Is your dog under her ideal body weight? It’s much easier to put weight on a dog than to slim them down, and that’s why you have to make sure you’re doing it right. Here is what you need to know to help your dog gain weight in a healthy way:
Does Your Dog ACTUALLY Need To Gain Weight?
Over 50% of household dogs in the United States are overweight. We’re used to seeing chubby dogs. Just because your friends, family or strangers at the park are telling you that your dog is too skinny, does not mean that your dog really needs to gain weight.
Also take into account your dog’s breed… if you know it.
When Cow was about two years old, she was shaped like a sausage. She didn’t have a waist. Since I cut most of the carbs out of her meals in her raw diet, and started going on runs with her, she has a tiny waist. I’ve even been asked if she is part greyhound.
Before, I thought she might be part Australian Cattle Dog, which is a somewhat stocky breed, but her DNA test from Royal Canin said she is part German Shepherd (among a total hodgepodge of unexpected breeds), which means it’s not actually surprising that she’s at her healthiest with a deep chest and a comparatively narrow waist.
So, maybe your “Chihuahua mix” actually has some Italian Greyhound in her. Or, maybe your Pug is actually healthy, though Instagram will have you believe that Pugs are supposed to be shaped like meatloaf.
Young dogs can go through a lanky stage that makes them look too skinny. You don’t want your puppy to be chubby – you’ll just increase their chances of harming their vulnerable growth plates. Provide extra calories to support their growth, but don’t go overboard.
Your dog is too skinny if… her ribs protrude from her sides and you can see more than the last three of them. Her spine and hip bones should not stick out. You should be able to feel the vague outline of her ribs when you run your hands over her sides, with just a thin layer of fat.
Ask your vet… though, vets see a lot of overweight dogs and can sometimes see healthy dogs as too skinny, so they might not necessarily have better judgement just from eyeballing your dog. You should also have your vet take a stool sample to check for parasites, look for dental issues and get a blood test to check your dog’s thyroid levels. Before making any changes to your dog’s diet or exercise regimen, rule out any underlying health issues.
Reasons Why Your Dog Might Need To Gain Weight
Active dogs who participate in sports, go on long hikes, or otherwise burn up lots of calories throughout the day may need more food than the recommending serving size on your kibble or canned food. If you’re feeding raw, the usual recommended ration of 2-3% of your dog’s ideal adult body weight per day might not be enough.
Small dogs lose heat faster because they have a high surface area to body ratio. They need more calories to stay warm, and they generally have a higher metabolism than larger dogs, relative to their size. So, you can get closer to that 3% or even a bit higher to maintain your small dog’s healthy weight.
Elderly dogs may have trouble eating due to dementia, dental issues, or underlying health problems. Old dogs can decline quickly, so you should take extra care when making changes to their diet.
Picky dogs may just have a more refined palate than the typical dog. Most dogs are highly food motivated and will eat almost anything. So, pickiness should be discussed with your veterinarian. That said, it’s really not unusual for dogs to get bored of dry kibble, and a simple flavor boost like healthy “people” foods or freeze-dried, canned or raw toppers can entice them to finish their meals.
Your dog is recovering from an injury or known health issue and you just need to get them back to their healthy weight.
Your dog is a rescue and she was malnourished, and is gradually working her way back to a healthy weight.
How To Increase Your Dog’s Appetite
It’s not abnormal for some dogs to skip meals to self regulate their food intake. Some dogs prefer to eat once per day. I personally prefer two daily meals, though some people feel that intermittent fasting is better for their own dog.
You might have more success with feeding your dog more frequent meals to get their weight up, or frequent training sessions with food rewards. Some dogs would be fine with larger, less frequent meals. Wolves and wild dogs are gorgers, they eat very large meals after a hunt and then might not eat for a few days. See what your dog prefers: lots of snacks or large meals.
Warming up your dog’s food releases tantalizing aromas. Pouring hot water or bone broth over their meal should get their attention.
Foods with potent aromas, like canned fish juice (from tuna, salmon, sardines – always go with low sodium packed in water), or peanut butter (watch out for sugar-free version that contain xylitol, an artificial sweetener that is poisonous to dogs) can be mixed into your dog’s food in small amounts, it doesn’t take much for your dog to smell it. Most dogs cannot resist pungent green tripe (the inside of a cow’s stomach – not sold for human consumption).
CBD oil is becoming increasingly popular for dogs with chronic illnesses, and it’s also useful for acute issues like minor injuries, or simply piquing your dog’s appetite. It’s best to use a for-pets brand that makes their own tinctures, so you’re always getting the same potency and you know you’re getting a product that’s low in THC – which can be harmful to dogs. I use and recommend HempMy Pet.
Caution: Warnings About Putting Weight On Your Skinny Dog
Dogs put on weight quickly. There is no need to start bad habits, like feeding table scraps of fatty meats off your dinner plate, that can lead to bad manners and obesity in the long run.
Be careful of adding too much fats – that can lead to acute pancreatitis.
Adding more carbs to your dog’s diet will help her gain weight, but these carbs turn to sugars, which can lead to dental disease, diabetes, and feed yeast that leads to itchy, inflamed skin and ear infections. Wolves ate very few carbs, if any, but our dogs have some capacity to metabolize them. That said, dogs do not need as much carbs as they typically get from kibble.
The dangers of too much fat and carbs are why I do not personally recommend satin balls. You may have heard of them – they’re basically balls of meat, oil, oatmeal and cereal, so just blobs of fat, carbs and protein that some people use to put weight on their dogs. Reasonable servings of satin balls, fed temporarily, should be fine, it’s just not the approach I would take.
Supplementing Your Dog’s Food
If your dog eats kibble, she does not need more carbs – so forget about oatmeal, cereal, or sweet potatoes.
High quality proteins are best for your dog’s body to break down. Eggs are very easy to digest, very yummy, and can help your dog put on weight. You can give them raw, whole, shell and all, or boiled or scrambled with no salt. Duck eggs and quail eggs will work, too.
It’s typically recommended that you only feed the shells of farm fresh, not supermarket eggs, because if you live in the United States, they’re washed and sprayed with a chemical sanitizer. If they’re refrigerated, you probably shouldn’t feed the shell.
You can feed higher-fat meats, but don’t just feed fat trimmings. Fatty fish like sardines and salmon (salmon must be cooked or canned), are a healthy source of fat, but you don’t want to feed too much of them – everything in moderation.
Extras should make up no more than 10-15% of your dog’s diet. Don’t go crazy over this. Slow, steady weight gain is your ultimate goal. Weigh your dog each week. Check your dog’s poop to make sure you’re not causing digestive upset through diet changes.
Bulking Up Your Dog Through Exercise
Exercise will increase your dog’s appetite and help them build muscle mass, not just fat.
Cue the visions of pitbull-type dogs dragging enormous tires around a junkyard.
Building muscle is not only for those “tough” dog breeds, even Chihuahuas like Matilda are healthier when they have muscle tone. Healthy muscles can even prevent or manage common little dog issues like luxating patella.
Swimming, hiking up and down hills, and tug-o-war can all build healthy muscles in dogs of all breeds and sizes.
Maintaining Your Dog’s Weight
Once your dog reaches her ideal weight, you can cut back on some of the snacks and extras. Continue to weigh regularly to make sure you’re on the right track. It only takes a few ounces for your dog to swing in the other direction, and it’s definitely easier to increase your dog’s weight than it is to help them slim down.