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I’ve seen more overweight dogs in my years as a veterinarian than underweight dogs. But when it comes to puppies, it’s not that unusual for them to be a little underweight. Especially when they’re first adopted. Their humans always as how they can make their puppy gain weight.
The fastest way to make a puppy gain weight is to feed him a bit MORE of his own puppy food if he’ll eat it! If he has a poor appetite, first have your vet check for health problems. Once his health status is cleared, I have at least 19 things you can do to entice a finicky puppy to eat more.
19 Tricks to Make Your Puppy Gain Weight Fast
1. Give Him a Bit More of His Own Food
I’ve had people ask why their pup is skinny and acts like he’s always starving. Sometimes it’s simply because they need more food than they’re being given. The label on the food is a guideline for feeding, but some pups just need more calories to meet their energy needs. If your pup is underweight, try increasing the food portion by 10-25% for a week or two to see if that helps.
2. Upgrade to Higher Quality Food
Cheap foods have a lot of fiber and are not as digestible. Make sure to change to the new food gradually over 7-10 days to avoid digestive upset. Frequent food changes can cause digestive upset, too. Stick with any new food for at least a couple weeks before trying another new one.
3. Change the Food’s Primary Protein Source
If your pup’s food is mainly chicken now, try changing to a lamb-based food, etc. Some pups do better with one protein over another.
4. Feed Foods with Fewer Plant-Based Ingredients
The grain-free trend has given us dog and puppy foods filled with lentils, peas, chickpeas, and potatoes. Some dogs are sensitive to these ingredients or may not digest them well. Look for foods where the plant-ingredients are further down the list of ingredients and/or are different from what the pup is currently eating.
5. Try Moist Food
Kibble is the least favorite choice for many dogs. Adding or changing completely to canned food may increase his food intake. It seems like some dogs are able to digest moist food better than kibble, too, in my experience.
6. Feed Smaller Meals More Often
Small, frequent meals can help get more food in throughout the dayand may improve digestion so more nutrients are absorbed. Puppies younger than six months should eat at least three times a day, but you can try feeding them even more frequently.
7. Serve Food at a Different Temperature
Try warming food, serving it at room temperature, and serving cool to see if your pup has a preference.
8. Add Liquid
Try adding different liquids to dry or moist food such as chicken broth, beef broth or plain water.
9. Try Different Textures
Some picky dogs have a preference for certain textures. You can try blenderizing food with some liquid or just mash it a bit with a fork.
10. Use Different Serving Dishes
Serve food on a plate or in a shallow bowl. Try plastic, metal and ceramic dishes. Try different sized dishes. Try serving food on an elevated platform or on the floor.
11. Try Different Feeding Locations
Serve food in place pup feels safe and where there are few distractions. Experiment with feeding him in different rooms, in his kennel, outside, etc.
12. Add Table Food
Of course, our first instinct is to tempt our pets with rich table food and it usually works. You can feed up to ⅓ of meal from lean meats and bland carbohydrates like rice, but don’t give more than that ⅓ of the total food intake from table food or you risk creating a nutritional imbalance.
People Food to Entice a Finicky Pup’s Appetite
|1-3 teaspoons||parmesan cheese|
|1-2 tablespoons||cooked beef or chicken liver|
|1/4-1/2 cup||chicken or beef broth|
|1/4-1/2 cup||rotisserie chicken breast meat (no skin or bone)|
|1/4-1/2 cup||cooked 90% lean ground beef|
Please avoid high-fat and spicy foods or he might get digestive upset. If it’s junk food for humans, it’s junk food for dogs!
13. Coach Your Pup to Eat
Dogs are social animals and your pup may enjoy having you sit with him while he eats. You can coach him to eat by praising him when he takes a bite. You can even reward him with pets between bites.
14. Try Spoon-Feeding
I don’t know why this works, but I’ve seen it over and over. Some dogs will eat if their human feeds them moist from a spoon or dry food from their hand.
15. Use an Interactive Toy
This can work well for high energy dogs who love to play. Use a toy like an Orbee-Tuff Snoop ball for dry food. For moist food, try placing a few tablespoons in a small dish and covering the dish with a large plastic cup or a small box so the pup has to uncover the dish to get to the food. Use multiple dishes scattered through the house to make it a game.
16. Avoid Stress and Distraction
Even good stress from excitement can blunt the appetite. Avoid excitement and exercise for an hour before and after mealtime.
17. Add Supplements
18. Increase Everyday Fun
Go out of your way to do fun things with your pup like car rides, play dates, training games. Being left alone for extended periods is stressful for all dogs, especially young ones. Try to avoid this and make the most of the time you do have with your young friend.
