The Truth About Weight Loss in Older Dogs

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the truth about weight loss in older dogs

The truth about weight loss in older dogs is…it’s not a good thing.

Let’s backtrack for a moment. If your old dog has gotten fat because of inactivity, too much food, too many treats or you adopted a fat old dog (like I did), then helping your dog get to a healthy weight is a very good thing.

What I’m talking about here is weight loss for no apparent reason. I know you’re taking great care of your furry friend, and likely keep an eagle eye on him or her as I do. That means you’ll notice even the subtlest of changes quickly, and when you notice your dog looking a little thin, call your vet.

I know it seems I recommend that in every article, that’s because I do. The reason is simple – when you have a younger dog you can usually wait a day or two to see if an issue resolves itself, not so in an old dog with health the truth about weight loss in old dogschallenges. What appears to be something minor can very quickly escalate into something major, and I’m not willing to take a chance. Are you?

For example, when my younger dog Jack decides he doesn’t feel like eating breakfast one morning, I don’t worry. If Red turns her nose up I call the vet because there is no such thing with her. She loves her food too much.

Symptoms you might notice that indicate the presence of a problem causing weight loss

  • Drooling
  • Panting, pacing
  • Bad breath
  • Difficulty or lack of interest in eating
  • Increase in appetite
  • Lumps and bumps
  • Bleeding
  • Lethargic
  • Limping or lameness
  • Distended abdomen
  • Increase in water consumption
  • Changes in amount or frequency of peeing
  • Blood in the urine
  • UTIs
  • A chronic cough
  • Difficulty or aversion to exercising
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Restlessness
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Yellow skin or eyes
  • Vomiting
  • Pale gums

Possible causes

If your dog is losing weight there’s a reason behind it, so here are some possible causes.

It can be as simple as your dog becoming picky due to a decreased sense of smell. Warming up your dog’s food or adding something like chicken or the soup from the chicken you boiled may help pique his interest. Consult with your vet about the foods you can add that are suitable for your dog.

If your dog is losing weight it's critical to get him to the vet as soon as possible. Click To Tweet

What to do about weight loss in older dogs

There’s nothing you can do until you have been to the vet. Once there’s a reason, a plan of action can be drawn up and implemented.

In other words, get your dog to the vet PDQ and help your vet by making note of the following:

  • Any changes to the diet you’re feeding your dog
  • Increase or decrease in appetite
  • Increase or decrease in amount of water he’s drinking
  • Peeing more or less
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Coughing or wheezing
  • Mobility issues
  • Lethargic, restless…
  • Any chance of exposure to toxins
  • Any new flea, tick or heartworm medication
  • How long ago you started noticing weight loss

Diagnosing the reason

Your observations will be very helpful to your vet, and in conjuction with any of the tests listed below, will lead to an explanation and even better a solution.

Types of diagnosic testing include:

  • Fecal analysis to check for parasites 
  • Blood tests 
  • Urinalysis 
  • X rays
  • Ultrasound
  • Endoscopy
  • Exploratory surgery

A few vets I’ve had the misfortune of knowing liked to start with the most expensive and invasive diagnostic tools known to man. Luckily they are a distant memory and most I’ve encountered are not that way. I mention this to make you aware a lot can be determined from a blood and urine test, and once there’s a starting point, you’ll know which, if any, further testing is needed.  

If your vet insists on starting from the most complex, ask for a reason.

Treatment

A diagnosis has been made and now treatment can begin. While the cause will be treated/managed, your vet will likely want to tackle the symptom (weight loss) immediately. That may include things like a change in diet, IV nutrients which he may want to start on the spot in the clinic, an appetite stimulant or anti nausea medication if your dog has not been interested in eating.

Living and management

Once your vet sends you home with a treatment plan, you must follow it to the letter. Your vet will probably have already scheduled a follow up appointment and may even call you to see how your dog is doing. Ask him how long it is likely to take before any improvement is evident. If that time has long come and gone, call immediately, do not wait until your appointment to speak up.

