I’m going to be sharing 22 tips for helping your old dog put on weight, but before we get started, you need to know the reason for the weight loss. If you already know, feel free to skip to the appropriate section, but if you don’t keep reading.
It’s not uncommon for an old dog to drop a bit of weight because his appetite changed, or gain because his activity level has dropped but not the type of food or his intake.
Assuming nothing has changed in terms of type of food and amount, weight loss is a concern. You can’t know if it’s due to aging or an underlying health condition, only your vet can tell you that.
What Does It Mean If a Dog is Losing Weight?
Dogs can lose weight for 6 reasons
- They’re not eating/not eating well
- Eating normally but still losing weight
- Came from an abusive home where food was denied
- Lost or stray and had to fend for himself
- Depression – over the loss of his animal friend for example
- Changed foods and you’ve been unintentionally underfeeding
If your dog is not eating or eating very little, possible causes are:
- You changed his food and he doesn’t like it
- Dental problems causing pain
- Kidney disease
- Cushing’s disease
- Liver disease
- Heart failure
- Recovering from surgery
- Has become a picky eater – possibly due to dementia
- Nausea (as a result of some of the conditions above)
- Pain (as a result of some of the conditions above)
- You’ve moved recently and he isn’t used to the new environment
- Another dog he lives with has become aggressive or is bothering him
- Changes within the home are causing him anxiety
If your dog is eating normally, but still losing weight possible causes are:
- Hormonal imbalance
- Difficulty breaking down food/trouble absorbing nutrients
- Underlying medical issues like those mentioned above
- Not eating a complete diet
- Not eating enough food
If your dog is malnourished because he was a stray or came from an abusive home:
If you got the dog from a shelter or rescue group, I’m assuming the dog will have been seen by a vet. If he hasn’t the first thing you must do is have him checked urgently. He could be suffering from some serious health issues.
Not eating because of depression:
Dogs can get depressed just like humans can, so it’s up to us to help get them through.
For helpful tips to get your dog feeling better and eating, read this ⇒ “10 Effective Ways to Treat Dog Depression.
Your dog is losing weight due to being underfed:
You may have switched brands, and although you’re feeding him the same amount or what’s recommended on the package, it’s not enough.
Because weight loss can happen gradually, you wouldn’t have realized it until it was obvious. Please don’t beat yourself up, it can be fixed.
Start by feeding an extra meal, but check with your vet about whether this is really the best food. Also ask if adding some human food from the lengthy list below will help.
First Step – Make an Appointment to See Your Vet
To make your appointment as productive as possible, make a list, in advance, of things you’ve been noticing and bring it with you.
Helpful information to provide your vet:
- How long ago you realized your dog was losing weight
- When you realized it, what did you do – add an extra meal for example
- Has your dog’s appetite changed? If yes, when and in what way
- Any other behavior changes? Aggression, anxiety, whining…
- Has your dog been drinking more
- Has your dog been peeing more
During the appointment you’ll discuss your list, and your vet will weigh your dog. He will want to compare his current weight to previous numbers. It’s likely he will recommend blood and urine tests.
Once the test results come back, he will explain what he found, and draw up a treatment plan if necessary. If weight loss is a result of an underlying health condition, getting it under control can resolve the problem.
Since I have no idea what diagnosis your dog will receive, the rest of this post will focus on various tips to help a dog put on weight.
They won’t all be right for your particular situation, so always consult with your vet before trying something new.
Ways to Help Put Weight On An Old Dog
Below are several things you can try to help your senior dog gain weight.
Add an extra meal
If your dog only eats once a day, add a second meal. Twice daily feedings? Why not add a third! It’s better for digestion and he’ll eat more.
Give him canned food
If your dog has eaten dry kibble all his life, he may be fed up. Adding some canned food could add interest and entice him to eat more.
Put your dog’s bowl where it’s easier to reach
Your dog may have trouble reaching his bowl.
Joint pain may be one reason your dog his having trouble reaching his bowl. Elevating it will make it easier to get to his food, but not too much so he has to stretch his neck.
Although my dog Red was small and didn’t have far to reach, I still elevated both her food and water bowls which made a difference in her comfort level.
Add a food topper
Whether it’s gravy or freeze-dried chunks of meat, adding an delicious food topper to your dog’s foot can entice him to heat more.
Make mealtime fun
I think it’s fair to say the most we do is plop the food in the bowl and put it on the floor. What if we made it more interesting and fun?
How about putting part of his meal in a Kong? It’s something new and he might like the challenge, and freezing it will make the fun and food last longer.
Putting food in a puzzle toy will work too!
