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dog parent must-knows

The healthy way to help your dog gain weight

Here’s everything you need to know about underweight dogs and how to help them

Updated June 28, 2020

Created By

Kristen Bobst,

the essentials

  • Underweight dogs need to exercise too. Strong muscles are the most important factor for a healthy metabolic rate.
  • Clean, high-calorie foods are key. Wet foods often have the most calories. Think about probiotic supplements too — they help your pup absorb the most nutrients possible.

High-calorie dog foods for weight gain

When looking for new food to help fatten your underweight pup, there are a couple of things to notice. Be sure to consider both the ingredients and the calorie values listed on the package. You want to find clean food, meaning it’s made of high-end, natural ingredients.

In some cases, wet food might be better than dry food for your underweight doggie. A lot of dogs prefer wet food, and it is generally higher in calories. You can also mix wet food into your dog’s dry food, or place a dollop of wet food on top of their kibble.

Some dog food companies create “fresh” meals for dogs. (Companies like The Farmer’s Dog and Ollie.) These fresh alternatives are prepared in small batches and often arrive via delivery. Ask your vet if these meal options might benefit your particular pup. Keep in mind some of these services are quite expensive.

People food for dogs: What’s healthy and what’s not

Certain people foods are completely safe for dogs. Cooked chicken, salmon and eggs are excellent. You get a good calorie and protein bang for your buck with these foods. Carrots, green beans and cut apples (seeded and cored) are also safe for your dog. Lots of dogs like sweet potatoes and pumpkin too. Pumpkin can also be used as a laxative, so give it to your skinny dog sparingly.

Also, keep in mind that you won’t see the calorie boost as much in fruits and veggies. If your pup isn’t lactose intolerant, small amounts of cheese can be a nice high-calorie treat, too.

👉 Here’s our exhaustive, vet-approved list of everything in your home that your dog should and shouldn’t eat

How to check whether your dog is underweight

👉 If you think that your dog is underweight, consult with a veterinarian. Some of the reasons why a dog is below their healthy weight can be serious.

There are a few simple ways to tell if your dog is too skinny. All you have to do is take a close look at your furry friend and feel their bones.

First, stand above your dog and look down, taking notice of their waistline. If your dog’s body narrows dramatically at the waist, this could be a sign of malnourishment. Also, if you can see the outlines of your dog’s ribs, you might very well have a too-thin hound on your hands.

In addition to looking at your dog’s body, feeling their ribs is a good way to check for the right levels of body fat, too. You should be able to feel each rib in a dog of a healthy weight, but if their ribs stick out, this could be a problem.

Common reasons dogs can be underweight

Worms

Common intestinal worms are tapeworms, roundworms, hookworms, and whipworms. These worms eat the food in your dog’s stomach before they can digest it. Worms equal weight loss, and it all comes down to simple arithmetic.

If your dog burns more calories than they consume from food, they will lose weight. If they eat more calories than they burn, they’ll gain weight. When worms enter the equation, things shift. Worms steal calories from your dog, and your dog burns more calories than they’re able to eat, so they lose weight as a result.

If you suspect your dog has worms, consult your veterinarian immediately. First, your pup’s doctor will determine the type of worm your dog has. Then they will prescribe the right kind of dewormer. A trip to the vet is important because not all deworming medicines kill all types of worms.

Injuries or infections

In some cases, dogs of normal weight become too thin because they stop eating as much as they used to. Banfield Pet Hospital explains some of the reasons dogs might stop eating including diseases of the teeth and gums or injuries to the mouth. Other issues are more life-threatening and range from infections to diseases.

Stress

Stressed or depressed dogs may lose their appetite much in the same way an unhappy human can. Life changes like the death of a companion can cause stress and depression in canines — so can things like a home move or a new family member.

Dog’s can’t tell us how they feel and why. If your dog’s appetite changes or if you have a new fuzzy best friend who isn’t eating, don’t hesitate to contact a vet.

A picky palette

One more reason a dog might be underweight is that they simply don’t like their food. Some dogs are naturally picky eaters. So, if you’ve changed your dog’s food recently, keep in mind that they might not be on board with the menu update. If this is the case, try different food. If they’re still not eating, it’s time to call the vet.

Why set mealtimes are important

Some pups are perfectly fine grazing their food, meaning that you keep your dog’s bowl full and they eat it at their leisure. Other dogs enjoy set meal times — they look forward to it twice a day. Also, with set meal times you can observe how much your dog eats and what their mealtime habits are.

