All dog owners want their pup to be happy and healthy. This can be an exasperating struggle, however, if your dog is underweight but still wont eat.
It’s hard to watch your dog waste away, but there are actions you can take to help even the most nervous or picky dog gain weight.
Here are some tips to help you take the proper course of action if your dog needs to gain some weight.
Before you decide to bulk up your dog, it is important to make sure that your dog would actually benefit from gaining some weight. Always consult a vet before changing your dog’s diet!
Because dog breeds come in all shapes and sizes, with varying fur, skin, and body structure, a healthy-looking weight for one breed could be over or underweight in other breeds.
In most breeds a dog should have a narrowing around the waist, and, in many breeds, a ribcage outline should be faintly visible. You should be able to feel individual ribs beneath your dog’s skin, but not see them clearly.
If these things are true about your dog, he may not need to gain any weight after all. It can be common to see overweight or obese dogs walking around your neighborhood, so remember that just because a chunky looking lab is a common sight, that doesn’t mean that is a healthy weight for those dogs!
Again, these are general guidelines, and definitely, do not apply to all breeds. A Chow will have excess skin and a fluffy coat that can obscure his weight, while a greyhound should look thin and bony.
Please seek advice from a veterinarian before trying to get your dog to gain or lose weight! They will be able to determine your dog’s ideal weight and help you set an individual healthy weight goal.
Once you and your veterinarian have determined that your dog could benefit from gaining a few pounds (or ounces in the case of a chihuahua), it is important to determine why she is underweight.
Finding the source of the issue and dealing with that is the best way to get your dog healthy and happy and keep her that way.
Here are a few reasons that might be causing your hound to lose weight:
Reason #1: Stress
Newly adopted or fostered shelter dogs are probably the biggest group of dogs that needs to put on weight. Although some may be underweight due to abuse or neglect, for many the stress of life and diet changes, and the noisy, scary shelter environment is enough to make almost any dog skip meals.
If your newly adopted dog is turning down food, give him time to get used to his new home and routine before becoming too worried about his food intake. Many dogs simply need time to adjust. There are also other factors that could be causing your dog stress even if he is not newly adopted.
Recent moves, new additions to the household (human or canine), changes in routine, and changes in diet are all potential stressors that could be causing your dog to turn up his nose at meals. Consider your life and home from your dog’s perspective and look for sources of stress that you can remove from his life.
Reason #2: Picky Eating
Some dogs are just picky eaters and will refuse to eat food that doesn’t live up to their standards. This issue may become apparent if you recently switched brands or flavors of dog food. It can become a problem if your dog tries to choose to eat only high-value treats and not his regular kibble at meals.
Be careful not to spoil your dog with really good treats too regularly, and don’t encourage his picky eating habits by caving in and giving him the good stuff just so he’ll eat. Most dogs will eat when they get hungry enough, so try to wait him out.
Reason #3: Allergies
Just like humans, dogs can be allergic to a variety of foods and environmental factors. Many ingredients in dog food are common allergens, such as corn, wheat, soy, and sometimes chicken.
Allergies can make your dog sick and/or uninterested in food, both of which will lead him to lose weight. Check your dog food for common allergens and consult your vet.
Reason #4: Illness
Dogs also simply get sick sometimes, just like their humans. If your dog usually eats well and maintains a healthy weight, but suddenly he turns up his nose at breakfast, or still eats all his food and continues to lose weight, it is likely due to illness.
In this case, it is important to bring your dog to a vet so they can find out what the problem is and treat it as soon as possible. Many older dogs begin to lose their appetite and lose weight, and this is usually due to other health issues.
Underweight and malnourished dogs can be at risk for a variety of health issues, so it is important to find the source of the problem and address it quickly so that your dog can get back to peak health as soon as possible!
Sometimes this simply means feeding more food, letting your new dog settle into the house, or waiting for your picky pup to get hungry enough to eat up the plain kibble in his bowl.
However, in some cases, urgent action is needed to treat a sick dog. Here are some things to look for:
- Sudden decrease in appetite. If your dog normally wolfs down his entire bowl, but one day he barely gives breakfast a sniff, this is a cause for concern. He is likely sick, perhaps with just an upset stomach, but perhaps with something more serious. Take your dog to the vet to get a professional opinion so you can take the best course of action quickly.
- Sudden increase in appetite. Similarly, if your dog’s appetite suddenly increases-especially if she is simultaneously losing weight!-take her to the vet. This could be due to a stomach or intestinal parasite or other illness, and it is important to treat it as soon as possible.
- Sudden unexplained changes in weight. If your dog suddenly loses or gains weight, and it is not due to recent changes in diet or exercise, take her to the vet, as this could be a sign of illness.
There’s a lot of information out there on how to help your dog gain weight, but it is important that you do it in a safe, healthy, sustainable way.
Remember to consult with your dog’s vet. They will help you set a healthy weight goal for your dog, and plan a healthy course of action to get your dog to his goal.
Here a few tips for getting your dog to gain weight:
If your dog is underweight due to stress from recent life, family, or diet changes, do your best to alleviate this stress.
