Given pet obesity is such a worldwide issue, there is a lot of advice around for pet owners on how to help their dog lose weight. But what if your dog is actually looking skinny or recovering from illness or surgery, and you need to help them gain weight? Here are a few things to consider.
How do I tell if my dog is too skinny?
Firstly, many people find it hard to judge what is a healthy weight for their pet so it’s important to determine whether your dog is in fact underweight. The best way to do this is to take your dog to a veterinarian who can check your dog’s body condition score and determine whether there are any underlying health conditions that may need to be addressed.
If you suspect your dog is underweight, here are some signs you can look for, according to Rover:
- The ribs are clearly visible or feel like they lie just beneath the skin, with no fat layer in between.
- The hip bones, shoulder bones and spinal cord are easy to feel beneath the skin.
- The bones at the base of the tail are protruding.
- The curve between the ribs and hips (i.e. the waistline) looks pronounced when viewed from above.
- The spine and ribs are plainly visible when viewed from above or the side.
Tips to help your dog gain weight
- Check the feeding quantities
As pet foods vary considerably in terms of the calories they provide and their nutritional values, it is important to first ensure you correctly read the feeding guide for your pet’s current diet, and confirm you are feeding the correct amount. One cup of one type of food does not equal one cup of another!
It is important to note that feeding guides should be read based on your pet’s ideal weight, not their current weight. So if your dog is underweight, you should be feeding the quantity of food relevant to the weight you are aiming to get them to (e.g. if a dog is underweight at 17kg but their ideal weight is 22kg, then we would feed them the amount recommended in the feeding guide for a 22kg dog).
If you’re unsure what your pet’s ideal weight is, it is best to consult your veterinarian for further advice.
Feeding guides can usually be found on the packaging of your pet food, or on the manufacturer’s website. Feeding guides are also as described – a guide. While they are suitable for most dogs, feeding quantities can vary based on your dog’s size, breed and activity levels. If your pet cannot maintain a healthy weight on their current feeding portions, it is always best to consult your veterinarian or contact the manufacturer to confirm the most appropriate diet, and the amount for your dog’s size, breed and activity levels.
- Choose a high energy density food
Despite feeding the correct amount of your pet’s diet, if your dog is still unable to maintain its weight, continuing to increase their feeding portions may help, however, this could overload their digestive system or reach a point where it is simply too much food for them to consume.
In this instance, you should look for nutritionally balanced pet food that is energy-dense, so higher in calories, to help support your pet to gain weight. When selecting the diet, as well as being energy-dense, to support weight gain it should also be:
- Higher in important key nutrients such as protein and fat – protein is key to supporting all tissues in the body, as well as helping heal recovering body tissues (e.g. post-surgery) and is vital to maintaining or rebuilding your pet’s muscle mass. Fat is the most energy-dense macronutrient, so will ensure the diet is high in calories and contains crucial fatty acids that can help improve the skin and coat, which is often lacklustre in underweight animals.
- Highly digestible; the more digestible the food, the more easily your dog will be able to absorb the nutrients critical to their health and weight gain.
- Contain the right balance of fibre; this directly affects gut health and the quality of their stools.
An energy-dense diet means your dog can afford to eat smaller meals, and still get enough calories to help support their weight gain, so can be beneficial to feed dogs who don’t have a good appetite.
Puppy foods and diets specifically formulated for highly active and/or working dogs are some excellent examples of energy-dense diets that are complete and balanced.
Further tips include making their diet wetter – either by using wet food or adding water to kibble – can encourage your dog to eat, as it may feel easier to eat than dry food. Providing them with plenty of freshwater is also essential for their overall health.
There are also therapeutic diets available from your veterinarian that are specifically designed for weight gain and pets recovering from illness or surgery.
- Feed them smaller meals, more often
The general recommendation is to give your adult dog two meals a day, but if you are trying to help them gain weight, you may wish to split their daily portion into smaller meals and give these more frequently. This can help improve digestibility and puts less pressure on their gastrointestinal tract. Feeding more meals more frequently of an energy-dense diet, can also mean you can boost their overall daily calorie intake, helping them to gain body condition over time.
- Consult your veterinarian
Finally, there are many reasons your dog could be underweight or malnourished such as age, stress or anxiety, competition for food with other pets at home and poor or inappropriate nutrition. Most importantly, a number of serious health conditions can cause weight loss and so where your dog is unable to maintain a healthy body weight, a health check is highly recommended. Your veterinarian will be able to conduct a thorough physical examination of your dog, and conduct any further diagnostic tests that may be required – your veterinarian is the best partner in helping to get your dog get back on track, so they can have the energy they need for a healthy, happy life!