Diets to gain weight

How to Put Weight on a Dog

Josie F. Turner
By Josie F. Turner, Journalist specialized in Animal Welfare. October 7, 2019
How to Put Weight on a Dog

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We love to pamper our dogs. Giving into their adorable imploring eyes means we often give them too many snacks and treats. Canine obesity is often the result. All this means a dog being underweight seems rare, but this is not necessarily the case. There are many reasons a dog may need to put on weight. Whether they have an illness, here is an issue with their diet or you are unsure of the cause, being underweight can pose significant health problems for dogs. For this reason you may wonder how to put weight on a dog.

With AnimalWised you will not only see how you can put weight on a dog, but how you can do it in a healthy way. Healthy weight gain is the only way to help your dog get back to a suitable weight. If the dog puts on weight too fast, it could also pose a health risk.

You may also be interested in: How to Help a Malnourished Cat

How do I know if my dog is too thin?

If you want to know how to fatten your dog, you first need to know if they are too thin. It is very important to note that some breeds of dog are naturally skinny. We might look at Greyhound and think they are underweight, but their lithe bodies are indicative of their active lifestyle and high metabolism. However, a Boxer dog with the same frame would indeed be too thin.

Most naturally thin dogs tend to be in the sighthound category of dog breeds. They are known for their sight and speed, which is why they are often used in racing. Breeds of dog which are naturally thin include:

These dog breeds may be the exceptions when examining to see if your dog is the correct weight. In general, if you want to know your dog is the correct weight you need to look out for the following signs:

  • Ribs: run your hands over your dog's ribs and see if you can feel them. If you cannot feel them at all, then your dog is definitely overweight. You should be able to feel your dog's ribs and even be able to see them in shorthair breeds. However, they should have some fat over them.
  • Above view: if you look at your dog from above, you should be able to see that their waist clearly. If the dog has straight sides it means they are overweight.
  • Side view: at the dog's abdomen, there should be a tuck where the line of their belly goes up from the ribs towards the rear.

These guidelines will give you a general idea to know whether your dog needs to put on weight. However, it will depend on the individual dog and there are many factors to consider. This is why we need to take our dog to the veterinarian if we worry they are underweight. They will carry out a complete physical examination on your dog and provide the right diagnostic tests.

The main reason for this is that the reasons why a dog is underweight are varied. It could be due to an issue with their diet or a practical access to food problem. However, disease and other problems may be leading to your dog being too thin. A veterinarian will be able to test to see if your dog has any other health issues which might mean they are too skinny. They will also be able to help you with specific practicalities when it comes to putting weight on your dog.

If you are wanting to know how to make a puppy gain weight, then you should know that they have different requirements. Firstly, it is important to know whether the puppy is underweight or if they simply haven't developed yet. We also need to be very careful with a puppy as any sign they are losing their appetite or are becoming malnourished is potentially life-threatening. Take them to the vet immediately.

Why is my dog underweight?

As we state above, unless there is some particularly obvious reason for your dog to be underweight, you will need to have the veterinarian provide the diagnosis. Once they have done so, they will begin to prescribe any relevant treatment and provide practical information how to put weight on a dog. Generally, the reason your dog is underweight will be for one of the following reasons:

  • Underfed: simply put, if the dog is not getting enough food, they will lose weight. Perhaps the portion size you provide is calculated incorrectly or they need to have more regular feedings. How much food a dog will need depends on their breed and individual clinical picture.
  • Malnourished: quality is just as important as quantity. If the dog does not have quality food with sufficient nutrition, they will not be able to maintain a healthy weight. Their muscles will not be given nutrients needed for strength and eating types of food which provide no benefit can mean they become malnourished and underweight.
  • Infection: there are many infections which can lead to weight loss. Whether a viral, bacterial or any type of infection, the dog can weaken and be able to absorbe nutrients properly. The result is weight loss which will be more or less acute depending on the severity of the infection.
  • Infestation: particularly with internal parasites, an infestation can affect a dog's gastrointestinal system and prevent them from absorbing nutrients properly. This could happen even if the dog appears to be eating sufficient amounts of quality food.
  • Chronic conditions: if a dog has a chronic condition it can severely affect their ability to sustain themselves. Diabetes, kidney failure or hyperthyroidism are just some of the conditions which can have weight loss as a symptom.
  • Dental problems: if the dog has issues with their teeth it can prevent them from eating properly and they can lose weight as a consequence.
  • Stress: psychological distress, anxiety or depression can lead to a dog losing their appetite. Determining the origin of the stress is vital. You can then remove the stressor from their lives and hope that the dog is able to regain their desire to eat and put on weight.

The veterinarian will need to look at other symptoms of the dog to determine the cause of their weight loss. They will also carry out any other diagnostic tests to see why the dog needs to put on weight. They will also provide some practical advice on how to put weight on a dog safely, which includes:

How to Put Weight on a Dog - Why is my dog underweight?

