Petfoodology

the scientific study of pet nutrition by veterinary nutrition specialists and experts.

‘As Long as He’s Eating, He’s Happy’: Is Appetite the Best Way to Measure Quality of Life?

‘As Long as He’s Eating, He’s Happy’: Is Appetite the Best Way to Measure Quality of Life?
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As cats get older or develop medical conditions, they may start changing their behavior which can have owners start to question their quality of life. I often hear from families, ‘As long as he’s eating, he’s fine, a good appetite must mean he’s happy!’ When cats develop different medical conditions, they can act differently – they may hide, they may change their bathroom behaviors, or may change their eating behaviors (like eating less or changing preferences). While some cats may show they are not feeling well by eating less, some diseases (like high thyroid levels) may actually make your cat eat more and seem more hungry! Using appetite as the only test for whether your cat is happy or dealing with medical conditions means you might miss some subtle behaviors.

Many studies and questionnaires have been developed looking at quality of life in healthy cats and in those with specific medical conditions (like heart disease, etc.). For previously healthy cats, one survey has different questions to think through whether your cat has a good quality of life and includes appetite, but also many other areas including activity, curiosity, attitude, and communication (Link to full article including the survey: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29153104). If you are worried about your cat’s changing behavior, these questions may be a good place to start that you can then discuss with your veterinarian to see if other tests or exams should be done to ensure your cat’s health and happiness.

The questionnaire asked about how often the cat exhibited positive or negative behaviors in the previous month:

 

Positive behaviors

Looked for attention

Appeared happy

Was affectionate

Had a healthy appetite

Was bright and alert

Was interested in surroundings

Purring

Kneading paws

 

Negative behaviors

Yowled in distress

Been ill

Vomited

Lost weight or felt more bony

Less inactive or

Slept more than normal

 

If you find that you answered not often to many of the positive attributes and often to many of the negative behaviors, you should speak with your veterinarian about these behaviors as there may be an underlying medical concern that’s affecting your cat. Whenever your cat has a major change in appetite, that can definitely be a sign they should be examined by your vet, but these other behaviors should also be considered that may key you in to important changes going on in your cat that your vet can help you understand.

Tatlock S, Gober M, Williamson N, Arbuckle R. Development and preliminary psychometric evaluation of an owner-completed measure of feline quality of life. Vet J 2017;228:22-32.

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Deborah E. Linder, DVM, MS, DACVN

Dr. Deborah Linder, a board-certified veterinary nutritionist, is the head of the Tufts Obesity Clinic for Animals and has had articles appear in Eating Well, the Boston Globe, AARP, SHAPE, and XM Sirius Radio Doctor Channel. She has spoken at national and international conferences and a Capitol Hill briefing, and is an expert in pet obesity, nutrition communication, and in the human-animal bond. 

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