Help your dog to gain weight in a healthy way

For most people, needing to gain weight might seem like a ‘good’ problem to have. I would certainly think so. And you might think it would also be a ‘good’ problem for dogs to have, seeing that most tend to struggle with being overweight rather than underweight. Unfortunately, there are many dogs struggling with being underweight, or even ‘cachectic’, which refers to extreme weight loss and muscle wasting.

The most common causes for dogs being underweight include poor nutrition, untreated intestinal parasites or worms, long-term diseases like cancer, sudden diseases like parvovirus in young dogs, or even pregnant and lactating dogs eating the wrong food.

Not normal

An underweight dog is under no circumstances normal or ideal, but this problem can, in some cases, be corrected by making a few minor adjustments. Like with all weight-gain and weight-loss journeys, it can be a long process that requires patience and perseverance, but the end result will be worth it. Remember that taking your dog to the vet for being underweight is nothing to be ashamed of. It does not imply that you are not feeding your dog enough, but proudly states that you want to get the best help in ensuring your beloved dog is as happy and healthy as possible.

Determining your dog’s ideal weight

Just like with people, there is no one ideal weight for all dogs. Remember that there are many different breeds and sizes of dogs, and it is not a case of one-size-fits-all. Instead of focusing on a numerical ideal weight, it can be more valuable to assess your dog’s body condition score.

In very thin dogs, the ribs can be felt and seen, with no or very little fat covering, and the bones at the base of their tails are raised, also with a lack of fat covering. These dogs usually have what we call a severe abdominal tuck, meaning that if they are viewed from the side, their abdomen appears tucked up behind the rib cage. In severe cases, the spine and pelvis are also visible, with a very narrow waist. A dog at his ideal weight should not have any bones, like his ribs or pelvis, visible, but you should be able to feel them, with minimal fat covering and a noticeable waist and abdominal tuck.

Various veterinary clinics have focused weight-loss programmes, where your dog’s weight is recorded and monitored until the ideal weight is reached. With the help of your local vet clinic, the same can be done, but with the focus on gaining weight instead of losing weight. Before deciding on an ideal weight, your vet will have to determine why your dog is underweight.

How to help your dog gain weight

Before starting to work on helping your dog gain some weight, you need to determine why he is underweight in the first place. I would recommend starting off this process with a visit to your local veterinarian. They will examine your dog for any obvious reasons for his poor weight, including testing his stool for intestinal worms. If found, a dewormer will be prescribed. It is a good idea to prophylactically deworm your dog with an appropriate dewormer at least every three months, depending on how long the product works.

Your vet can also help you ensure that your dog is on a nutritious diet, fed according to his ideal weight. Most quality dog foods have an easy guideline on the pack showing you how much to feed. Remember to not feed according to your dog’s current weight, but according to his ideal weight. If your vet suspects that there might be a bigger reason for the weight loss than just poor nutrition or worms, he might suggest a few tests to rule out more serious illnesses.


Another common reason for poor weight is due to pregnant or lactating dogs ‘losing’ more energy than they are gaining through their diet. It is common to place these animals on a puppy diet (as diets for puppies are higher in fat, protein and calories to meet their growing lifestyle). Be sure not to feed a large breed puppy diet, as these usually restrict calcium and do not provide enough energy.

Hard boiled eggs are an excellent addition to the diet of dogs on their way to gaining weight. It is not only rich in protein, but also great for your dog’s skin and coat. Be sure to boil the eggs first, as raw eggs are not safe and can be a source of salmonella.

Consult your vet

It is important to remember that seeking the advice of a veterinarian in your dog’s weight-gain process is always recommended, just to help you rule out more serious conditions and ensure you are on the right track. Remember to be patient and stick to the plan. The end result is sure to be worth it!


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