• Causes of poor weight gain in puppies range from parasitic infections to congenital diseases. It is important to consult a veterinarian for help with underweight puppies.
  • There are many tips for getting a healthy puppy to eat better including changing food and behavioral techniques.
  • Avoid internet weight-gain recipes and unbalanced human-food diets. The best choice for skinny pups is a high-quality, complete and balanced puppy food.

Editor’s Note: is supported by readers and may earn for purchases made through links in this post.

Is your puppy too skinny and struggling to put on healthy weight? 

Some of the home remedies found on the internet for fattening up dogs can actually cause more harm than good. Fortunately, there are a variety of safe and effective strategies you can use to help your puppy gain weight and achieve a healthy body condition. 

From adjusting their diet and feeding schedule to incorporating supplements and other helpful tools, we’ll provide you with everything you need to know to help your puppy reach their full potential. 

How to get your puppy to eat better

Here are some of the best tips I give to puppy owners when their buddy needs to put on weight. Remember to consult your veterinarian before you make any major diet changes. Also, make changes gradually over a period of 7-10 days. 

Diet Changes

Feed your puppy more

Hungry puppies may simply need more food than what is indicated on the product label. If your puppy is thin but otherwise healthy, try increasing their food portion by 10-25%.

Upgrade to higher-quality food

Cheap pet food often contains a lot of fiber and is hard to digest. Try changing to premium puppy food gradually over 7-10 days. The increased digestibility means your puppy holds onto more of the calories.

Change the protein source

Some pups do better with one protein over another. For example, if your pup is currently eating a chicken-based diet, try changing to fish, lamb or beef.

Avoid large amounts of plant-based ingredients

Grain-free dog foods usually contain a lot of lentils, peas, chickpeas, or potatoes which may be hard for some dogs to digest. Look for puppy food with plant-based items further down the list of ingredients.

Human food for picky puppies

Up to 10% of a meal can come from cooked lean meats and bland carbohydrates like rice. 

Please do not take the advice of internet pundits who recommend feeding peanut butter, sweet potatoes, coconut oil or fatty meats. Unbalanced, rich foods can lead to serious health problems!

I’ve listed a few safer human foods for you to try in the table below.

1-3 teaspoonsparmesan cheese
1-2 tablespoonscooked beef or chicken liver
1/4-1/2 cupchicken or beef broth
1/4-1/2 cuprotisserie chicken breast meat (no skin or bone)
1/4-1/2 cupcooked 90% lean ground beef

Food Variations

Try offering moist food

Many puppies and dogs prefer moist food and it may even be easier to digest for some. Try adding wet food to kibble or even feeding a diet of wet food only. 

Feed smaller meals more often

Try feeding 3-6 small meals throughout the day. This strategy can increase a pup’s overall intake and might be easier on their digestive tract. 

Serve food at different temperatures

Offer your pup food at various temperatures–cold, room temperature and slightly warm. Some dogs have a preference and will eat more if the food is just the way they like it!

Add liquid to the food

Try adding different liquid foods such as chicken broth, beef broth or plain water to dry or wet puppy food.

Try different food textures

Change up the texture of your pup’s meals. Try chunky wet food, puppy food blenderized with liquid and different sizes of kibble. 

Yorkie puppy
Toy breed puppies can be finicky eaters.

Feeding Environment

Avoid over-excitement at mealtime

Even good stress from excitement can blunt the appetite. Avoid excitement and exercise for an hour before and after mealtime.

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.

Try different feeding locations

Serve food in a place your pup feels safe and where there are few distractions. Experiment with feeding him in different rooms, in his kennel, outside, etc.

Coach your puppy to eat

Dogs are social animals who often don’t like to be alone while eating. Sit nearby at mealtime and offer verbal praise when he takes a bite of food. 


Some dogs will eat better if their human feeds them moist from a spoon or dry food from their hand.

Use an interactive food toy

Fill an interactive food-dispensing toy such as the Orbee-Tuff Snoop ball with puppy food. High-energy puppies enjoy the challenge of getting the food out and may eat more this way.

Orbee Tuff Snoop Ball
Orbee Tuff Snoop balls are a great way to make mealtime fun.

How to tell if your puppy is underweight

To determine if your puppy is too skinny, start by considering their breed or breed type. Some breeds are naturally leaner, so it’s important to have an idea of what’s normal for your pup. 

Dog on a beach
Some dog breeds are naturally lean.

For example, Italian Greyhounds and Whippets typically have a different body shape than Pugs. These differences lead some dog owners to assume their normal dog is too skinny. 

