This article was updated on September 25th, 2021It can be difficult to keep weight on an older dog for several reasons, including poor appetite, poor digestive function, loss of muscle mass, slowing metabolism and more. However, Illness/disease can cause sudden, significant or sustained weight loss and ANY dog who experiences noticeable and/or sustained weight loss needs to be examined by a veterinarian to make sure that there is no underlying health condition which is causing the problem. Weight loss is not always ‘just a part of old age’. If your dog is given a clean bill of health by your veterinarian and yet is still losing weight, there are steps you can take which may slow down, halt or even reverse the weight loss. Of course, it’s healthier for your dog to be lean rather than heavy, and I wouldn’t suggest trying to add pounds to a dog who is already on the plus-size side of average! The suggestions on this page are only for senior dogs who are underweight and have been thoroughly examined by a veterinarian to rule out illness/disease.
Dietary Changes for Skinny Older DogsIf you’re trying to keep weight on an older dog who is healthy, but skinny, there are a few tweaks you can make to his diet/feeding which may help.
Feed Premium FoodAs our dogs age, their appetite will often decrease and their bodies can find it more difficult to absorb nutrients from their food. So, it makes sense to ensure that the food they are eating is the highest quality, and most nutrient dense option you can offer. Although there are many foods formulated for senior dogs, a lot of them are ‘low fat’ or ‘low calorie’ to address the excess pounds many older dogs carry. These are obviously not a good choice for a dog who is having trouble maintaining a healthy weight. Older dogs can find it more difficult to utilize the protein from their diets, so a food with above average protein content is recommended. High quality meat proteins are the best. It’s also important to choose a food which will not worsen any existing or chronic health problems your dog has, if you are unsure about this then ask your vet for their recommendation. For a HEALTHY senior dog who simply needs to gain a few pounds, or slow down an existing weight loss pattern, look for dog foods which contain:
- Above average caloric density (upward of 400 K/cal per cup)
- Above average protein content (35% +)
- Above average fat content (15 – 20% +)
Make Meals More AppealingIf eating more of a high calorie/high fat diet is one of the best ways to keep weight on older dogs… then figuring out how to make sure they eat their meals is vitally important. Many senior dogs have reduced appetites. This can be caused by many different things, some internal, some external. Some of the causes of decreased appetite in old dogs include:
- Reduced sense of smell/taste
- Dental discomfort or tooth loss
- Poor/slow digestive function
- Lack of exercise/mobility
- Underlying organ dysfunction
- Choosing smaller kibble pieces rather than larger ones
- Soaking it in warm water or bone broth for 10 mins before serving
- Adding a scoop of premium canned food or tasty gravy/bone broth
- Adding a small amount of cooked chicken, or low sodium chicken broth
- Adding a little canned tuna and/or the oil/water from the can
- Adding a little scrambled egg
Improve Your Dogs’ Digestive FunctionAs dogs age, their bodily functions and systems become less efficient in general. Because of this some older dogs can have difficulty digesting their food and absorbing the nutrients they need. It’s important to be aware that there are underlying health conditions such as exocrine pancreatic insufficiency and pancreatitis that require veterinary attention. But once these have been ruled out… There are supplements and digestive aids which can help improve your senior dogs’ digestive system health and function. Probiotics, prebiotics and digestive enzymes can all be viable options. Some of the products that fit this bill include….
High Calorie Supplements for DogsSometimes puppies, sick convalescing dogs or senior dogs need a bit of a nutritional ‘boost’ to help them gain strength. Calorie dense nutritional supplements can help with this. These supplements usually come as a paste or as a liquid and can be fed to a puppy/dog alone, or as part of a meal. Here are two options that are popular:
Homemade Dog FoodPreparing homemade meals for an older dog who is having problems with gaining/maintaining a healthy weight is definitely an option. If you use fresh, human-grade ingredients and add the correct supplements, vitamins and minerals you can create nutritious and easily digested meals for your senior dog. Just be sure to not add any vegetables/fruits that may be toxic to dogs. But it’s vitally important to get the ratio of nutrients correct, and the added supplements. If this is a route that you’re interested in following I would strongly recommend discussing it with your vet who knows your dog and will be able to give you guidelines for creating meals that provide what he needs. Read more about senior dog nutrition:
- 9 Tips from Our Veterinarians to Help Your Old Dog Eat More
- Weight Loss In Old Dogs: Our Veterinarians Share What To Do
- Older Dog Not Eating? Our Vet Explains What to Do
- The Best Supplements For Older Dogs
- About Senior Dog Supplements
Disclaimer: This website's content is not a substitute for veterinary care. Always consult with your veterinarian for healthcare decisions. Read More.