How to Help Your Dog Gain Weight (Safely!)

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Although most pet parents struggle with overweight dogs, there are a few of us out there with the opposite issue.

Daisy, my oldest, is one of the few that struggle with an underweight issue. She’s my picky eater and, combined with high energy, she’s sporting the starved dog look.

Okay, maybe it’s not as bad as that, but too many ribs are showing.

Before I changed Daisy’s diet and routine, I discussed her weight with my vet. I wanted to make sure there weren’t any underlying issues and, thankfully, she was perfectly healthy, just a bit underweight.

There are many reasons why your dog might be underweight so, as I did, it’s always good to check with your vet first.

How to Tell If Your Dog Is Underweight

how to tell if unhealthy underweight emaciated dog stray signs symptoms
Photo by Ivan Bandura (CC BY 2.0)

Just like humans, your dog’s weight isn’t only about the number on the scale.

Every dog is different, with different muscle mass or bone structure.

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It is recommended you look at your dog from above to see if your dog’s weight is where it should be. Here is a PDF with a chart from WSAVA (World Small Animal Veterinary Association) that can help determine whether your dog is underweight or not.

The AVMA (American Veterinary Medical Association) has a similar chart, too.

Generally, if you can see rib bones, there’s no belly, or your dog has bony hips, your dog is underweight or even emaciated.

Why Would You Want to Fatten Up Your Dog?

Here are some reasons why your dog may be underweight:

  • Health IssuesWorms (Super Gross, but not that uncommon), cancer, diabetes, liver or heart disease, irritable bowel disease. Really, the list goes on. The important thing is to get any medical issue addressed first, then fix the weight issue.
    step off my grill dog old meme why fatten your pet dog
    No, we don’t want to fatten you up to eat you…
  • High Energy & High Metabolism – We all have that friend with the hummingbird energy and metabolism. Well, dogs are like people in that they can have higher metabolisms too.
  • Stray/Rescue – A friend of mine who rescues sees underweight dogs all the time. Many dogs that are in need of rescuing come into foster care quite malnourished.
  • Quality of Food – Not all dog food is created equal. Some dog foods don’t absorb well into a dog’s system. This can cause underweight issues due to not getting enough nutrients or not able to build muscle mass.
  • Seasonal Activity – Here in the Midwest, my dogs don’t always get outside as much as they would like to in the winter. However, when summer rolls around and they are more active, they often lose weight, sometimes to the point of needing to boost their caloric intake.

What to Feed Your Dog (And What Not To):

Here are some Do’s and Don’ts of what to feed your dog:

Curious about other foods your dog should or shouldn’t eat? We have you covered!

What Else Can You Do to Help Your Dog Gain Weight?


If your dog has been ill or had an injury, she may have lost muscle mass.

To help your dog regain muscle, try bringing your dog to rehab. If you contact your local vet, they will be able to recommend a great rehab center.

We’ve used the one at the local university for Amber.

Amber was diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Disease and had lost a lot of weight and muscle. Once Amber was healthy enough, we started her on a rehab schedule to help her regain muscle and it really made a huge difference.

Feed More Frequently

If you only feed once a day it is recommended you try and space out meals throughout the day instead.

If we spread their meals out, our dogs will be able to consume more food.

Try Jazzing Up the Food

If you have a picky eater try…

  • Adding canned foods to make it more appealing
  • A different dry food. Not all dogs like the same food. Remember, if you are changing your dog’s food, do it gradually. In fact, it’s actually recommended to change your dog’s food every 3 months.
  • Adding bone broth. Bone broth is sold in most local pet and grocery stores. Just remember to follow the feeding guidelines. Too much of a good thing can actually cause problems. Also, it is believed that consuming bone broth can have other health benefits.
Curious about bone broth or want to try making your own jazzy and tasty dog food at home? Check this out!

What If Your Puppy Isn’t Gaining Weight?

Puppies not gaining weight is definitely a situation that you want to see your vet about ASAP.

If your puppy is perfectly healthy then it’s likely the food its eating isn’t the right formula for them. There are several puppy dog foods out there, so be sure to pick the right one for your dog’s breed.

my puppy is not growing gaining weight
Photo by Lucignolobrescia (CC BY-SA 3.0)

If you’re wondering if there is, say, a Golden Retriever puppy food, not specifically. But, there are puppy foods specifically formulated for large breed dogs.

According to a personal interview with Dr. Julie Churchill, DVM, PhD, Diplomate ACVN, the nutritionist at the University of Minnesota, she always recommends consulting with your vet to receive specific dietary recommendations.

She states, “A new rescue who is underweight will likely have a different nutritional need than a high energy dog, who will also have a different nutritional need than a selective eater.”

So, in conclusion, though no one wants a chunky monkey it’s not good to have a dog too slim either.

If you have a dog that’s underweight, there’s a lot of different ways you can help them get back to where they should be.

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