7 Healthy Tips to Help Your Dog Gain Weight

Many pet owners have to battle with the scales from time to time. While obese and overweight dogs are far too common, what if your dog has the opposite problem and actually needs to gain some healthy weight?

Dogs can suddenly or gradually become underweight for many reasons. Perhaps they’re a recent rescue, recovering from medical issues, or simply craving different food for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.

We’re here to help. This article includes reasons that your dog could be underweight, signs that your dog is at their ideal weight, and lots of strategies and healthy food ideas to plump your dog up.

First, Why Is Your Dog Underweight?

Helping your dog maintain a healthy weight is extremely important. It lets them live a longer, happier life, and a landmark 14-year Purina study showed that it could increase their lifespan by up to two years for some breeds. Losing and gaining a couple pounds (or ounces) is normal, but there are some clear signs that a dog is underweight:

7 Healthy ways to help a dog to gain weight

Although obesity is far too common in dogs today; there are also dogs with the opposite problem. In fact, some dogs are downright skinny and I know; I have one of those dogs. But I know why my dog is thin; he’s active, runs and plays hard, and is always ready to go. Here are some things I’ve learned as I live with this dog and try to keep weight on him.

1) Talk to Your Veterinarian

Your dog’s veterinarian is your partner in your dog’s health care so talk to your vet before you make any changes regarding your dog’s weight. Ask your vet to perform a complete physical as there are a number of diseases or health issues that can affect weight loss (or gain) as well as appetite. You’ll want to eliminate these prior to beginning a weight gain program. In addition, ask your veterinarian for a goal weight for your dog.

2) Create a Journal

While helping my dog, Bones, an English Shepherd, gain and then maintain his weight, one of the best pieces of advice I was given was to create a journal for him. I keep track of his daily meals and treats, his exercise, and his weight. With everything recorded in the journal, then if his weight changes at the next weigh-in, I can look back and see what happened during the week. A journal helps a lot.

3) Weigh Your Dog

Most weight loss or gain programs for people recommend weekly weigh-ins and the same applies to your dog. A once a week weigh-in is great as it allows you to chart any gains, losses or weight maintenance over time. Weighing more often won’t help and will likely drive you crazy. If you weigh in too often you’ll start focusing on every calorie or every play session and that’s not good for you or your dog. Weekly weigh-ins are fine.

4) Choose a Quality Dog Food

Helping a healthy but thin dog gain weight requires creating an eating program that focuses on increasing your dog’s nutrition rather than simply adding calories. Too many calories too quickly could cause digestive upsets that might include vomiting and/or diarrhea. Adding too much fat could cause digestive issues, too, including inflammation of the pancreas. The best food for your dog is one made with meats, eggs, vegetables, and fruits while avoiding cereal grains, by-products, and meat meals. If your dog doesn’t have any grain allergies, I’d recommend The Honest Kitchen’s Whole Grain Chicken Recipe or Whole Grain Turkey Recipe. If your dog is intolerant to grains, Grain Free Turkey and Grain Free Beef are also good options for finding a delicious, but also nutritious food your dog will enjoy. Also, keep in mind that the feeding guidelines for these foods are just suggestions. If your dog seems to still be hungry you can always increase their serving size.

5) Feed Small Meals Often

Set up a schedule of meals so that your dog is eating smaller meals three or four times throughout the day rather than one or two large meals. Your dog will be better able to digest his food and metabolize the nutrition from the food with smaller meals. As you transition from larger meals to smaller ones, fix one large normal meal then divide it into smaller meals to serve. This will help you see how much you’re feeding until you get used to the new routine. As you increase the amount of food you feed, you can do so gradually with just a tiny amount in each of those smaller meals. A small meal every four hours is great but try not to go more than six hours between meals during the day.

6) Exercise is Beneficial

It may seem counterproductive to recommend exercise for a dog who needs to gain weight. After all, exercise burns calories, right? Exercise is beneficial as it will help your thin dog build muscle which adds bulk to his body. Plus, activity will also increase your dog’s appetite. However, just as you increase what your dog eats gradually, increase his exercise gradually as well. Sore muscles are no fun for anyone. If your dog hasn’t been exercising regularly, ask your veterinarian how much your dog can do, then gradually increase it.

7) Weight Gain Snacks

With my dog’s veterinarian’s approval, I make him a snack that is both good nutrition and high calorie. I cook one pound of ground meat (beef, bison, chicken or turkey) and scramble a dozen eggs. I mix these together and add one cup of ground flaxseed, one cup of cooked oatmeal, one eight ounce package of cream cheese, softened, one cup of peanut butter, and one tablespoon molasses. When well mixed, I form the mixture into one tablespoon sized balls (teaspoon sized balls for small dogs), place them on a cookie sheet and freeze. When the balls are frozen, I store them in airtight containers in the freezer. I’ll thaw several at a time in the refrigerator. Keep in mind these are snacks and not a food and they’re high in fat so offer no more than three a day.

Make all changes to your dog’s feeding and exercise regime gradually. Not only will this help you change your schedule and habits, but your dog’s as well. If at any time your dog loses his appetite, vomits, has soft stools or diarrhea, or doesn’t want to run and play; call your veterinarian. Bring your dog’s journal to the exam so your veterinarian can see exactly what you’ve been doing with your dog.

Looking For Other Healthy Dog Foods to Aid Weight Gain?

From training treats, food, or supplements, the Honest Kitchen gives cat and dog owners healthy, natural options to provide your pet the longest, happiest life possible. Check out some of our customers’ favorite dog-friendly products.

Meet the Author: Liz Palika, CDT, CABC

Liz Palika is a Certified Dog Trainer and Certified Animal Behavior Consultant as well as the founder and co-owner of Kindred Spirits Dog Training in northern San Diego county. Liz is also the founder of Love on a Leash therapy dogs; her dog, Bones, goes on visits on a regular basis. A prolific writer, Liz is also the author of more than 80 books. Many of her works have been nominated or won awards from a variety of organizations, including Dog Writers Association of America, San Diego Book Awards, the ASPCA, and others. Liz shares her home with three English Shepherds: Bones, Hero, and Seven, as well as one confident and bossy orange tabby cat, Kirk. To relax from work, or to take work on the road, Liz and her crew travel the West and PNW in their RV. If you see an RV on the road named "Travelin' Dogs", honk and say hi!

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