How to help a dog gain weight

We’ve talked about overweight dogs, now let’s talk about what to do if your dog is overweight. Your dog might be underweight for a number of reasons, and it can be a struggle to get the weight back on. To help figure it out, we’ve pulled together some of the more common reasons your dog might be underweight.

Reasons a dog may be underweight

A bad start in life – Maybe you recently adopted your dog from a shelter and they’re not in the best condition. Unfortunately not all dogs have the best start in life. Sometimes they need a helping hand to gain weight.

Picky eater – The belief that dogs will eat anything isn’t always the case! Some dogs are fussy with their food and turn their nose up at the bowl. If you feed lots of treats and table scraps, it could be that they’re holding out for something better. 

Sick – Illness or a sensitive stomach can affect your dog’s appetite and cause them to lose weight. Other health issues like dental disease, injuries and arthritis can also cause weight loss. Chewing and standing might be too uncomfortable to eat, which can put dogs off their food. If they skip just a meal or two from an upset stomach, there’s usually nothing to worry about. But if it keeps happening and your dog is losing weight, it’s time for a vet visit. 

Stress – Just like humans, stress can cause our dogs to pass up on food. Stressful events like a new baby in the home, a new environment or separation anxiety can all be a bit overwhelming.

Intestinal parasites – Making sure your dog is dewormed regularly is really important as parasites like roundworms or tapeworms can cause your dog to lose weight. This is usually only in severe cases where they’ve had worms for a long time. Your dog may also have bouts of diarrhoea, feel weak and seem constantly hungry. 

Over exercise – Too much exercise can lead to unnecessary weight loss as your dog might be consistently burning more calories than they’re taking in. For spritely pups that are naturally energetic and always on the go, this can also cause weight loss. Especially with breeds from working lines, like Springer Spaniels and Collies.

Phobias – Dogs can be a bit sensitive when it comes to feeding time. If something previously spooked your pup around meal times or in the place they eat, they might refuse to eat. Dogs can also go off their food long term if they’ve been seriously unwell, even if they used to gobble down that same food before. Certain breeds – Just like some breeds are more prone to weight gain, some breeds can struggle to keep the weight on. Sight hounds are a classic example, like Greyhounds, Salukis and Lurchers.

Tell-tale signs of an underweight dog 

It’s not nice to think about underweight dogs, but it always helps to know what that looks like. If your dog is underweight, you’ll be able to see prominent hip, rib and spinal bones. The waist will also be noticeably narrow when you look at them from above. Think of it this way, depending on how pronounced the bones are, the more underweight the dog is. In a healthy dog, a small amount of rib, hip and spine showing is normal. But if you’re in any doubt, always speak with your vet so you know what’s healthy for your individual dog. You can also check out our guide here.

How to gain weight safely

High calorie dog food – To help bulk out your dog, firstly you’ll want to choose a quality dog food for weight gain. This will give your dog the right balance of calories and nutrients, so they gain those extra pounds steadily and safely. The best dog food to gain weight will also consider your dog’s age, breed, activity levels, metabolism and more to ensure they get everything they need into their body. However, if your dog does have tummy troubles, it’s important to get to the root cause of the problem first, as a simple change in diet is unlikely to help long term.

Extra mealtimes – Give your dog more opportunities to eat throughout the day. Measure out your dog’s daily allowance of food and split it up into 3 or 4 smaller meals. If your dog has a small appetite, try leaving their entire daily serving out all day so they can graze when they want to. Only do this with dry food though, as wet food will spoil within an hour or two if left out all day. 

Tasty toppers – For those picky pooches, try making the food more appetising by adding a tasty wet food topper. This will give that added moisture and flavour, along with a few extra calories! Try to avoid using human foods to tempt your fussy pup, as this could make their pickiness worse and even cause tummy upset. 

Extra treats – Give your dog a couple of bonus treats each day to ramp up their calorie intake. Test out a few options to see what kind of treats your dog goes bananas for. Carrots covered in peanut butter (xylitol free) are a good start. Most dogs love peanut butter! Or maybe some cream cheese in a treat toy. Always be cautious with this approach as you don’t want your dog filling up on treats and side stepping their proper meals. This could make your pup’s diet unbalanced and deficient in key nutrients. An extra treat or two a day is the best way to go.

Reduce exercise – If your dog is a bouncy, energetic sort, think about shortening or bringing the number of daily walks down. Instead, you could introduce mental stimulation sessions in the form of brain games or training to brush up on those skills.  

Related blog: Weight management dog food explained

Whatever the reason, if your dog persistently refuses to eat, always get advice from your vet to rule out any health concerns. Equally, if you think the weight loss is due to your dog’s behaviour, seeking help from a certified dog behaviourist is a great call. With the right diet, feeding and exercise routine, your furry friend will be happy and healthy again in no time. 

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