How to Put Weight on a Skinny Dog

Feed a skinny dog gradually.

Feed a skinny dog gradually.

A dog can be too skinny from eating the wrong type of food, from being sick or from being homeless without regular meals for several days. It can be distressing to see an emaciated pup. Refrain from providing too much food all at once. There is a better method.

Take the dog to a veterinarian. The vet can check the dog to determine whether he is skinny because of health issues. The dog could have broken teeth, a lacerated tongue, an eye or ear infection, tapeworm or abdominal pain that indicates a potentially serious condition, such as bowel obstruction, pancreatitis or kidney failure.

Offer water first. It’s a good sign if the dog is interested and wants to drink.

Feed a small meal every six hours for 24 to 48 hours. Make sure the food is of good quality and contains minerals such as phosphorous, magnesium and potassium. Food with a high fat content will promote weight gain; a fat content of 18 percent for dry food is good. The protein should be in the 28 percent to 30 percent range. The four small feedings should not be more food that what the dog would normally eat in 24 hours.

Offer a vitamin and mineral supplement with each feeding. You can also add an omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acid supplement.

Watch to see whether the dog eats all of what you offer. If the dog is not eating a normal amount of food after 48 hours, you might need to force-feed him. Your vet can guide you.

Items you will need

  • Water
  • Dog food
  • Supplements


  • Puppy food, because it is a growth food, is a good choice for weight gain.
  • The dog might not like what you are feeding him. Experiment with different types of food to find one he likes. Try adding some chicken broth to dry food to make it more appealing.
  • It can be difficult to put weight on high-energy dogs who have become too skinny. Feed high-fat/high-protein food using the free choice method—keeping food in his bowl that he can go to anytime.
  • Read the label on the food bag before feeding it to your dog. Just because the package indicates the food is “high-protein” doesn’t mean the dog can digest it or use it as part of a healthy diet, said veterinarian T.J. Dunn, Jr. in PetMD. Nutritious and easily digestible foods include, in this order, egg whites; chicken, beef and lamb; kidney, liver and heart; milk and cheese; fish; soy; rice; oats; yeast; wheat and corn.


  • Do not overfeed a starving dog. You can cause refeeding syndrome, which can lead to muscle weakness, cramps, heart damage, seizures and respiratory failure.

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About the Author

Laura Agadoni has been writing professionally since 1983. Her feature stories on area businesses, human interest and health and fitness appear in her local newspaper. She has also written and edited for a grassroots outreach effort and has been published in "Clean Eating" magazine and in "Dimensions" magazine, a CUNA Mutual publication. Agadoni has a Bachelor of Arts in communications from California State University-Fullerton.

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