19. Add Competition/Companionship
Try adding a little competition at mealtime by adopting another dog or borrowing a friendly one. Adopting a buddy for your dog can help her in more ways than just getting her to eat at mealtime. I highly recommend keeping at least two dogs especially if you are away from home a lot.
Things to Do Before Trying to Put Weight on Your Pup
If you have a skinny or finicky puppy, first take your pup to visit a veterinarian for a physical examination. You’d be surprised at how often we identify problems with just an exam that cause puppies to be underweight.
Make sure to take a fresh fecal sample to your vet for parasite testing. You only need to collect about a tablespoon’s worth of fresh poo in a clean container (it’s OK if it has a little grass or dirt on it). Your vet might recommend a broad-spectrum dewormer even if the stool sample is negative for parasites since fecal tests can have false-negative results.
Have your veterinarian run a basic blood panel to screen for liver, kidney, and endocrine problems. These are pretty rare in puppies but if a pup has one of these diseases, getting them to gain weight will be an uphill battle until they’re treated.
Why Is My Puppy Not Putting On Weight?
Internal parasites are common in puppies. Depending on where you live, most pups have at least one kind of worm in their GI tract when they’re adopted. Hookworms, roundworms and whipworms all contribute to puppies being underweight. Other parasites like coccidia and giardia cause diarrhea which leads to slow weight gain, too. These parasites are usually easy to get rid of with the right treatment.
If you prefer natural treatments (like I do), this is not the time for us to get on our soapboxes. The early days of a puppy’s life are so crucial to a healthy future. Natural treatments can work, but they may take too long for a young pup. Having parasites even for a period of weeks can cause long-lasting effects. The medicines used by vets to get rid of common parasites have been around for many decades, work very well, and have an extremely low rate of side effects.
Parvo is still common in many parts of the US. It’s a viral disease that causes severe vomiting, diarrhea and sometimes death. If your pup is a parvo survivor, that’s wonderful news! However, there may be long-term effects from parvo on the GI tract. Some dogs go on to have trouble keeping weight on or have chronic diarrhea. Get your vet’s input on how to help your pup if she’s a parvo survivor.
Small breed dogs like Yorkshire Terriers, Toy Poodles, and Pugs have the bad luck of being prone to congenital liver abnormalities. What happens is that the blood supply that is supposed to go from the GI tract to the liver instead bypasses the liver. That causes all sorts of problems, including failure to gain weight.
It’s impossible to diagnose a liver shunt without running blood tests and usually doing special imaging of the abdomen. Ask your vet if your pup could be suffering from a liver shunt and get him tested. There is good treatment available and pups go on to live normal lives afterward.
Maldigestion and Malabsorption
There is a whole slew of other digestive problems that cause puppies to be underweight. The general classification is maldigestion or malabsorption. Maldigestion happens when food is not broken down enough to be absorbed. Malabsorption means even if the food is broken down properly, the intestines cannot absorb the nutrients in it.
One of the things that cause maldigestion is exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI). Puppies are born without a fully functioning pancreas. That means they can’t break down fats enough to make them absorbable. Then you have a situation of malabsorption, too.
Other things can lead to malabsorption. Small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) happens when too many bad bacterial colonize the small intestine. The inflammation caused interferes with the ability of the intestine to absorb nutrients. Some dogs with SIBO have diarrhea, but not all of them.
You’ll need help from your vet to diagnose and treat maldigestion and malabsorption syndromes. Once you’ve got the diagnosis, you can try some of the tips and tricks listed below.
How to Tell If Your Puppy Is Underweight
Consider the body type typical for your puppy’s breed or breed type. Some breeds are naturally leaner. Some people’s perception of ideal dog body weight is off because they’re so used to seeing overweight dogs or they’re not familiar with a particular breed’s normal body shape.
For instance, an Italian Greyhound or Whippet is never going to have the same look as a Pug. It’s OK if you can see the outline of the pelvis of an Italian Greyhound, as long as they have at least a light layer of fat and muscle over the bones. If you can see individual ribs, for most dog breeds, that’s a good sign that she’s underweight. Try searching for the breed standard at akc.org and see if your pup’s body shape looks normal for his breed or breed type.
Puppies from a large litter often gain weight without any special intervention after they’re adopted. That’s because there is less competition for food from littermates. The quality of the diet may be better than what they got before adoption, too. As long as he has a good appetite, give your newly adopted pup at least a couple weeks to show that they can gain weight eating their normal puppy diet.
How Much to Feed a Very Underweight Puppy
Even though it’s shocking to see a skinny puppy, it’s not a great idea to load them up with high-calorie food as soon as you adopt them! If he’s come from a true starvation situation, you must proceed carefully or he may develop vomiting and diarrhea from the sudden increase in food.