Switch to a higher quality dog food
Helping your dog put on weight is more than just shoving extra calories down his throat. You know I don’t mean that literally…right?
Scarfing down empty calories or adding too much fat to a diet can cause digestive issues, vomiting and even pancreatitis.
Check the ingredients and nutrients in your dog’s current food closely.
A quality dog food will:
- Contain protein as the first ingredient
- Contain real meat, not animal byproducts
- Have a limited list of ingredients (not be a mile long)
- You will be able to understand what the ingredients are (some vitamins have confusing names but the primary ingredients will be listed out, they won’t just say “protein” or “carbs”.
Warm your dog’s food
I find warming the food slightly in the microwave makes it more palatable. It certainly does for my dogs.
Gradually increase your dog’s exercise
It may seem counter intuitive to exercise an already too thin dog, but you aren’t hiking miles with him for weight loss.
Taking him out more often is not only needed for physical and mental wellbeing, it can also increase his appetite.
Change the bowl
Believe it or not, one of the tricks senior dog parents use to get their dogs to eat is to change the bowl.
Maybe it’s a different material or shape, or it could be a plate instead.
I used to feed Jack in a regular bowl, but I decided to try one with sections to see if it would make a difference. It did! I bought a pack of 3 in the baby section and it’s worked well ever since.
Try a new flavor
Each specific dog food usually comes in a variety of different flavors.
Your dog may be tired of the same one and welcome a change.
Cut down on the treats
Plenty of dogs will ignore their food but practically inhale treats.
If you’ve been giving your old dog a few too many treats lately, cut back.
Also look at the quality. Many are nothing more than the doggie version of junk food.
If he must get treats consider making them. There are tons of super easy recipes on Pinterest, and if he’s getting nutritious snacks it’s really just another version of his meal.
Hold the bowl or hand feed him
The confusion that goes along with dementia often affects your dog’s eating habits. They may not be able to find the bowl, or they find it but aren’t quite sure what to do.
A dog’s sense of smell can also be affected as he ages, and if he’s blind as well…
Holding the bowl up to mouth can make a big difference, and that’s what I used to do for Red. She was blind, but never had trouble finding her food until she got dementia and that was a more challenging situation.
Holding the bowl made things a lot easier for her.
Try a new brand of dog food
One of the reasons to switch dog food brands is to avoid your dog developing food allergies, another is it could help keep him interested.
Rotating your dog’s food can also provide a more rounded-nutrient profile because one dog food may contain something another is missing.
Never just start your dog on a new food, you have to change it over time to avoid stomach upset. Over the course of about a week, gradually add in the new food until he’s completed switched over.
Speak to your vet, or if he’s not that familiar with nutrition (as many aren’t), find a qualified and experienced canine nutritionist who will help. Keep your vet up to date on what you’re doing.
Make homemade meals for your dog
If you want to have more control of what goes into your dog’s food, and the nutrition profile, consider preparing your dog’s meals yourself.
Ask your vet for ideas, or consult a canine nutritionist or holistic vet. They will offer the best advice about creating nutritionally balanced diets, and can recommend beneficial supplements that can be added.
You can find an unlimited number of recipes online, Pinterest as well as FB groups dedicated to home cooking. Again, you need to be sure they are nutritionally balanced so seek professional advice before you feed it to your dog.
Bake canned dog food
Another trick that works well for my dog Red is to bake the canned food.
Baking to food can change the texture – which your dog may find more appealing – and it will help really bring out the flavor and smell of the food.
The length of time you bake it will depend on how soft or hard you want it.
To be honest I don’t know if it affects the nutritional quality of the food, so I would call the company. I mainly used this for treats as another way to help my dog gain weight.
Feed in a different location
A change of scenery may make shake up your dog’s routine enough to entice them to eat more.
If you always feed your dog in the kitchen, what about the dining room? If the weather is good how about in the backyard, or during a break from his walk in the park?
Try feeding your dog by hand
Hand feeding is another thing that has helped my senior dog eat more or her food.
I can’t say exactly why it works. After all it’s the same food.
I do know that many trainers recommend hand feeding a puppy to help build a bond with your dog. Perhaps your dog feels more connected to you and intent when you hand feed him.
The reason doesn’t really matter as long as it works!
Slice up the salami style roll food
I have no idea what this type of dog food is called, but you’ve probably seen it in pet supply stores. They come in rolls like a salami.
I do know one brand that sells food like this is Red Barn.
Anyway, cut them in pieces and feed it to your dog throughout the day. If he likes the taste, he may see it as a treat and be more inclined to eat it.
Whether you cut up a day’s supply or just enough for one meal depends on how well, or not, he’s eating.