- In some cases, you must simply give your dog time to adjust to a new home or family member. Making sure that your routine is regular, feeding times are regular, and the house is reasonably quiet and low key will help your dog feel comfortable. Don’t throw a big party and have lots of people over as your dog tries to adjust-he will likely be overwhelmed and suffer setbacks.
- If your dog is stressed because you recently switched him to a new kind of dog food, be patient. If you can, start switching foods by feeding mostly the old food with a bit of the new food and gradually upping the proportion of new food. This will allow him to get used to eating the new food and will hopefully keep him from getting an upset stomach.
- Food can cause stress in other ways as well. Some dogs feel insecure about their food or the location they eat in. They might take bites of kibble to another location, or they might display hoarding behaviors around the food bowl. In these cases try working with a dog trainer to help your dog develop healthy behaviors in relation to food.
- Some dogs can be stressed out from eating out of a bowl, especially if they are not used to it, and especially if it is a steel bowl that makes loud noises. Try feeding off of a mat or ceramic bowl, or try feeding in a different location.
- My dog won’t eat her dinner until we all sit down at the table to eat our dinner. Some dogs need to be hand-fed and praised and rewarded in order to eat a meal. This is basically training your dog to eat dinner, which sounds silly, but just might be exactly what your pooch needs in order to eat! Work with a dog trainer to help your dog get more comfortable with eating meals.
Whatever the cause of stress, dealing with the source is the healthiest and surest way to help your dog get back to his ideal weight.
Some dogs simply need a high-calorie diet in order to get back up to a healthy weight. This is often the case for mistreated, neglected, or stray dogs.
Be sure to follow your vet’s recommendations as you put your dog on a high-calorie diet to ensure that you do so in a healthy way, and do not make your dog sick or overweight.
Make sure to add calories gradually. A starving dog that is allowed to eat a large meal all at once can get dangerously ill from this shock to his system.
- Feed your dog a higher calorie food. Many high-quality dog foods have more calories in them than lower quality brands. Look on the packaging for the number of kcal/cup. These higher-quality brands also usually have more nutrients in their food, which can help nurse a dog back to health. Often puppy food is higher in calories and fat than regular dog food and can help a dog put on weight, although you should check with your vet before feeding an adult dog puppy food.
- Feed your dog more food. Sometimes simply feeding your dog more than the recommended amount is enough to bring her up to a healthy weight, assuming your dog has a good appetite. Don’t embark on feeding extra food without consulting your vet.
- Feed treats and high-calorie rewards. As long as your dog doesn’t get stuck in the habit of turning down regular kibble and only eating the good stuff, you can up the calories she eats by feeding high-value treats and foods. There are some recipes for homemade high-calorie treats to help dogs gain weight, such as Satin Balls, but check with your vet before incorporating these into your dog’s diet.
Sometimes simply switching dog foods for a brand or flavor that your dog prefers more is enough to get her to consume more calories and gain weight. Make sure that you make the switch gradually, however, in order to avoid giving your dog an upset stomach.
A dog who turns up her nose at a bowl of plain kibble might think differently about a bowl of kibble with chicken broth in it. Try adding yummy ingredients to your dog’s meals to make her more likely to choose to eat. Egg, chicken broth (low sodium!), or special dog gravy can be added to coat your dog’s food in something more enticing than just kibble.
As your dog ages, you might notice her getting skinnier. Changes in metabolism and body chemistry can lead to changes in nutrient and calorie absorption, appetite, and weight.
If an older dog is losing weight, it is likely a sign of illness or changes in their body due to aging. Taking your dog to the vet is a good idea so that they can address the root cause, give medication, and recommend a diet for you to have your dog follow.
Here are a few changes you can make in your elderly dog’s diet to make it easier for them to get the nutrients they need.
No Senior Dog Food
Because older dogs are usually less active than younger dogs, food designed for senior dogs often has fewer calories in it than regular dog food. This could be detrimental to some dogs who need the extra calories to keep weight on. Feed your dog a regular high-quality adult dog food over a senior formula.
Easy To Eat Food
Some dog’s teeth decay or become painful in old age, and it can be hard for them to chomp down on crunchy kibble like they used to. As a result, they might not be eating all the food that they need. Try softening kibble in warm water or chicken broth before feeding it to your dog, or gradually switch to feeding wet food.
Take Your Dog To The Vet
I can’t stress this enough: if your elderly dog is losing weight, it is likely due to illness or complications with old age. Take your dog to the vet so that the cause can be addressed and your dog can get the food or medication she needs to keep her comfortable and happy in her golden years.
Remember to closely monitor your dog’s weight, behavior, and food intake so that if there are any changes you can react quickly and help your dog get back to a healthy weight as soon as possible.
Stick with it and be patient as you try to nurse your dog back to health. It can be a long and frustrating process, but it is so worth it to see your healthy dog wagging her tail at you in the end.
Have you ever had to help a dog gain weight? Tell us about your experience, and any tips and tricks, in the comments below!
Dr. Lillian is a D.V.M. passionate about promoting awareness of dogs. She shares her expertise through her blogs on canineweekly.com and provides animal care services, including internal medicine, dermatology, and emergency care. Dr. Lillian is committed to contributing to animal welfare.