of food inside them, need to make some effort to retrieve, awakens a hunting instinct in animal and stimulates it to eat the obtained stuff.

Bulimia, the uncontrolled appetite

A dog can become a "foodaholic" for fear that food once may not be enough (food competition) due to hormonal disorder (diabetes, hypercorticalism, lack of luteal hormone), out of boredom, because of insufficient caloric intake or in presence of digestion disturbances in the stomach, intestines or pancreas. Tracing the quantity and quality of the consumed food, structure of feces, weight control and watching the animal’s behavior will help you to find a logical reason for changing towards food at an early stage. In this case, for successful correction you may have recourse to a vet help to identify the cause correctly. If we are talking exclusively about a dogs’ competition, it is necessary to give a sufficient amount of food to all animals in the house, making sure at the same time they will not overeat; that otherwise they have got the necessary feedstuff in time and no collisions happened between them for food. In cases, involving disorders, a condition shall be corrected together with veterinarian.

Pica, the perverted appetite

The grass eating, followed by vomiting, is associated with physiologic disorder of stomach function that precedes the gastritis development or nutritional discomfort due to poor quality of food or overeating, but it is not supposed to be eating disorder in the full sense of this word.

The perverted appetite is actually reflected in whitewash licking, soil eating, consumption of non-foods, like potato peelings, straw, onion peel, sucking hair and wool. Frequently it is associated with the lack of vitamins and minerals, which animal is trying to fill up in any possible way. In this case it is necessary to revise the dog’s diet and enrich it with some vitamin complexes or enzymes, add vitamins, which dog is mainly missing. You can determine it by the appropriate tests or by observation (e.g., whitewash eating indicates a lack of calcium and so on).

The same you should check your dog for possible worm contamination, which presence may cause the depletion of the body, metabolic disorder and consequently lead to perverted feeding behavior in an attempt to compensate losses.

For example, if a dog licks whitewash, chalk, whitewashed wood, the problem is in lack of potassium and calcium.

If a dog eats rotten vegetables or tries to pick up carrion on the street - it is the obvious deficiency in digestive enzymes and vitamins of B group.

At sucking of wool, hair, old bones, a dog lacks biotin, vitamin D and gilein.

Determining the deficiency of certain substances, it would be best to feed your dog with a course of appropriate vitamins and minerals to refill the shortage in the body at a short time, and to correct the diet to avoid such reoccurrences afterwards.

Eating of non-food items

If a dog licks walls, floor, cracks and swallows wooden items, plastics, it, perhaps, is in a state of depression or stress, and such disorder is a symptom of neurosis. The mechanistic, repeatable actions, persistent "consumption" of the same item, despite the obvious disapproval or even punishment by the owner, are the factors, confirming a neurotic disorder.

In such situation, it is necessary to identify the probable causes of stress and external factors, encouraging the undesirable behavior. Usually it is possible to identify the relationship between stimulus and obsessive condition. Ideally you should eliminate stress factors or minimize their impact on the dog. If you cannot prevent them completely, the dog should be weaned away from the fixed behavior, for instance, by switching the attention to the toy or treat at the moment, when the abnormal behavior has begun, without allowing getting back to the stimulus until its action ends. Thus, you can switch your dog from gnawing clothes and shoes to biting its own toy or bone.

Also you can make the situation easier by using sedatives for animals and pheromone dispensers, which relieve animal’s stress.


Eating feces is the norm for the nursing females in the period when puppies are in the nest, and the mother, thus, maintains cleanness in the lair. Normally, such occurrence takes place till the moment when puppies make steps outside the lair and explore the surrounding area and, accordingly, they stop to relieve their needs inside.

As for the rest, the Coprophagy is a serious eating disorder; the nature of its occurrence may vary and still poorly understood.

The behavioral disorder, some parasitic diseases, deficiency of enzymes in the dog’s body, or a lot of undigested food leftovers in feces are the reasons for Coprophagy occurrence, that makes a dog to eat its own (or someone else’s) excrements.

The presence of undigested particles can be associated with overfeeding or poor food digestibility, which is typical for diets, consisting entirely of a dry food. In this case to solve the problem you need to reduce the amount of feedstuff or to change the diet.

Some animals are predisposed to Coprophagy due to exocrine pancreatic insufficiency, causing a poor digestion, poor absorption of food, and, consequently, a permanent nutrient deficiency. In this case a dog is prone to eating the other species’ or other dogs’ feces. You should enter enzyme supplements into the dog's diet to improve the digestion of food, add a raw ox belly as supplementary dog’s feeding or any preparations, based on it.

Sometimes adding products with high content of ballast substances of animal origin – cartilages, sinews, stomachs and chicken heads, beef by-products to the dog’s diet will help to avoid such disorder, and to prevent its occasional reoccurrence.

At the behavioral disorder, which is not caused by organic factors, the Coprophagy may signal the appearance of neurosis at a competitive aggression of dominant species, when the dog, acting in this manner, is trying to remove the traces of presence on the territory (here we are talking about eating own excrement to hide the presence from a stronger rival).

The limited habitat - kennel with a chain, tight cage can trigger the Coprophagy that subsides quickly when the environment is getting more favorable.

In this case to correct the behavior it is necessary to give the dog a freedom to move and the ability to defecate at a distance from the habitat place, which should be kept clean regularly.

In general, such eating disorder is amenable to correction too, especially if a dog is well-trained and obedient. The unconditional obedience to the order "Drop it!" will help to prevent searching and eating the excrements. During a walk you should let the dog to splash out the energy that it normally spends on searching, making your pet busy with a gameplay and obedience exercises’ training.

You can make a dog to form a negative reflex to feces’ sniffing

The mucous irritating substances, such as burning red pepper powder, will be good for this, with its small quantities you can dust the excrements along the way the dog walks. The method will require some patience and gradual approach, but it gives good results. You can also use remotely controlled spray collars, which spurt the smelling substance sharply by a remote signal, each time a dog tries to take something from the ground.

Almost all kinds of food behavioral disorder can be corrected, but you must remember that any work for correcting them will require a systematic and strict adherence to the regimen of working with the dog and its feeding. Therefore, all members of the dog owner’s family should act in concert and without any concession to the animal. Failure to follow the diet will not only complicate further correction of undesirable behavior, but will make the dog to stick to it stronger than before, when you started this work.

Author: Y.S. (Elsor)
Translation: Yulia Kovalenko


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