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Weight Management: Gaining Weight      

Dr. Al Townshend

Before we go any further, how do you know your pet us underweight? Many Guardians have the notion their pet is too thin when actually they have a normal, slightly lean body conformation.


How Do You Know Your Pet is too Thin?

One way to tell is to look at the bones of the body. If the pelvic bones, spinal column and ribs are easily viable and there is little skin of fat, then your pet may be too thin.

Body Conditioning Charts are also a good indicator of a pet’s body condition.

What Can Cause My Pet to be Underweight?

There are many reasons a pet may be underweight:

  • Certain dog breeds are naturally thin. The Italian Greyhound, Whippet, Afghan Hound, and Greyhound are examples.
  • Internal parasites such as tapeworms, hookworms, and whipworms can severely affect a pet’s weight and health.
  • Poor nutrition 
  • Underfeeding
  • Picky eaters can have weight issues
  • Stress can affect a pet’s weight
  • Some diseases, such as diabetes and chronic kidney disease, can affect weight
  • Poor dental health can make it painful to eat
  • Age can affect weight. Older pets can have weight issues


Helping Underweight Pets Regain Normal Weight and Body Conformation

The first step when there is a weight concern is to make an appointment with the family veterinarian to ensure no medical issues are causing the pet to be underweight. Diabetes, chronic heart and kidney problems, poor dental health, and parasites can affect the pet’s weight and quality of life.

  • If you have a canine breed that is naturally thin, be sure you know the breed standards regarding weight and body condition. Most of these breeds are also very active and require significant exercise, so they need more food than other breeds.
  • Stress can play a role in pets just as it does in humans. Understanding the cause of the stress and working to solve the problem is essential not just to weight, but stress can seriously impact overall health. Family difficulties, changes in schedules, loud noises, and challenges with another pet in the home can all be so stressful they cause a pet to lose weight.


Nutrition is a Critical Factor in Maintaining Proper Weight

  • Our canine and feline companions evolved as carnivores whose primary diet was meat. While the domestic dog can utilize carbohydrates better, the best nutrition and calories still come from animal protein and fat.
  • Breed type (small and large breed) and life stage (puppy/kitten, adult, and senior) specific nutrition are essential for long-term health.
  • Every pet is different, and every pet’s nutritional needs must be specifically formulated and delivered to meet the individual requirements of that pet. Like humans, some pets have greater needs than others.


Beyond the Basic Nutritional Needs, to Help Pets Gain Weight 

  • Some breeds and even individual pets within a breed require more calories than others.
  • Some pets prefer eating smaller meals more frequently to get the nutrition they need.
  • Those “picky eaters” often require highly palatable foods or toppers. Raw and wet foods and toppers can enhance the appeal and encourage adequate consumption.
  • Highly active animals often need higher protein and fat in their diet to maintain proper weight. Working dogs, athletic events, and training require increased nutrition. Long-distance sled dogs can require up to 10.000 calories per day.
  • As pets age, the systems of the body become less efficient. The digestive tract is no exception. As digestion and absorption become less efficient, the quality of the ingredients becomes even more critical. Highly digestible animal protein-focused and low carbohydrate nutrition in a highly palatable format is essential to maintaining weight in many geriatric pets.
  • Exercise is also an important consideration. All pets need exercise, and when trying to put weight on an animal, we want that weight to be muscle and not just fat, so exercise is still essential.


Supplements That Support Weight Gain

  • Probiotics can improve digestion and absorption of nutrients to get the maximum benefit from the foods and treats being fed
  • Digestive enzyme supplementation can improve digestion
  • Omega-3 fats in fish oils can add calories while soothing the digestive tract and supporting the immune system
  • Balanced vitamin and mineral supplements assure optimum metabolism
  • B vitamins stimulate appetite
  • High-calorie supplements can provide a needed boost to the total daily calorie intake


Alternative Therapies

  • Acupuncture can relieve stress and encourage appetite

Helping pets maintain a slightly lean body conformation and proper weight is essential for the pet’s long-term health. Close observations of the pet and recognizing their nutritional need early in life is the key to a long and happy life.

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