Locally-Owned in Oakdale and St. Paul, Minnesota

Chronic Weight Loss in Dogs and Cats

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If your pet is experiencing chronic weight loss, this is considered a “GREEN” case on our Fast Track Triage system. This means emergency care isn’t needed, but your pet should be evaluated by your family veterinarian within the next few days.


Maintaining a healthy weight and body condition is a crucial part of your dog or cat’s health. It’s the same for pets as it is for people: getting daily exercise and eating a balanced diet increases your pet’s quality of life and helps prolong it. But what if you notice a slow, but steady, weight loss in your dog or cat?

This can be a worrisome change that happens over weeks to months. As soon as you notice a pet’s unexpected weight loss, it’s important to determine the cause and begin a treatment plan. But where do you even start? Here’s an outline to help!  

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Visit Your Family Vet 

The best place to start is to schedule a visit with your family veterinarian. They will complete the following:  

  • A thorough physical exam 
  • Routine lab work that looks at red and white blood cells, kidney values, and liver enzymes 
  • A urine sample to rule out kidney changes and look for signs of infection 

This initial evaluation will help narrow down the source of the issue(s) and help your veterinarian determine a treatment or management plan. 

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Monitor Your Pet  

In addition to your pet’s weight loss, it is important to outline other signs or changes in your pet that you notice at home. Note these observations (keeping a journal is a great idea) and share them with your veterinarian. Signs may include: 

  • Changes in appetite
    • Is your pet eating more (or less) than usual?
    • Has their eating schedule changed?
    • Have you switched their food? 
  • Changes in water intake 
    • Is your pet drinking and urinating more? 
  • Vomiting or diarrhea 
    • It will be important to characterize details of either vomiting or diarrhea, and frequency. If possible, summarize how often these signs have been happening over the past few weeks 
  • Medication changes or anything that your pet may have gotten into 
  • Changes in activity 
    • Is your dog no longer wanting to go for a walk? 
    • Has your pet become hyperactive and restless? 

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What to Expect Next 

Your pet’s initial evaluation could reveal something as simple as they’re not receiving enough calories after switching to a new food. However, your veterinarian may note changes in lab work indicating a more serious concern. Diseases that commonly cause chronic weight loss include:  

  • Hormone conditions such as overactive thyroid or diabetes mellitus 
  • Kidney disease
  • Liver or gallbladder disease
  • Gastrointestinal disease – including diseases of the pancreas
  • Infections
  • Tumors or cancer 

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When to Visit a Specialist 

Your family veterinarian will help formulate a treatment plan, but if additional diagnostics or management are necessary, you may be referred to see an internal medicine specialist.  

During your visit with an internal medicine specialist, they may perform advanced diagnostics such as an abdominal ultrasound, CT scan, or a specific lab test. If warranted, biopsies or other samples may be recommended. Additionally, treatment options like a diet change or specific medications will be discussed.  

Lastly, a follow-up plan will be made so you have a clear idea of when to recheck your pet’s condition and what to expect on that visit. The goal of your pet’s internal medicine visit is to provide as much information as possible about your pet’s condition and to formulate a plan to get them feeling better. 

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Determining the cause of your pet’s chronic weight loss can seem overwhelming, but with your veterinarian’s guidance, you can find answers and begin a treatment or management plan.  

If you have any questions or concerns about your pet’s weight, contact your family veterinarian or ask about a referral to our Internal Medicine Service to meet with one of our board-certified internal medicine specialists.  

More Reading: 

Jenny Cho, MS, DVM, DACVIM, board-certified veterinary specialist in Internal Medicine at Animal Emergency & Referral Center of Minnesota

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