Even if he acts like he’s starving, don’t go overboard with food until you see how his GI tract tolerates the amount you’re feeding. Start with the amount of food recommended on the label for a normal dog of his weight. Increase the quantity of food by about 10-25% each day.
Watch for signs of tummy upset like vomiting, diarrhea, decreased appetite, excessive burping or passing gas. It’s likely that he will need more calories than you’d expect for a short period of time. For a very underweight dog or puppy, it may take one to three months to reach a normal weight.
Special Considerations for Skinny Large Breed Puppies
Large breed puppies are those whose adult weight will be 70 pounds or more. These include Bernese Mountain Dog, Great Dane, Golden Retriever, Boxer, and German Shepherd. Be careful when trying to put weight on skinny large breed puppies. Rapid weight gain and overnutrition are linked to the development of orthopedic problems (1).
Puppy diets formulated for large breeds help with steady weight gain and avoid the overnutrition that can lead to bone and cartilage problems later in life. It’s best to ask your vet how much extra you should feed an underweight large breed puppy. As a rule of thumb, don’t exceed 1.5 times the normal amount recommended, and even then it should be done only short-term.
Best Foods to Help Puppies Gain Weight
Avoid Internet Magic Weight-Gain Recipes
Fat is the most calorically dense nutrient, but too much fat leads to diarrhea and possibly a nutrient imbalance. Recipes on the internet recommend extremely fat-dense foods like coconut oil or high-fat raw diets.
Trust me, I’ve tried most of the trendy options and after a while, I could tell they were not ideal for my dogs. They were skinnier (too skinny) eating a raw diet than they were at any other time in their lives.
I would rather have you stick with a balanced diet from a brand with a long track record. Choose one made just for puppies because they have plenty of energy from fat, but not so much to cause health problems.
There are dozens of great commercial puppy foods available these days. If your pup is underweight, it’s worthwhile to feed a higher quality food during the first year of his life. Yes, these foods are more expensive, but the expense is worth it to make sure your puppy grows normally.
Premium Food for Underweight Puppies
Some of the major premium brands of puppy foods are Royal Canin, Purina ONE, Science Diet and Eukanuba. These have all been extensively tested using feeding trials, so we know they work well when fed to live dogs. Foods that have not been through a feeding trial rely on calculations only to assure it’s safe for live puppies.
Smaller labels, regional and trendy brands of dog food have rarely been through feeding trials so we don’t know if they’ll truly meet a puppy’s nutrition needs. Look on the label for a statement about feeding trials. That’s the gold standard you should use when choosing a puppy food! If you must feed a trendier brand, at the very least, call the company and ask if they have a veterinary nutritionist on staff. Most of them don’t.
Royal Canin Recovery is a high-calorie, nutrient-dense dog food that is also labeled to support the growth of puppies. If your puppy will only eat small amounts, this food will pack calories and nutrients in a few bites than regular puppy food. This is the primo food we use in the vet hospital when we need sick and underweight patients to eat!
Don’t be suckered by foods labeled for a particular breed. Other than “large breed” puppy food, any premium puppy food is acceptable. There is no magic choice. Some dogs do better with one brand or flavor than the others, but all of these brands have successfully raised millions of puppies for decades.
If you have an underweight pup, avoid foods that claim to be adequate for “all life stages.” Also, avoid food that says it’s adequate for adult dogs but doesn’t mention puppies or “growth” on the label.
This is especially important if your puppy doesn’t have a huge appetite. We want every bite to contain the most calories and nutrients possible. Food that is labeled for “growth” or specifically says it’s made for puppies is your best bet during the first year of life.
Homemade Food Can Make a Puppy Gain Weight
Let’s face it, food prepared for humans is almost always more popular with dogs than stale, dry dog food! If you’d like to feed your puppy an all-homemade diet, it’s very possible but not easy. You MUST make sure the food is complete and balanced for puppies. There is very little room for error with puppies!
Fortunately, these days it’s easy get a recipe that will ensure your pup is getting all the nutrients he needs to grow normally. Ask your vet to help you get a puppy-appropriate recipe from BalanceIT.com. You must add Balance IT supplement to the recipe to make it complete. Failure to feed a balanced diet to a puppy can lead to orthopedic, heart, skin and other very serious health problems, so take this very seriously!
Getting your underweight puppy to gain weight will require a multi-pronged approach.
- Make sure to address any health problems.
- Encourage appetite with some of the 19 tricks listed above.
- Feed a high-quality, energy-dense and nutritionally balanced food.
- Dämmrich, K. (1991). Relationship between nutrition and bone growth in large and giant dogs. The Journal of nutrition, 121(suppl_11), S114-S121.
Last update on 2021-10-17 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API