Being too skinny is not a problem that most of us have as humans and neither do our dogs! If you have an underweight or malnourished dog, the reason is usually because he either was or is ailing or you rescued him from a bad situation. In any case, a sick dog’s chances for recovery are higher if he is getting enough nutrition. Getting that nutrition to him can be difficult if he is under mental or physical stress. Be patient and don’t give up trying a multitude of methods.
Consult Your Vet
The rule of thumb for any dog in an abnormal state is to reach out to your vet. An underlying illness must be ruled out. If your dog is a new member of the household, the vet will perform blood tests to make sure his malnourished state isn’t due to parasites or bacterial infections. Once the illnesses have been ruled out or taken care of, then you can focus on how to bring him back to a decent weight.
Your vet may have prescription dog foods that are made especially for pets who are malnourished or have no appetite. These prescription foods are canned and very rich in fat, calories, and vitamins. Each serving contains more calories and vitamins than a serving of normal dog food. Because the food is a wet pate it is easily administered to the dog. If your dog is too depressed or lethargic to walk to his food bowl, try using a syringe. Fill the syringe with the prescription wet food. You can add water to it to ease its passage. Slowly inject the food into the back of his mouth. He will be forced to swallow it. If this method works, it will be enough to whet his appetite and persuade him to eat on his own.
Comfort and Peace of Mind
A dog who has had many stressors placed on him won’t feel safe enough to eat until he feels reasonably comfortable. Keep your home at an optimum temperature. Provide him a soft and well-padded place to sleep. Your dog and his private area should be clean. Dogs don’t like to be dirty either!
After he is settled into your home, try feeding him small amounts of tasty, nutritious food. The regular dog kibble won’t be sufficient – you’ll need wet food or freshly cooked meat. One of the tastiest foods for an ailing dog who has a loss of appetite is white rice boiled with chicken stock and shredded chicken breast. The rice should be cooked until it is soft and mushy and the chicken meat should be tender enough to fall apart. Don’t be afraid of a little salt – for a dog who won’t eat, a pinch of pink salt in the food will be very appetizing. Chicken with rice is comfort food for a dog. While it isn’t appropriate as a long-term diet, it is appealing to dogs and easy on the stomach.
Foods That Are Tasty and Calorie-Dense
Chicken liver is probably one of the most complete forms of nutrition for a dog. Chock full of calories, vitamins, and minerals, chicken livers usually don’t fail. The best way to cook them is to boil the in water. Keep the stock for those dogs who aren’t drinking fresh water. Boil the livers until they are tender and mush. Use a fork to mash them down, add some water (livers tend to be dry and chalky), and feed to your dog. For carbs, you can also add some cooked rice or boiled sweet potato to the mash.
Eggs are also a wonderful source of nutrition for dogs. Scramble the eggs in a pan and use a fork to mash them up. You can add the scrambled egg to the chicken livers and carbs. Other great human foods to include in an underweight dog’s diet are chicken thighs and organs, low-fat cottage cheese, and plain low-fat yogurt. Stay away from high-sodium, high-fat cheeses and milk.
If your dog isn’t eating from his bowl, getting your hands dirty might be the key. Dogs love to be fed by hand. Scooping up the egg and liver mix with your fingers is surely disgusting to you but it may be the way to get your dog eating again.
Schedule of Feeding
A dog needs about 30 calories per pound of body weight for daily maintenance. A 10-pound dog will need to eat roughly 300 calories a day. Note that sedentary dogs need a little less and highly active dogs and puppies need more. A malnourished dog should also receive more calories. If your dog is 15 pounds but should ideally be 20 pounds, feed him the amount that you would for that 20-pound dog.
Don’t feed all their daily calories in one sitting. Dogs should never go for more than 12 hours without eating. Feeding dogs only once a day is a cause of stomach problems, vomiting, and gastric torsion.
For a dog who has been starved or is malnourished, feeding very small quantities several times a day is best. After he is at a normal weight and activity level, you can resume feeding him twice a day. Don’t overfeed a dog who hasn’t eaten for a long time – this will exacerbate his sensitive stomach and cause more vomiting and diarrhea.
Rich foods may be appropriate for a short period of time but they could cause diarrhea because of the high fat content. Only use such foods to get your dog out of the critical stage and then resort back to balanced foods as quickly as possible.
By Gabrielle Allemeier
About the Author
Gabrielle Allemeier volunteers her free time as an animal rescuer and foster pet parent. As an animal lover, she enjoys sharing the knowledge she has gained from her experience with a variety of animals. Along with being an animal lover, Gabrielle is a globetrotter. She lives in Los Angeles, California with her terrier, Thisbe.