Keep a journal

Once your veterinarian has diagnosed the cause of your dog's low weight, they will be able to prescribe any relevant treatment. If the dog needs to gain some weight, then there are various practical ways to help. The first is to keep a journal of your dog's progress.

In the journal you should make note of what food they are given, how much is in each portion, any treats they receive, how much exercise they get in a day and even record their weight if possible. You can also mark down any information which might be helpful. If you see the dog put on weight or even lose weight, you will need to know why. By taking the journal for your next veterinary checkup, they will have better information to tackle the problem.

Increase your dogs calorific intake

One of the most important ways to help a dog gain weight safely is to increase the amount of calories they ingest. Counting calories is something many humans will use when trying to gain or lose weight and there is no reason why it can't work for your dog. The main reason it is helpful is because it involves a simple calculation. Essentially, if the dog east more calories than they burn, they will start to put on weight.

However, this doesn't mean you can just give a lot of calories and expect the dog to put weight on safely. This is especially the case if the dog has a sensitive stomach. If the dog eats too many calories in one sitting, the dog can develop other digestive problems such as vomiting or diarrhea. This is why you should start by progressively introducing more calories.

To increase their calorific intake, start by adding 15% more than their usual amount and see how they get on. If this is not enough, increase it in further increments of 15%. Your dietary journal will help you to know how this is progressing.

How to Put Weight on a Dog - Increase your dogs calorific intake

Improve dog food quality

As we have already conveyed, the quality of the food is just as important as quantity. Any dog will need a balanced diet which is specific to their individual dietary needs. If you are at all unsure of what these dietary needs are, then you will need to check with your veterinarian. When a dog has a dietary condition such as diabetes then they will need a diet with dog food corresponding to their nutritional needs.

Speak with your veterinarian and determine the type of food they need. You can then research what is available on your market. You should be able to look at the composition on the packaging and check the quality. Better yet is to research the product online and see its reviews. The packaging is designed to make it sound quality, but a consumer watchdog should provide an unbiased review.

How to Put Weight on a Dog - Improve dog food quality

Small frequent meals

If you want to increase the quantity of food your dog requires to put on weight, eating it all in one portion can be counter productive. Some dogs will only have one meal per day, but most will require two. If the dog is struggling to put on weight, eating all of the food in one go is potentially problematic. It can lead to indigestion and they may not even want to eat that much food at once.

Increasing portion size can be helpful because it breaks these calories down into more palatable meals. If possible it is better to increase meal to 3 or 4 portions per day instead of 1 or 2. Dogs with a sensitive stomach might also be better suited to this strategy as it does not overload them at one time. Slowly increasing portions in this way can help build appetite slowly. The thinner the dog, the more important it is to provide more portions. There should never be more than 6 hours between meals.

Bear in mind that increasing the amount of time a dog will eat also increases the amount of time they need to relieve themselves. You will likely need to take them on more regular walks to solve this issue.

Make the food more appetizing

Part of the reason your dog may not be eating is because they do not find the food you offer appetizing. Each dog is an individual and many of them become picky eaters. To help them eat more and put on weight safely, you can make the food more appealing by adding a little broth to their food. The broth has to be dog-friendly, meaning there should be no ingredients which are toxic to dogs.

If this does not help the dog to eat their food, then you can invest in better quality feed. Wet food is generally more palatable to dogs, but it can also be more expensive. You can save money by adding a little wet food to the dry food. You can also create homemade dishes for your dog, but you need to speak to your vet to ensure you have the right balance.

Physical exercise

While it might seem counterproductive to recommend physical exercise to a dog which is trying to put on weight, it can actually be useful. Helping a dog to gain weight safely means we have to maintain their overall health. Exercising doesn't only burn calories, it also helps to build muscles. Muscle weight is better than fat, so we can help turn those calories into healthy weight rather than simply fattening up the dog.

Physical exercise also helps to increase the dog's appetite. Taking your dog out for more runs and walks can build up their desire to eat when they return home. As with increasing calories or portion size, this is something which needs to be done incrementally.

Helping your dog to put on weight is a process which takes time and requires patience for both you and your dog. Small changes to their habits will be better assimilated into both of your routines and is the best bet to reach a healthy weight.

How to Put Weight on a Dog - Physical exercise

How long does it take to put weight on a dog?

While it is a common question for dog guardians to wonder how long it will take for a dog to put on weight, it is also not a question with an easy answer. We need to take a look at the individual dog and their needs. A dog with high metabolism will find it more difficult to put on weight than other dogs. Similarly, the reason for the dog being underweight will also affect the length of time it takes to put on weight.

By keeping a journal and progressively incorporating more food, you can monitor the amount of weight your dog is adding. If you have been making changes, but the dog is either not putting on or losing even more weight, then there may be another issue. If this is the case, you will need to take them back to the veterinarian for another checkup.

If you want to read similar articles to How to Put Weight on a Dog, we recommend you visit our Diets to gain weight category.

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How to Put Weight on a Dog