Improve his digestive health
Some old dogs may have trouble digesting their food, so they don’t fully absorb the nutrients they need from their food.
Adding things like prebiotics and probiotics can help your dog digest food better. It noticeably helped my dog.
Ask your vet for recommendations, or ask other senior dog parents you know.
Check with your vet to make sure the brand you’re considering is okay for your dog.
Stop feeding senior dog food
Most senior dog foods have a lower fat content than adult food. This is because old dogs are less active so brands assume they need fewer calories to prevent obesity.
Of course, plenty of old dogs are still very active and have plenty of energy so a senior dog food could make your already skinny dog’s problem worse.
Note: If your dog has pancreatitis, a low fat is what’s needed so a low fat senior dog food may be appropriate. Always check with your vet before switching.
Add more protein to your dog’s food
Again, senior diets may contain lower protein levels due to the belief too much protein can affect the kidneys.
It’s more about the quality of the protein rather than the amount.
Here is what PetMd has to say about protein in an article called “How to Feed Older Dogs.”
“Older dogs can… have trouble maintaining their lean body (muscle) mass, and some senior dog foods contain less protein than those designed for young adults. I assume this choice is based on the misguided assumption that lower protein levels will protect an older dog’s kidneys from damage.
In fact, many dogs actually need a little more protein in their diet as they age if they are to maintain a healthy lean body mass. Avoiding excess protein is important if a dog is in kidney failure, but research has shown that feeding reduced protein foods to older dogs “just in case” is a mistake.”
Can I Give My Dog Human Food to Help Him Gain Weight?
You may be thinking that human food may be more nutritious for your dog and contain more calories.
You would be right in some cases!
Adding human food will not only add more nutrition to your dog’s diet, it may also encourage him to eat more and then put on weight.
So what human foods are safe to feed your senior dog?
Here’s a list of some foods that are safe for dogs to eat:
Note: They may or may not be safe for your dog depending on any health issues he is experiencing, so check with your vet first.
- Boiled chicken breast
- Sardines or mackerel in water
- Green beans
- Raw apple
- Cooked carrots
- Skyr (a type of thick yogurt)
- Cottage cheese
- Scrambled eggs (no oil) but could top with a bit of cheese
- Canned pure pumpkin (not pie filling)
- Sweet potatoes
- Ground turkey
…and the list goes on because there are so many human foods dogs can eat.
One other thing that helps is freezing the chicken water in ice cube trays, then defrosting and adding to a meal.
Because I want to change up the protein source, I’m going to try organ meats and any other meat my dog doesn’t normally eat.
Hopefully some of these tips help your senior dog gain some weight to improve their strength and health. Good luck!
Thank you for your help. She is very loved and very old. Her teeth, swallowing and getting around are giving her trouble but she seems happy and loving.. Changing her food and holding the dish for her seems to be helpng her weight and energy to increase.
I’m glad to hear that is helping Christine.
We have been in France for about 9 weeks now and have been feeding our 13.5 year old dog Pedigree chum (he was having Forthglade in the UK). I realised about 3 weeks ago that I was under feeding him as I had been basing the quantity on his UK food, and so increased the food. He also used to have biscuits mixed with his food but now carefully weeds those out an leaves them. He is still terribly thin and a bit listless, understandably.
I believe it must be underfeeding but I cannot get any weight back on him.
I do try feeding by hand.
I’ve added an extra meal – in fact I now feed in smaller quantities several times a day.
He is having treats and is fed from the table.
He is getting exercise, but gets very tired. (although very excited if he sees cats or chickens!!)
He is a bit deaf and we were told by the vet a few montsh ago that he has cataracts. He seems to see quite well still but maybe he realises things are not so good?
My 11yr. old toy poodle has been losing weight. He is on Enalapril 2.5mg. BID and Lasix 12.5mg. BID for very irregular fast heartbeat. He was coughing when he would get excited and some coarse breath sounds were noticed, so the Lasix was added. He has had tooth extraction 3 times over the last 9 yrs. His breath remains horrible and I can see cavities on his remaining teeth on the lower jaws. My vet says she will not “put him under” because of his bad heart. I know the infection in his mouth can cause all kinds of physical problems. Is there anything I can do to improve his oral issues and help put a little more weight on him? I have been using an oral timed release gel. called “BRUSH FREE” on his mouth once a week as directed. It has improved his gums, color of his teeth(were blackish grey-now white) and his breath. Active ingredient is Chlorhexidine and Sodium Bicarbonate. His breath gets worse. on the day before it’s time to reapply.
I definitely will follow some of your suggestions for putting weight on him. My main question is surgery for dental issues or continue what I’m doing?