The subject of weight gain for dogs is a serious concern for numerous dog parents throughout the country. Thousands of searches are performed online every month for the optimal weight gain diet for their dogs, such as "food for dog weight gain," "weight gain dog food recipes," or "why won't my dog gain weight?" Considering the public's interest in this matter, we will be focusing, in today's article, on the causes that prevent weight gain in dogs, the practices that inhibit weight gain, and the foods that will assist your canine friend in gaining some healthy extra pounds.
Is Weight Gain Identical for All Dogs?
Weight loss occurs when the dog is more active than the number of calories he's taking in. But if the dog is less active than the number of calories he's taking in, he will gain weight. This is the only point of convergence in the equation since multiple other factors play their part in canine weight gain and loss. Age, metabolism, diet, activity levels (e.g., puppies have a fast metabolism and, therefore, need more calories to power growth), and breed must be considered in formulating an adequate weight gain plan for your dog. Other circumstances, such as whether your dog was neutered/spayed or not, will affect your dog's metabolism and weight levels. And finally, you might be dealing with a malnourished dog whose weight gain depends on feeding better, more calorically-rich food.
Weight gain in dogs, aside from circumstances, is mostly about finding an adequate amount of calories to help your canine companion reach a healthy weight. As a result, canine nutritionists came up with a Body Condition Score to help dog parents identify the proper weight for their dogs.
Weight Gain and Your Dog’s Body Condition Score Index
The Body Condition Score Index is a DIY method to evaluate your dog's body fat levels. This twofold, 5-point and 9-point scale will help dog parents understand if their canine companions need to gain weight and the optimal weight levels for their dogs. Let's take a look at the two scaling systems and identify the optimal weight levels for canines:
1/5 = Very thin1/9 = Emaciated
2/5 = Underweight2/9 = Very thin
3/5 = Ideal weight3/9 = Thin
4/5 = Overweight4-5/9 = Ideal weight
5/5 = Obese6/9 = Overweight
7/9 = Heavy
8/9 = Obese
9/9 = Severely obese
Identifying your dog's Body Condition Score Index is a straightforward task. First, a very thin or emaciated dog's ribs will be prominent with no coating fat layer. Second, an obese or severely obese canine's ribs will be difficult to see or feel because of the thick layer of coating fat. And last, dog parents can palpate a healthy dog's ribs without applying any pressure with their hands.
Why Won't My Dog Gain Weight?
Before diving into the proper and healthy approaches to weight gain, we must first consider the various causes that determine weight loss in the first place. Aside from the insufficient caloric intake relative to the body's needs, genetics, digestive issues and a poor-quality diet, medical disorders represent the usual weight loss culprits. Blood and urine tests, as well as radiographs and abdominal ultrasound, can help pinpoint these medical issues and assist dog parents in putting together a comprehensive weight gain plan for their canine companions.
The most relevant medical disorders that cause weight loss in dogs are:
- Loss of nutrients from diarrhea, vomiting, and excessive urination;
- Loss of smell and the inability to grasp or chew food;
- Cricopharyngeal Achalasia (i.e., the cricopharyngeal muscle's inability to relax);
- Anorexia or depression;
- Malabsorption of nutrients caused by inflammatory bowel disease or intestinal parasitism;
- Maldigestion disorders, e.g., exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (i.e., the pancreas does not produce enough enzymes to break down food into nutrients);
- Metabolic disorders: diabetes mellitus, hyperthyroidism, cancer.
Achieving Weight Gain with Fat and Protein
The first step in your dog's weight gain journey is to align his diet with the weight gaining aim. It's time for you to closely inspect your dog's nutrient and caloric intake and determine whether he receives enough of the two ideal nutrients for weight gain in dogs: fat and protein. The higher caloric concentration found in these nutrients will assist your dog in gaining those coveted extra pounds and reaching a balance in the Body Condition Score Index. Fats are an excellent source of dietary energy; fats yield 2.5 times as much energy as proteins or dietary soluble carbohydrates for dogs, at 8.5 kilocalories of energy per gram of weight. However, updating your dog's diet to contain foods rich in fat and protein is not a straightforward process.
Here, we have a list of protein and fat-rich foods that will put the weight gain goals for your dog on track:
#1: Pumpkin and Sweet Potato
Sweet potato and pumpkin are fantastic ways to help your dog put on weight in a healthy way. To avoid excessive protein in your dog's diet while helping him gain weight, consider adding sweet potato and pumpkin to his food. Boosting their diet with fat and fiber will help your dog's digestion along with weight gain. You can buy 100% canned sweet potato and 100% canned pumpkin from your local grocery store. Make sure to keep an eye on your dog the first few days you put these additions in their diet to ensure their bowel movements aren't irregular.