The truth about weight loss in older dogs – conclusion

I have done more than my fair share of worrying about my senior dog Red, so it’s understandable if you’re imagining the worst. I wish you didn’t though, it’s too stressful to worry before you have to.

What’s important when it comes to caring for senior dogs is to be aware of any sudden changes in behaviour, and speak to your vet, no matter how minor it seems to you. That is the best time to catch something, and increase the chances of a positive outcome.

The truth about weight loss in older dogs is that it’s an indication that he needs a check up, and for now that’s all it is.

 

Has your dog experienced any weight loss? What was the reason, and what kind of treatment was recommended? Sharing helps others so please tell your story in the comment section below, or on my Facebook page.

 

 

 

 

The Truth About Weight Loss in Older Dogs
Hindy Pearson
Helping people care for their senior dogs
I am a certified dog trainer and pet care consultant, specialising in working with rescue dogs and first time pet parents. I foster and adopt senior and special needs dogs, and advocate for shelter adoption of all animals, particularly older dogs and cats. I am currently working on a spay/neuter program in Spain.

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38 thoughts on “The Truth About Weight Loss in Older Dogs

  1. Magic hasn’t lost any weight, but his appetite has waned and he doesn’t eat nearly as much as in his youth. But he doesn’t exercise as much, either. I’m pleased that his most recent exam this week showed he’s doing pretty darn well for a senior citizen dawg.

    1. That’s great news, so glad to hear he’s doing well. Red started losing interest in her food for awhile, which scared the crap out of me because she loves to eat, and no interest means no good news. She’s now seeing a holistic vet who created a whole food diet for her which (unfortunately) I have to cook because I hate cooking but she’s loving it, can’t get enough. What things have you tried to make his food more interesting?

  2. Whenever there is a sudden – out of the ordinary change in a pet’s behaviour it’s time to get them in for a checkup with the vet. Edie is very motivated by food and one of the first questions asked is “is she eating”, I know if Edie goes off her food then there is an issue.

    1. You’re so right Kelly, the first sign of a change and Red is at the vet. Sounds like Edie and Red have a love of food in common, and a lack of interest in eating is terrifying.

  3. Great post. Eggs and sardines are nice add ins for senior dogs. Thanks for sharing all these healthy senior dog tips.

  4. This is a very informative post on what to watch for and what to do. Luckily, our senior dog hasn’t experienced weight loss.

  5. I like your tip to always keep a close eye and report any changes. The faster you catch and treat any health issue the better generally.

  6. A comperhensive post indeed. The only way to improve it would be to make your advice into a pritable list for folks to refer to!

  7. What a helpful post. I don’t have any senior dogs (yet) but I can imagine watching for any sign of change in behavior should be looked at right away. It’s so important for dog owners to be aware and intune with their dogs behavior!

  8. Great information! Our dog Lucy is almost 17 years old and has pancreatitis. She had a very bad flare up almost a year ago and lost tons of weight over the course of a week. We were actually prepared to say our goodbyes, but at the last second she made a turn around. It was scary and difficult to see her so skinny, but with the vet’s help and recommendation of a diet change, she has gained much of her weight back and is looking very healthy! Consulting with a vet when things like this go on is important!

    1. Thank you and I’m sorry to hear about Lucy’s pancreatitis. Unfortunately I’ve been through that twice – once with a dog named Bailey who has since gone OTRB, and a couple of minor flare ups with Red. I know how scary that can be but happy to hear she’s almost 17 and doing so well. You’re fortunate to have her with you for so many years, and of course many more to come!

  9. Great post with lots of useful information. While we haven’t noticed weight loss yet, I’m always hyper sensitive with Bean because she’s always been so picky with eating. Just recently, as in this week, she’s started to not have an interest in eating so we’re keeping a close eye on her and will be visiting our vet if the problem persists.

    1. Thank you Bryn. It’s good you watch her so closely. Red lost interest for awhile which was scary of course, but since her new holistic vet recommended a whole foods home cooked diet, she can’t eat fast enough. I hope it’s nothing more than Bean looking for a change.

