Basic care

How to Care for and Feed a Malnourished Dog

Josie F. Turner
By Josie F. Turner, Journalist specialized in Animal Welfare. May 2, 2017
How to Care for and Feed a Malnourished Dog

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Malnutrition is defined as a widespread nutrient deficiency and its causes can be diverse. Causes such as an infestation by intestinal parasites or a symptom leading to the poor absorption of nutrients. However, most cases of malnutrition occur in abandoned dogs.

Taking in an abandoned dog is one of the most rewarding things we can do. We know from the experience that these animals later manifest infinite gratitude.

You should know, however, that a dog in a state of malnutrition requires your full attention. So, in this AnimalWised article we will tell you how to care for and feed a malnourished dog.

You may also be interested in: How to Care for a Labrador Puppy
  1. Symptoms of a malnourished dog
  2. Go to the vet
  3. Feeding a malnourished dog
  4. Other care for a malnourished dog
  5. Make regular visits to the vet

Symptoms of a malnourished dog

The most characteristic feature of a malnourished dog is its extreme thinness. You will observe no fat and muscle mass. Consequently their bone structures will be clearly visible to the naked eye.

However, there are other symptoms present in a dog suffering from malnutrition:

  • Vomiting and diarrhoea
  • Dull fur
  • Scaly skin and bald body areas
  • Lethargy and weakness
How to Care for and Feed a Malnourished Dog - Symptoms of a malnourished dog

Go to the vet

Veterinary care is a priority when we are treating a malnourished dog. Some cases are so serious that rehydration and even parenteral nutrition, i.e. intravenous feeding, must be used.

The vet will also determine the existence of other diseases that may have been caused by malnutrition. Then they can establish whether there is any predominant specific nutritional deficit which should be considered for subsequent dietary treatment.

Feeding a malnourished dog

When we encounter a malnourished dog that looks like skin and bones, our first instinct is to feed them a lot of food. However, this can be extremely detrimental to starved dogs. Their digestive system is not ready for excess food and this could lead to a wide range of gastrointestinal symptoms, or even death. This physical reaction is called refeeding syndrome and its symptoms are as follows:-

  • muscle weakness
  • muscle cramps
  • heart muscle damage and rhythm irregularities
  • seizures
  • red blood cell rupture
  • respiratory failure

Start with several, small meals of high-quality food around four times a day. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals recommends using a high-end dry food for puppies, even if we are treating an adult dog. This type of feed is the richest in calories and nutrients, which are absolutely necessary for a malnourished dog. During the first days of treatment this should be mixed with wet feed, so the water content is increased as well as the fat content. Of course, if the dog starts suffering from diarrea, cut down on the portion size.

Omega 3 and 6 fatty acid supplements are also beneficial to a dog recovering from malnourishment. Dietary nucleotides are important contributors to the formation of DNA and RNA. They assist in many metabolic activities of healthy cells. Diets rich in meat provide adequate nucleotides.

Assisted (forced) feeding may be necessary if they don't consume the correct amount after two days. Consult your vet regarding how best to force feed the dog.

Remember to always have fresh, clean water at their disposal.

How to Care for and Feed a Malnourished Dog - Feeding a malnourished dog

Other care for a malnourished dog

Due to the low percentage of body fat in a malnourished dog they will have great difficulty in maintaining their body temperature. They will therefore need external help. This means that they must have a warm and comfortable space. Provide them with a soft bed and have several blankets available.

It is important that a malnourished dog can easily absorb all the nutrients you offer them. To improve the function of the digestive system one of the best options is to start treatment with probiotics for dogs.

Make regular visits to the vet

It is not only important that the dog receives an initial veterinary assessment but it is essential to go to the vet regularly, until the dog regains their optimal body weight.

The reason for these periodic visits is to monitor the nutritional treatment and adapt it. Although you may have given them the necessary care and food for a malnourished dog, their response may not be to the standard it should be.

If you found this useful, you may be interested in: How to Help a Malnourished Cat

How to Care for and Feed a Malnourished Dog - Make regular visits to the vet

If you want to read similar articles to How to Care for and Feed a Malnourished Dog, we recommend you visit our Basic care category.

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Keelyn Mcconaughey
This article was very helpful because I am currently fostering a malnourished dog who isn't doing so well so thanks for this. the owner said he wouldn't eat but he is eating for me but doesn't like anyone besides me. any suggestions for a food type because he is only eating SPAM.
Administrador AnimalWised
We are glad we could be useful!
neil arvin nepomuceno
my pitbull doesnt eat anymore what best treatment will i do to regain its body weight? he's already malnourished and im very eager to know and want to save my dog as much as possible. thanks
Alice Tapiol Breeze (AnimalWised editor)
Hi Neil,

If your dog has stopped eating there is a possibility there is an underlying issue that needs to be treated. Give your dog chicken broth meanwhile, but it's highly important you take him to the vet so he can get a proper diagnosis.
Hope this helps
H. Furr
My Lab had a large thyroid carcinoma removed removed from her throat. I am having a terrible time trying to get her to eat. We tried, Urgent care canned, her regular canned and dry - baked chicken with broth, soft scrambled eggs, chicken with rice and broth, and so on. She just does not eat except one of two bites. She is losing weight and drinks a lot of water. I keep her bowl filled at all times. She is on meds to increase her appetite but so far nothing. I have a hard time getting her to take them, I try to hide them in anything she will eat. I now have all types of canned and dry foods none she will eat. Any suggestions?
Amy McCready (AnimalWised editor)

We're sorry you're having such a hard time with your lab. You seem to have tried everything we would first suggest. We advise you to talk to your vet to see if there are any vitamins or serum that will help her gain some weight, or prevent losing more. It's hard to suggest much more without seeing her medical records as you need a medical opinion.

Have you tried to grind the chicken etc with water, so it is easier to swallow?

Eveything needs to be more like liquid because she is in pain. You could make a sort of smoothie with the contents. Perhaps you can buy a syringe to give her the mixture directly in her mouth. Sometimes if dogs can taste the flavor in their mouth they are likely to take more.

We hope this helps.
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How to Care for and Feed a Malnourished Dog