#2: Peanut Butter
There are not a lot of dogs who would turn their noses up when given peanut butter. And why should they? Peanut butter sits at the top of healthy dog treats, especially when paired with low acidity, low sugar treats such as carrots. In addition, the peanut butter's solid fat content makes it a trustworthy partner in your dog's weight gain journey. If you're looking for a peanut butter treat, Volhard's Nutty Pumpkins are sure to do the trick! Just make sure it is natural peanut butter with no chemical additives or sweeteners like xylitol. Other nut butters are good too.
#3: Cottage Cheese
Have you considered adding dairy products to your dog's diet, but his lactose intolerance stands in the way? Cottage cheese is the solution! With its insignificant lactose levels due to fermentation, cottage cheese is known for causing little to no digestive problems to dogs with lactose intolerance. Its rich concentration of calcium and protein is ideal for dogs who could use some extra pounds but cannot rely on other dairy products. Plus, your dog will surely enjoy its taste! You can serve it mixed with your dog's daily food or as a tasty snack. Please always use whole fat cottage cheese.
#4: Coconut Oil
Another canine favorite, coconut oil is rich in healthy, unsaturated fats with anti-viral, anti-bacterial, and anti-fungal properties. If you’re looking to supplement your dog’s weight gain diet with coconut oil, look no further than the Volhard non-GMO, human grade Coconut Oil! Remember to introduce coconut oil gradually into your dog’s diet until his body adjusts to the change. Also, coconut oil is quite rich in calories (120 calories/tsp.), so be sure to use it in moderation.
Does your typical breakfast include eggs? Then it's time to share with your dog! Eggs are a fantastic source of protein, fatty acids, and amino acids. Aside from their healthy nutrient composition, eggs can even bring peace to an upset stomach. Your dog will be delighted to serve a soft boiled or poached egg in the morning! Make sure you always feed the dog the whole egg. Dogs should not just eat the whites!
How to Help Your Dog Gain Weight
Now that we have a clear picture of the most efficient weight gain foods, let's dive into the proper practices that will help your dog take the extra step towards his ideal weight. Unfortunately, food intake itself is not enough to ensure weight gain. As long as you feed fat and protein-rich foods to your canine companion without a clear game plan, your dog's weight levels will stay put, or worse, reach higher levels on the Body Condition Score Index than necessary. You can avoid these unwanted outcomes by:
#1: Increasing Meal Frequency
Feeding fewer but more consistent meals to your dog sounds logical towards weight gain, right? On the contrary, feeding oversized meals is both counterproductive and dangerous to your dog's health. The canine digestive system can only process a limited amount of nutrients at a time; when overloaded, it has no alternative but to discard the excess nutrients through urine. Furthermore, overeating is a slippery slope towards digestive issues and bloat (i.e., abdominal pain caused by a stretched stomach).
Instead of pressuring your dog's digestive system, you can space out his food over 4-5 meals. Although they imply more work and dedication on your part, multiplying your dog's number of meals will aid his digestive system in breaking down more calories over the course of the day. Don't forget: more calories equal weight gain for your dog!
#2: Take Your Dog Out for More Than a Walk
Do you believe that a couch potato will gain weight faster than a physically active dog? Although intuitive, your belief is only partially true. Your dog will gain weight by simply consuming calories without exercise, but the weight gain will translate into fat, not muscle, and, therefore, put your dog on a clear path towards obesity.
Instead of raising a couch potato, why not add excitement to your dog's life through exercise? Aside from the obvious health benefits, exercise will help your dog consume higher quantities of calories and consequently stoke his hunger, which goes perfectly with the 4-5 meals he's supposed to eat daily. Furthermore, the gained weight will turn into muscle rather than fat, thus keeping your dog at the center of the Body Condition Score Index. Muscle weighs more than fat!
#3: Keep a Weight Gain Log
Weight gain is a lengthy process that requires patience and consistent assessment. Once you've established your dog's position on the Body Condition Score Index, plan to weigh your dog every couple of weeks. If you find positive results after two weeks, follow the same track; if not, go back to the drawing board and enhance your dog's diet. Remember that muscle weight takes time to settle in, so refrain from weighing your dog every day unless you're looking to learn the water weight your dog has put on.
A Parting Reminder
We hope that today's blog has helped you learn the proper ways to put together a weight gain diet for your dog. As a final piece of advice, always remember that weight gain is about both quantity and quality: gaining one pound per week is ideal for turning the extra pounds into healthy muscle weight. For more advice on dog nutrition, health, and training, make sure that you contact us or check out our blog!