Thursday, January 31, 2019

My Anorexic Dog

In late September, Rye was diagnosed with pancreatitis. She had been reluctant to eat for several days and one day she wouldn't eat breakfast at all. I went to work and when I came home in the early afternoon, she still didn't want to eat and she was lethargic with no interest in chasing squirrels. It was a Thursday--the day our vet is closed--but a new vet's office had just opened up down the street from us and we'd been to other vets in their system before, so I called and they were able to fit us in right away.

After a lot of bloodwork, testing for everything from low electrolytes to lepto to pancreatitis, we had our answer. Rye had elevated pancreas levels and everything else was perfect. We got an IV of fluids to flush her system out, some anti-nausea meds, some samples of a low-fat diet, and a recommendation to feed foods with 10% fat content or less.

Rye is a thief, so it's not uncommon for her to pounce while we're walking and dive into the treat pouch coming out with a mouthful of snacks. She's also very anxious, having strong reactions to off-leash dogs, Jeeps, FedEx trucks, mail carriers, school buses, and cats to name a few things, so we use  a lot of treats on walks and most of those were high value treats so she'd choose me and the treats over melting down at the sight of a cat or a mail carrier. I was shocked when I read the labels of our high value treats and saw that all of them were over 10% fat content and several of them were over 30%!

We eliminated all of those treats from her diet (Barley was happy to make sure they didn't go to waste). I significantly reduced the amount of string cheese she got for agility trials, going from one stick per day of a trial to less than one stick for the entire weekend. Barley and I went to PetCo and read every bag of food's label until we found one with 10% fat content. 

For the next three months, she was doing really well. There were some mornings where she didn't want her breakfast, especially on Mondays after three-day agility trials when she'd gotten a few extra treats, but she was always hungry after going for a walk or if I bribed her with some of the Honest Kitchen Pour Overs we'd reviewed in the fall.

So why did my little girl suddenly start refusing food over the holidays?

Around New Year's Eve, Rye didn't want to eat dinner. Eventually, she did, but then she wasn't interested in breakfast. Or the next dinner. She was still taking treats on walks and if I mixed some canned pumpkin into her bowl, she'd eat a bit, but she was reluctant to do so. On our last day full day at my parents, she refused to eat anything at all. The next morning, still nothing until my dad scrambled an egg for her to see if we could get something in her system before we had to drive for 12+ hours. She was still romping with her cousin and walking normally on our daily walks, so I wasn't too worried, but something was definitely off. My family had been great about not giving her scraps and with the exception of a slice of bacon she'd stolen when our backs were turned, she hadn't had any dietary indiscretions. 

When we got home, she was eating a little better, but there were still days when she refused to eat, so I called our vet. Rye had played in a lot of mud puddles in Alabama, so I was afraid she'd picked up some sort of parasite or bacteria--or that she was having another bout of pancreatitis. We did a few more blood tests and ran a stool sample and everything came back clear.

But that still didn't explain why she wasn't eating.

The vet and I talked about our options. She mentioned using a bland prescription food for upset stomachs, but she also understood my concerns about the food having the first protein so far down the list with all of Rye's agility--and we decided to take just one can to see if Rye even liked it so we'd know if it was a viable option. We also talked about doing an x-ray to see if Rye's stomach looked ok, but since she didn't seem in pain and her stool sample looked normal, we decided to put that off for now. It was looking like she might have just been dealing with stress. We'd been gone for two weeks, walking in different parks, living with another cat and another dog plus my parents and my siblings, and we hadn't had agility class or trials in three weeks. In other words, Rye's little world had been rocked. Barley thrives from the extra attention and exploring different trails, but that's really hard for Rye. We decided to just watch her while she readjusted to her normal routine and if anything changed, we'd come right back in.

This is where Rye is most relaxed: sandwiched between her siblings.

A few days later, I got an email from our pet insurance that our claim had been improved and I clicked on our portal to see how much money I'd be getting back. Under the diagnosis section, I was shocked to see ANOREXIA! My puppy had anorexia?!

A quick Google search revealed that this wasn't what originally came to mind. Rye doesn't have any body issues. She's not refusing to eat because she thinks she looks fat in her agility videos. She's not refusing to eat because she's looking for some part of her life she can control. In dogs, anorexia is just a term that means the dog has lost its appetite. There's pseudo-anorexia, which can be caused by issues like dental pain or sore chewing muscles, and true anorexia, which can be caused by psychological issues like stress and anxiety, nausea, or inability to smell.

Rye is back to her normal, goofy, sometimes neurotic self. She's eating fairly regularly, except for the day after a scent trial when we'd taken a particularly stressful walk, so it seems like she does have stress-related anorexia.

She had to make sure nobody snuck up behind her while I tried to take pictures.

Maybe one day I'll know what it feels like to have a normal pet that only needs regular wellness checks and vaccinations, but for now, we'll be embracing this new adventure and looking at the different ways that I can help Rye deal with her anxiety, so we can continue to have fun and adventure without starving my tiny terror.


  1. Mom knows the problems of a dog who won't eat, as that dog is me. I've always been that way, and I am pretty skinny. I'm healthy, energetic, not nervous or suffering from any anxiety, I just don't value food or see a need for it a lot of times. It is really hard on the humans, but if the dog is healthy, all you can do is try to get them to eat more but it might not be easy. Hope Rye continues to do better.


    1. Unfortunately with Rye, it is actually a medical problem. She wants to eat. She'll sniff the food. Sometimes she'll take a piece in her mouth and then spit it out. Her anxiety makes her so nauseated that she can't eat and she ended up losing two pounds during her episode over the holidays, so we have to focus on her mental health to make sure that she doesn't end up having long-term physical problems because of it.

  2. What A Bummer And Hope Rye Makes A Turn For The Better - As A Suggestion, Please Research CBD Oil Drops For Pups - THIS IS NOT A CURE - But It Sure Does Help - Like, A Lot - As You Know, A Pup With A Full Belly Is A Happy Napping Pup - All The Best


    1. We're definitely working with our vet to figure out the best way to help Rye manage her anxiety.

  3. Poor Rye, and poor you, trying to figure out how to deal with this! It seems hard enough to train a dog while trying to be careful about what she eats. Now I understand better why you worried about her not eating after that off-leash dog encounter. You know how reactive Luke is, but he seems to bounce back quickly, and he always seems to eat OK even when under stress, other than sometimes refusing treats. He'll eat a meal when he has to be separated because of people being over, for example. I would really worry if he refused a meal. I understand that it's so hard to try to live a normal life when you have a dog like Rye (or Luke). But I also know you'll do everything you can to help her. ♥ She couldn't have found a better family!
    Jan, Wag 'n Woof Pets

    1. Thankfully, the majority of our everyday treats are pretty low-fat and my homemade peanut butter and banana treats have never caused a problem for her and she goes nuts for those, so they've become our go-to high value treat. Just when I thought we'd got that figured out, this new problem popped up! Rye did refuse breakfast after the off-leash dog encounter, but she was hungry by the time I got home from work for lunch. Barley is a lot like Luke--there might be some situations, like thunderstorms and fireworks, where she won't take treats because of stress, but she never refuses a meal and she's a tank, so nothing causes dietary issues for her! When Barley doesn't eat, I know she's sick. I am getting good at predicting when Rye won't eat, so hopefully that will help us figure out a way to keep that from happening.