  10. When we’ve had seniors who are losing their appetite a bit, we add a good fiber, like pumpkin or sweet potato, a small bit of manuka honey and a good fish oil to their meals. We found these in combination with their regular protein/meal helps keep them greedier for their meal! Great advice – you are right, boy you can’t wait with seniors, and they trust us so much, so the least we can do is make the call to the vet and get everything right on track!

    1. Hi Rebecca, those are good suggestions for appetite stimulation. I know manuka honey is good for healing and it’s used in surgery to fight infection I believe, but hadn’t thought of adding it to their meals. Interesting. I think they do their best to communicate there’s a problem, it just depends on whether or not we’re listening.

  11. I watch Layla like a hawk when it comes to her weight and thank goodness she is at a healthy weight wise and the vet is very happy. Plus cooking for her makes a big difference

    1. Great news Ruth. I dislike cooking intensely, yet our new holistic vet has taken Red off her prescription diet (he was not impressed with that at all!), and created a diet for her that’s whole food home cooked. So nice to see she’s gotten her appetite back. I can see how much cooking, like you say, makes such a difference.

  12. Since my dogs are almost seniors 7 and 9, I really appreciate this post. Theo has the tendency to put weight on, but I’ll be on the lookout if any of them lose weight unexpectedly.

  13. Mr. N tends to lose weight quickly whenever he has a stomach upset so I keep an eye on him. He’s trained to hop on the scale and wait till the reading comes on.

  14. Great post. It is so important to watch for those changes in seniors. I have some dog walking clients that are seniors, and I advise their people of any changes I notice. A dog that usually loves mealtime suddenly doesn’t, something is often very wrong. It’s clear how much you care about Red, so cool, senior dogs especially deserve that! I read the story of Saffy. I am so sorry. My dog Jessie was a puppy mill girl, too. She was a toy poodle that looked fragile, but she was the toughest little girl I ever met. She passed away a couple of years ago and I still miss her every day. It is so cruel that she was starting to come into her own when it was all taken away. She is now your inspiration, she is smiling with you and will always.

    1. Thank you Karen, and of course I cried when you talked about Saffy. As heartbreaking as it was every time I had to say goodbye, the worst was Saffy and I still haven’t gotten over it. I can barely say her name I’m so furious at that vet who killed her. I’m sure if I had known about my vet at the time, he would have diagnosed whatever it was that caused that catastrophe, but you’re right I am inspired to keep fighting for her. Poor Jessie, another dog who went through hell but it’s wonderful you gave her a home so she finally was able to experience love and peace.

  15. Good advice Hindy, when a senior dog suddenly loses weight for no apparent reason it’s time for a Vet visit.
    Love & biscuits,
    Dogs Luv Us and We Luv Them

    1. Thank you Cathy, just trying to spread the word about the importance of looking out for any changes in our seniors and having them checked out as soon as possible. Even delaying an appointment by a day or two can impact the outcome.

  16. this is a great post. My vet warned be about this. Since my little one is already only 3.5 pounds AND super fluffy she showed me how to feel for his ribs under his fur etc. Because the reality is we could miss it. So now when I brush him in the morning I do the “rib check”. He’s not a senior but Chi’s are also hypoglycemic so …good to start the habit now.

    1. Thank you Sonja. It’s the fluffy ones you tend to think are putting on weight, and after a trip to the groomer you realise how skinny they are. That’s great idea – he gets a pampering session and the “rib check” becomes part of his morning routine.

  17. This is very helpful information for pet owners. I haven’t had dogs in a long time but I definitely monitor my cats eating habits and weight. Cats are very stoic when it comes to illness and pain so a change in these things are often the only way to know anything is wrong.

    1. Thanks Ava and definitely a lot of the info applies to cats as well. I always watched my cats very carefully for any changes in behaviour but you’re right, they are stoic and it’s often hard to tell when something is off. I’ve had a few cats with cancer but I only discovered cancer in two of them by chance. They were not acting any differently and I saw nothing unusual, even their weight and eating habits were constant.

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