Once your dog reaches their twilight years, it can become increasingly difficult to keep them at a healthy weight. Perhaps the vet has advised you he should put on a few pounds, or you have noticed he is slimmer than he used to be.
If you do think your older dog may need to gain some weight, discuss with their vet if this sounds like a good idea. This is especially important in an older dog, who is more likely to have a medical reason for being under-weight.
Does Your Senior Dog Really Need To Gain Weight?
Most older dogs actually have an issue with being overweight. Sometimes, what we perceive as an underweight dog may actually be an acceptable weight as we are used to seeing overweight dogs.
It is best to check your dog’s Body Condition Score. If unsure how to do this, your vet or vet nurse will be able to guide you. Keeping an older dog within the ‘slim’ to ‘healthy’ weight categories helps prevent diseases such as diabetes and cancer.
Has Your Senior Dog Recently Lost Weight?
When an older dog loses weight unexpectedly, we need to pay attention. Getting older isn’t a good enough reason for becoming underweight. Unless you have increased your dog’s activity levels or restricted their calories purposefully, weight loss needs to be investigated.
Your dog should be checked over by their vet, who may advise some tests are run. Oftentimes, blood and urine tests are recommended. Potential conditions to rule out would include:
- Dental disease
- Liver disease
- Kidney disease
- Cushing’s disease
If your older dog seems slimmer over their spine and hips, this could be ‘muscle atrophy.’ This is when the muscle wastes away and is usually associated with joint disease such as arthritis.
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6 Ways To Help a Senior Dog Gain Weight
As with a dog of any age, we need to get the ‘simple’ things right. Things like routine check-ups and regular parasite prevention are just as important in older dogs than in puppies. There can be a misconception that only puppies need to be de-wormed, but this is far from the truth.
1. Getting their diet right
We are what we eat, right? Well, the same is true of our pets. If your senior pooch isn’t on the right diet, this could mean they become underweight over time. If this is the case, changing their diet to something more appropriate can quickly help them regain any weight lost.
Ensure they are on high-quality senior dog food. Dog foods need to contain the right balance of protein, carbohydrates, and fats. The first ingredient should be meat when possible. Using the feeding guide on the back of the packet, feed for the weight your dog should be (not necessarily the weight that they currently are). Remember that the feeding guidelines won’t work for every dog, and you may find you need to give more than suggested to maintain a healthy weight; use them as a rough guide rather than a specific instruction.
2. Making sure they eat their meals
It’s all well and good offering your dog the best quality nosh, but what if they turn their noses up? Food refusal can be both frustrating and concerning for an owner. If a medical reason has been ruled out, you may need to get creative.
Canned food is your friend, and the flavor and texture is generally preferred by older dogs. This is because it is softer, smellier, and easier to eat than dry food. As a dog gets older, their senses decline, and they may not find kibble as appealing as they once did. Similarly, they may have some dental disease or oral pain, which makes it easier for them to chew and swallow softer food. This is a good place to mention that age should not be a reason an older dog doesn’t get a dental cleaning. Most cope with the anesthetic and procedure very well and will reap the rewards once their teeth are in tip-top shape.
Make mealtimes tastier by warming up food which helps release the aroma. Changing the flavor from time to time can be a game-changer but be cautious if your dog is sensitive as this could upset their stomach if done too abruptly.
Watch out for your dog being bullied by younger pets, who may take over their bowl and eat their food when you’re not supervising. Sometimes it is best to feed all pets in separate rooms. Food bowls should be kept in the same place and must be easily accessible for your older pet.
3. Change it up
If mealtimes become a bore and a chore, your golden oldie might decide to skip meals. Liven things up by feeding from food puzzles like Kongs, snaffle mats, and lick mats from time to time. This is also a good way to ensure your dog eats little and often, which many find easier for their digestive system to deal with.
You can offer treats and chews too. Treats should be used as a training tool for older dogs, not just puppies. Reward good behavior and let your dog know you’re happy with what they’re doing!
4. Consider diet supplements
If your dog is a grazer and you worry they aren’t getting everything they need from their meals, there is no harm in adding a diet supplement. This may be in the form of a liquid, powder, or tablet. Most are mixed in with meals. Ideally, opt for a supplement aimed specifically at older dogs that contains a mixture of vitamins, minerals, joint protective ingredients, and probiotics.
5. Be cautious with the food on offer
It can be tempting to offer your under-weight dog every food under the sun in the hope it will fatten them up. However, giving fatty or greasy human food could have the opposite effect. If we cause a stomach upset, our dogs will end up losing weight rather than gaining.
Do not be tempted to give fatty foods such as cheese, greasy burgers, or bacon. Not only could these lead to diarrhea or vomiting, but they could also trigger an episode of pancreatitis, which could make your dog very poorly indeed.
6. Enhance their diet
We can ‘enhance’ an older dog’s diet by adding tasty food such as egg, meat, and fish to their meals. Oily fish like sardines and fatty meat like lamb usually work well. However, try to ensure your clever canine doesn’t eat the tasty topper and avoid their kibble. Mix the food thoroughly. If your dog still tries to pick around their kibble, offer it first and give the ‘nicer’ foods once the kibble has gone.
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Receiving Help From Your Veterinarian
Some older dogs need to have veterinary input when it comes to gaining weight, especially if they have underlying medical issues. Discuss with your vet if it would be appropriate to offer your dog anti-nausea medicine and/or an appetite stimulant, especially if they are refusing meals.
So, when it comes to helping a senior dog to gain weight safely, we have lots of options available to us. Remember, it is always important to rule out any medical conditions when an older dog is underweight.
Thank you for reading!