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How to Put Weight on a Dog Who’s Too Thin

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If your dog is looking a little too thin, it’s important to know how to combat malnourishment in order to get your dog to a healthy weight. Maintaining a healthy weight is vital for your dog’s overall health. A healthy dog should be neither underweight nor overweight

Underweight dogs who show symptoms like lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea, low muscle mass, and a dull coat need veterinary care. If this sounds like some of the problems your dog is having, it’s time to reevaluate your dog’s diet and develop a weight-gain strategy with your vet.

While you should always consult your veterinarian about the best way to bulk up your pup, it doesn’t hurt to do some research on your own as well. Read on to learn more about how you can help your dog gain weight in a healthy way.

Rule Out Medical Conditions First

How to put weight on a dog: A hand pets an old dog's head

Your dog might be underweight not because they’re a picky eater or are not getting fed enough, but because there’s a separate health issue going on that’s affecting their body.

Your dog’s appetite is a factor as well. Sometimes dogs that have typically healthy appetites appear too skinny because of an underlying medical issue like intestinal parasites, diabetes, liver disease, or a hormonal imbalance caused by thyroid problems.

According to Banfield Pet Hospitals, other causes of a dog’s sudden body weight change include:

  • Malabsorption (difficulty absorbing nutrients from food)
  • Maldigestion (difficulty breaking down food)
  • Underlying medical issues such as severe heart disease, chronic infection, or cancer
  • Stress
  • Lack of a complete diet (not enough nutrition in the diet currently being fed — seen more with homemade and raw diets than with quality commercial foods)
  • Not feeding enough dog food

Since there are so many possible causes for a dog’s weight change, a visit to the vet should be your first course of action. Wait until a veterinary professional can do a full examination, run tests, and properly diagnose your pet’s weight loss problem. Then you can put a treatment or feeding plan in place.

How Do I Know If My Dog Is Underweight?

There is a handy tool most veterinarians tell dog parents about called a Body Condition Score (BCS). BCS is a method designed by researchers at the University of Liverpool and Royal Canin. Veterinarians refer to BCS during your dog’s annual physical examination. According to PetMD, “Canine BCS is most commonly evaluated on a 9-point scale, and dogs that score in the middle of the scale (a 4 or 5 out of 9) have a healthy body condition.”

Dr. Natalie Stilwell of PetMD goes on to explain that dogs scoring 1-3 are too skinny, whereas a score of 6-7 implies that a dog is overweight (the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention reported that in 2018, a jaw-dropping 56% of dogs in the United States were overweight or obese). “Obese dogs typically receive BCS scores of 8 or 9, and it is possible for morbidly obese dogs to have a BCS greater than 9,” writes Dr. Stilwell.

A dog’s body condition score is evaluated by a vet who examines the ribcage, abdomen, and waistline by sight and by touch. Once you know their BCS, you can determine their ideal weight and talk to your vet about how to better your dog’s physical health and adjust their food intake accordingly.

How to Put Weight on a Dog

How to put weight on a dog: a puppy on the beach

If you have ruled out a medical condition and need to plump up your pooch, there are high-calorie, quality dog food and treats that can help without wreaking havoc on your dog’s digestive system. The important thing to remember is to not overfeed them large meals and treats in one sitting. Instead, give them small portions multiple times a day.

If you just adopted an underfed rescue dog or came across an emaciated homeless pet, it’s tempting to throw whatever fatty foods you can at them. Though your intentions may be good, this is not the right way to put weight on a dog.

In fact, feeding too much food too fast is actually dangerous and can cause serious illness like refeeding syndrome. Feed them small portions throughout the day in order to avoid major metabolic alterations that could harm your dog.

They key here is to feed smaller meals more often. Consider providing 4-5 small meals each day rather than the two meals you might feed a healthy dog.

Dogs that are mildly to moderately underweight should be eating a diet high in fat and high in protein. Though these diets should also have higher levels of carbs, they should not be predominantly carbohydrates as dogs need a balanced diet that includes plenty of protein. PetMD recommends looking for dry food products that show a fat content of 18% and protein of 28-30%.

Many pet parents and vets use puppy food to fatten up an underweight dog because it has more protein and calories per serving than adult dog food. Puppy food is designed this way in order to support young pups’ developing bodies as they grow and enter adulthood.

In addition to feeding a skinny dog small meals every six hours (about four times a day) with high-calorie, high-fat, high-protein, and high-carb food, you can add a nutritional supplement. According to PetMD, a broad-spectrum vitamin and mineral supplement is an important in addition to each feeding.

Natural Dog Supplements Support Healthy Weight Gain

How to put weight on a dog: A chihuahua wearing an argyle sweater sniffs a treat in a person's hand

Your underweight dog needs a comprehensive, balanced diet that contains healthy vitamins and minerals. One of the best ways to make sure your pup is getting what they need is to include a daily supplement.

“Some evidence supports the addition of the amino acid glutamine to the recovery diet,” writes T.J. Dunn, Jr., DVM, “Omega–3 and –6 fatty acid supplements are also beneficial to a dog recovering from malnourishment; the same holds true for the amino acid arginine.”

Dunn goes on to explain that these important elements help your dog’s cells perform healthy metabolic activity in order to digest food properly and maintain a healthy weight.

Finding the right omega supplement for your dog is key to keeping essential nutrients at healthy levels while your pet regains their strength and energy. Talk to your vet about which dog multivitamin or supplement is right for your pet.

The Healthiest Way to Put Weight on a Dog

As mentioned, first and foremost you should visit your vet to find out if you should be increasing your dog’s food intake by adding a higher amount of food, switching up their diet to a high-quality, high-protein kibble, or adding in nutritional supplements. A vet can also determine whether you have a skinny dog due to an underlying health issue.

Your dog’s vet should be your first resource if your dog is underweight. They can help determine what the exact cause of your pup’s weight loss or low body weight is. Ask your vet about specially-formulated dog food and supplements that can provide the nutrients needed to lead a healthy and balanced life.