It’s okay if you can see the outline of your Italian Greyhound’s pelvis, as long as they have a light layer of fat and muscle covering their bones. However, if you can see individual ribs your pup may be underweight. 

Why is my puppy so skinny?

It’s important to take an undernourished puppy to the vet for a physical exam before trying to fatten them up. 

Be sure to take a fresh stool sample for parasite testing, as parasites can prevent pups from achieving a healthy weight. Your vet will likely recommend routine deworming and prescribe other medications based on fecal testing results. 

In some cases, additional testing is needed to evaluate underweight pups for systemic diseases as discussed below. 

Why does my puppy eat but not gain weight?


One common cause is internal parasites, which are prevalent in puppies. Hookworms, roundworms, whipworms, coccidia, and giardia can all lead to slow weight gain. 

It’s important to seek the appropriate treatment from a veterinarian since parasites can have long-lasting effects on a young pup. Anti-parasitic medications prescribed by veterinarians have a high success rate with minimal side effects.


Dogs who survive parvo may face long-term effects on their GI tract, causing them to be underweight. If your pup has survived parvo but is still not putting on weight as expected, consult your vet. There are many special diets and supplements that can help improve digestive function so your buddy can grow.

Liver Shunt

A liver shunt is a congenital condition in which blood does not flow through the liver normally. It is more likely to affect small breeds like Yorkshire Terriers, Toy Poodles, and Pugs and can affect their growth. 

Liver shunts are diagnosed through blood tests and diagnostic imaging. Treatment is available, so talk to your vet if you suspect your pup has a liver problem. With proper care, affected dogs can live healthy lives.

Maldigestion and Malabsorption

Maldigestion occurs when food is not broken down enough to be absorbed. Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI) is a common cause of maldigestion in puppies born without a fully functioning pancreas. 

Malabsorption occurs when the intestines can’t absorb the nutrients even if the food is broken down properly. Small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) can lead to malabsorption. 

Your vet can help you diagnose and treat these issues, and once you have a diagnosis, you can try some tips and tricks to help your puppy eat better.

When will my new puppy gain weight?

Puppies from a large litter may gain weight naturally after adoption, as there’s less competition for food from their littermates. Additionally, the quality of their diet may improve after adoption. 

If your newly adopted pup has a good appetite, give them a couple of weeks to see if they can gain weight eating their normal puppy diet.

How much to feed an undernourished puppy

If you have a very underweight puppy, don’t feed them high-calorie food right away. Sudden changes in diet can cause vomiting and diarrhea. 

Start with the recommended amount of food for a pup of their age and weight. Increase the amount you feed gradually by 10-25% each day. 

Monitor your puppy for any signs of tummy upset. They may need more calories than usual for a while, and it can take one to three months to reach a healthy weight.

Bernese Mt. Dog lying on grass
Large-breed puppies need controlled nutrition.

Feeding large-breed pups

To feed underweight large-breed puppies, it’s important to avoid rapid weight gain and overnutrition, which can lead to orthopedic problems later in life. Puppy diets formulated for large breeds can help with steady weight gain. 

It’s best to ask your vet for guidance on how much extra to feed an underweight large-breed puppy. As a rule of thumb, don’t exceed 1.5 times the normal amount recommended on the food label. (1) 

What are the best foods to help puppies gain weight?

Avoid internet recipes that suggest extremely fat-dense foods, which may cause diarrhea and nutrient imbalances. Instead, choose a balanced puppy food from a reputable brand, specifically formulated for steady weight gain without overnutrition. Look for food products specifically labeled as appropriate for “growth” OR “all life stages.”

Premium dog food brands like Royal Canin®, Purina ONE®, Science Diet®, and Eukanuba® subject their products to extensive testing and rigorous quality control. Avoid boutique brands, which may lack oversight by a veterinary nutritionist. 

High-calorie, nutrient-dense foods like Royal Canin Recovery can be helpful for pups with small appetites. Ask your vet for a prescription.

While it’s possible to feed puppies with homemade food, it’s easy to do it wrong. Imbalanced diets can lead to serious health problems in puppies. Please talk to your vet for guidance on sourcing a reliable recipe appropriate for growing dogs.

How long does it take for a dog to gain weight?

Most healthy puppies who are underweight due to lack of food will gain a little weight every day once they have regular access to a good diet. Puppies with a finicky appetite may take longer.

Puppies with underlying health problems need appropriate treatment before they gain weight. The goal is to get them steadily gaining weight as soon as possible to avoid long-term developmental problems.

The content provided on is for general information only. It is not meant to replace individualized medical advice from your own veterinarian. Read more on the Privacy Policy and Terms of Use page.


  1. 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 2023-09-22 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API