All owners want their dogs to be at a healthy weight, but not all dogs are “good eaters.”
There are a variety of reasons why owners might want to learn how to fatten up a dog, and why a pooch may have trouble putting on weight, including:
- Picky Eaters. Some dogs are just plain picky about what they eat – these dogs want the good stuff and are willing to hold out for it!
- Sick. Illness and/or stomach issues can also cause dogs to eat less than their owners would like.
- Stressed. When dogs are stressed or depressed, they may pass up on food. People can be the same way!
Whatever the cause of your dog’s dinner distress, we want to help our underweight dogs get to a healthy weight.
How Do I Know If My Dog Is a Healthy Weight?
When trying to determine a healthy weight for your dog, your veterinarian’s office is always a good place to start. Different breeds may have a naturally slimmer or stockier look, and your vet can help make sure you create appropriate weight goals for your canine.
This simple graphic from Purina can help you decide if your dog is over- or underweight. Keep in mind that silhouettes of different breeds can be very different. You should not be able to see multiple ribs, but there should be a narrowing of the waist from above.
I just helped my foster dog, Naomi (below), gain some serious weight. When she first came into my home, you could see seven ribs and her hip bones poked above her back!
She had no muscle tone, tired easily, and worst of all, would not touch her food. She would eat hot dogs, though.
Was I being played by a foodie dog? It’s possible- but not the case here. Now she’s a healthy, happy dog who has the energy for fetch and hikes!
How to Fatten Up A Dog: 5 Tips for Getting Weight On
A combination of these five solutions ended up being what got Naomi to a healthy weight in just a few weeks!
1. She’ll Eat When She’s Hungry
This is what I kept hearing, and it’s true – your dog will eat when she’s truly hungry.
If your dog skips a meal or two or is having a hard time adjusting to a new situation, she might start eating when things settle down.
Just keep offering food in different forms. She’ll eat when she’s ready – and this might take a while! Be patient and keep trying!
2. She’ll Eat When She’s Healthier
If your dog has a change in eating habits that persists beyond a few days, see a vet.
Take your dog to the vet to rule out any underlying health conditions that may be causing her lack of eating.
In Naomi’s case, her loss of appetite was paired with diarrhea and vomiting. That’s a major red flag! Naomi’s eating issues turned out to be stress-related (see below), but we still took her to the vet to be sure.
3. She’ll Eat If The Food Is Yummier
As a dog sitter, I frequently care for dogs that seem uninterested in their food. Some dogs just don’t eat well when their owners leave – they miss them! However, dogs will have a hard time turning their noses up at truly drool-worthy dinners.
Try making dog’s dinner better by drizzling tuna, yogurt, or egg over the kibble. Just be sure not to create a picky eater by spoiling your dog too much!
Other times, condiments won’t cut it and you’ll have to change the entire entree with a new brand of dog food. Some dogs will only be interested in eating higher quality dog food – and why not? They probably deserve it! Be careful, though – the most expensive, organic food could still be gross to your dog!
Something as simple as adding tuna or switching to a new brand of food can work wonders when it comes to fattening up a skin-and-bones dog.
Take a look at this recipe from professional dog trainer Toni Drugmand that should fatten up a skinny dog quite quickly!
4. She’ll Eat When She’s Less Stressed
Some dogs will refuse to eat when they’re stressed out.
Some of my formerly picky dog sitting clients eat dinner now that they know me and feel safe with me when their owner is gone. Some dogs will skip meals after Fourth of July from fear of fireworks.
In the case of Naomi’s eating issues, stress was the root problem. Naomi had just experienced a massive upheaval prior to us taking her home from the animal rescue – she was confused and scared. As she settled into our home, her appetite returned.
While refusing food due to situational stress is fairly normal in dogs, if your dog frequently stops eating due to stress, take her to a vet. She might be anxious due to a medical issue or something awry in her environment.
5. She’ll Eat When You Help Her
Some nervous dogs need extra encouragement at mealtime!
This what finally worked for Naomi. After four days of not eating and a lot of desperate phone calls with the rescue and vet, we got Naomi to eat a meal.
How? I took a handful of kibble and offered it to her. I praised her just for showing interest. She took a tentative mouthful, and I praised her more. She spat most of it out, but I was onto something!
We kept trying this throughout the night. Eventually I coaxed her into eating a full cup of food simply by giving her lots of verbal praise for showing interest in food. I literally just told her she was a good dog when she ate. This may sound like bogus, but it ended up being the game changer for Naomi!
Bonus Tip: Try High Calorie Treats
Some dogs won’t eat meals, you may be able to entice them to eat with special, high-value treats. This is a good way to get calories in while you’re working on figuring out how to get your dog to eat a full meal.
We gave Naomi lots of hot dog, cheese, and stuffed Kongs to get her some calories. I highly recommend trying to get some (heck, really any) food into an underweight dog while you address the long-term problem.
We did not end up spoiling Naomi into a picky eater who would only eat bratwurst and gruyere, since her problem was anxiety based and not due to pickiness.
If your dog really needs to gain weight, help her do it!
Have you ever had an underweight dog? How did you get your dog up to an appropriate weight? Share your tips in the comments!