Set meal times are also helpful if you switch your dog from a lower-calorie dog food to a higher-calorie one. This way you can observe how they deal with the transition. The best way to switch food is through a gradual process. Mix a small amount of the new food into their old food. Then watch how they respond to their new cuisine. They might love it or they might not even notice the difference.

There’s always a chance, of course, that they won’t like the new food. If this is the case, keep trying different higher-calorie foods until you find one that they love.

The thing about treats

Giving your skinny pooch more treats might seem like a good way to help your dog pack on the pounds — and it totally can be. Keep in mind, though, if your dog eats too many treats, they might get sick and vomit or have diarrhea. In both cases, your pup won’t retain the calories from the treats. This is why it’s important to know how many treats your dog can consume without getting an upset stomach. Always remember to look at the suggested servings on the back of your dog’s treat packages.

You can also get creative and make your dog some fun treats that double as enrichment. (‘Enrichment’ means an activity that stimulates your dog’s brain.) You can stuff rubber enrichment toys with high-calorie wet food and then freeze the toy. If you don’t have a toy you can stuff, try coating a rubber chew toy with wet food and then freeze that. Your dog will benefit from the nutrition of the wet food. They’ll also have fun licking the frozen food from the toy. It’s a tasty challenge!

dog eating a biscuit

they loves the treats

You can also coat or stuff rubber enrichment toys with peanut butter. We’ll discuss ‘people food’ for dogs later in this post, but one thing to remember when buying peanut butter for your dog is to look at the ingredients. You must make sure that the peanut butter does not contain xylitol, an additive that can be lethal to dogs.

In any dog, but especially dogs with any kind of health issue, keeping track of their water intake is important. Dehydration in animals is common. So keep an eye on how much they are drinking by taking note of how full their water bowl is in the morning and then at night.

Why exercise is important, even to an underweight dog

The fact is, to be healthy, all dogs need some level of exercise. Healthy, strong muscles are the main driver of metabolism. Without exercise, it’s hard for your pup to maintain a healthy metabolic rate. Plus, activities like fetching and running are great mental stimuli to keep your dog happy — stress can be a factor in weight loss.

The thing to remember is that the amount and type of exercise that your pup requires is unique. From body type to restrictions (due to age or injuries) to breed, each dog’s exercise needs are unique.

Dogs who seem lazy or lethargic might need as much exercise as an energetic dog — or even more. Finding the best way to exercise your dog can be a fun bonding activity for you and your pup. You get to explore new activities with your dog, and you might like them, too.

Different dogs like different types of play. Some dogs love to run. Some dogs delight in exploring at the dog park. Other dogs enjoy slower, but longer walks. It comes down to what both you and your dog enjoy. Location and climate also play a role. You’ll find what works for both of you faster than you can say, “Go fetch!”

One thing to remember for all dogs, but especially for underweight dogs, is not to “overdo” it. Like people who push themselves too hard at the gym, dogs can overexert themselves, too. Remember to always bring water and treats along with you on any kind of exercise excursion. If your dog looks tired or is panting too much, it might be time to slow down, take a break or end the exercise completely.

With any kind of dog, it’s important to start a new activity slowly to make sure it’s a good fit. For example: try a few rounds of fetch where your dog doesn’t have to run extremely long distances. Then either add in more rounds or increase the length of space your dog runs.

For underweight dogs, consider adding a treat as a reward during fetch. You can also stop during your walk to treat time. Always keep in mind that if your dog needs to gain weight, you need to do the math to make sure your dog consumes more calories than she burns during exercise.

How to track your dog’s weight gain 

Speaking of tools, there are tons of apps and online resources to help you keep track of your dog’s weight gain. Of course, you can always use an old fashioned pen and paper, but if you’re partial to productivity apps, we like Petrics. Petrics is a tool that allows you to input all kinds of data from your dog’s food intake, weight changes and more. You can connect puppy-related smart devices like a fitness tracker and even a smart pet bed.

Of course, to best keep track of your dog’s weight, you’ll need to perform regular weight checks. If your pup is small enough for you to lift and hold, you can weigh yourself on a scale first. Then weigh yourself while you’re holding your dog. Finally, subtract your own weight from the total to calculate where your dog lands on the scale.

If your doggo is a big ol’ puppy, however, you might want to take them to the vet’s office for a weekly weigh-in. Most veterinary clinics offer this to clients free of charge. Just call first to make sure that is the case. Some pet stores also have free scales to use.

Not only is your dog’s weight information useful to you as a concerned pet owner, but it’s also helpful to your dog’s veterinarian. The vet might be able to determine patterns from your doggie’s data.