Underweight Dogs

There are many resources available to deal with a chubby puppy, but fewer resources to help an underweight dog gain weight. Dogs can sometimes struggle to maintain healthy body weight for various reasons and when recovering from protracted illness or a surgical procedure. For a dog that is already healthy, sometimes just making sure they get extra calories from their regular food can help an underweight dog gain enough weight to be at healthy body weight. There are times though that getting a dog to gain weight can be more difficult for owners and pets. A dog that is underweight faces different challenges than an obese dog. Your vet is your partner in nutrition as well as all the other aspects of the wellness of your pet.

If your veterinarian and you realize your pet is underweight, they can help you find the best way to help your dog regain lost weight or stay as active as they normally are and not lose their muscle mass and fitness level. Dog food fed to underweight pups need to not only be nutritious and healthy but also needs to be delicious, otherwise, your dog will eat less. Just because a weight gaining dog food is delicious does not mean it is the equivalent of canine fast food. Quality is more important than quantity in a diet.

Dogs will always eat more of the things that they like. Dog food that appeals to their senses will always get happily devoured. Wet dog food offers more aroma and sense appeal to a dog. They prefer the smell, taste, and texture of wet food more in general. Wet food also is often richer in fat and protein than dry kibble and encourages a dog to eat.

There are also loving pet parents who prepare home-made dog food for a convalescing canine or a dog that has a high metabolic rate and requires additional calories. Homemade dog food and snacks may seem like a way to provide love and care to your four-legged friend but if it doesn’t provide complete and balanced nutrition, it does more harm than good. A veterinary nutritionist and your vet are valuable resources and can customize a recipe and appealing menu to provide the homemade dog food diet that provides the nutritional needs of an underweight dog.


Calories Count

Dry foods are made by removing moisture and condensing calories into a smaller format. Calories are denser in dry food. The nutritional labels show how many calories are in a serving of dog food and what the serving size weighs or measures. Fat provides more calories per gram than protein or carbohydrates, but a high-fat diet can also cause stomach upset and be too rich a diet. To gain weight, additional calories need to increase. For dogs that have poor appetites or are picky eaters, choosing a caloric-dense food means they need not eat a large portion to get adequate calories. Protein is the building block of lean mass so to ensure a dog keeps their lean mass and gains muscle instead of fat, a protein-rich dog food formula can help a dog gain the right kind of weight.


Easy to Digest Foods

Dogs trying to gain weight require food that is readily digestible. A dog is digesting their food properly if they produce low-volume bowel movements. The shape of a dog’s waste also shows if they are getting the most nutrient from their meals. Dogs that eat easy to digest formulations have firm, easy-to-pass and well-formed stool. When dogs are eating a diet that doesn’t provide enough nutrients from the food, they are digesting will have more frequent bowel movements.  They will poop more because they are passing excess fiber from their food out. Fiber is added to bulk up a dog food formulation and helps the colon. Fiber cannot be absorbed and has no nutrient value in general and is often used as a filler by dog food manufacturers. A fiber-rich meal can make a dog feel fuller after eating less. This is great for an obese dog but harms a dog who needs to eat more. The underweight dog needs to get maximum nutrients and calories. If you notice a lot more goes into your dog than comes out, they are using that food to nourish themselves.


Recipes and Formulations

There are also special categories of dog food that are ideal to assist an underweight dog put on needed weight.

“All life stages” labeled and puppy food have higher fat and protein than adult maintenance dog recipe foods. Puppy recipes for large breed dogs are often lower in fat than general use puppy chows. A dog should eat food designed for his life stage generally but also for his breed. Regular puppy kibble is better for a teacup breed than a baby boxer blend. Always make sure your dog foods bear the AAFCO seal on the packaging. AAFCO foods are the only available certification in the US that guarantees that the label nutrition and any health claims made on the label have been rigorously tested and proven.

There are some breeds that naturally have high metabolisms and are more active than others. Certain breeds require a performance diet to remain fit and healthy.  The additional fat and protein in performance foods are just like the special diets an athlete uses to keep fit. If an athletic breed or sporting dog such as a running greyhound needs to put on a slight weight gain to stay conditioned, a special performance diet can keep these dogs from becoming too thin and losing muscle.

Therapeutic Diets are medical formulations designed for dogs who are recovering from a health issue or have a chronic condition that causes them to become emaciated. These diets are easy to digest and are specially formulated to appeal to a dog that has a poor appetite. These are most frequently prescribed when only necessary.  These foods are also used in canine hospice cases when a dog is in critical care.


Positive Gain, Healthy Canine

Patience and love are what a sickly or emaciated pet need along with calorie-dense appealing food. Even in cases of severely underweight dogs, changing a dog from one diet to another should always be done gradually and over the period of a week to ten days. When a dog is transitioned to a weight gain recipe, they will often be adjusting to texture changes as well. Adding a spoon of canned food, the first day and taking the time to slowly acclimate the dog to the new canned food can make it easier for the dog and can also reduce the risk of side effects that can occur. The high fat in some recipes can lead to pancreatitis in sensitive dogs if a diet switch occurs rapidly.  Wet food inspires a dog to clean their plate by providing sensory stimulation but for dogs that are in severe need of calories, dry food may be better. Dry foods provide more nutrition in a nutrient-rich form without extra fiber or moisture. If your dog is not enjoying mealtimes and doesn’t get excited about his meals, mixing dry and wet food together can provide the aroma and extra flavor of wet food with the calorie-dense nutrition of dry kibbles and can encourage your dog to eat better.

Smaller, more frequent meals can also encourage a dog that needs to gain weight or is convalescing to eat more. Sometimes switching from a scheduled meal to allowing an underweight dog to graze and free feed can help. Having a bowl of complete nutrition dog food available in a feeder can encourage a dog to eat the calories it needs.  Just be mindful to observe the amount eaten to ensure the dog gets adequate calories.

While there are many dogs dealing with obesity, the dog that has become too thin or has wasted away to skin and bones and wagging tail. deserves equally special attention and care to their diet and love from their owners. If you ever have concerns about your pet’s weight or have noticed they are looking too thin, or not eating normally, you should always take them to the vet for a checkup. Your vet is the best source of knowledge about the care and health of your dog and that includes their diet. Your vet can help you if your dog is underweight and needs to make dietary changes to remain fit and active or to regain lost weight after an illness. Keeping your pet at a healthy body weight is part of being a good pet owner.



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