Weight management tips for your underweight pet

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Timothy Hair
  • U.S. Army Veterinary Services
Editor's note: This is the last of a three-part series about healthy lifestyles for pets

Bottom line up front: a pet with a well maintained diet, weight, and body condition is more likely to live a happier, healthier, and longer life. Some pets, like some people, are just naturally thin; however, an underweight pet may be an unhealthy pet. Causes for being underweight can include diet, parasites, cancer, diabetes, or heart disease to name a few. It is always a good idea to consult with your veterinarian regarding a chronically thin pet and especially if there has been an unexplained, sudden loss of weight. Remember, weight management for your pet is definitely a good start to overall health, and if it appears that diet may be the issue for a thin pet we have some tips here in part three of our weight management series: tips for your underweight pet.

First, you should start of by getting a current weight on your pet, but more importantly, evaluate their body condition (i.e. how they carry their weight). An excellent evaluation guide for your pet's body condition score (BCS) can be found at:

For Pets: http://www.purina.com/pet/weight-and-exercise/bodycondition.aspx
For Cats: http://www.purina.com/cat/weight-control/bodycondition.aspx

If your dog is a BCS of 1 or your cat is a BCS of 1 or 2, this is dangerously thin and you should consult with your veterinarian. An examination and other diagnostic tests may be needed to see if there is a medical reason for being extremely underweight. If your dog is a BCS of 2 or 3, or your cat is a BCS of 3 or 4, the most common cause is just not getting enough groceries in their belly for their metabolism or activity level. If your pet is eating all of their food, start by increasing their food slowly:

1. Start by measuring exactly how much you are feeding your pet. Use an actual measuring cup that is clearly marked in ¼ cup increments (1/8 of a cup for cats and small dogs).

2. If not already doing so, feed the pet twice per day. This manages their energy levels throughout the day and helps monitor their intake and helps insure that they do not have too much food in their stomach at any one time. Free feeding (just filling the bowl for them to eat on throughout the day) is rarely recommended.

3. Once the pet has become accustomed to the new feeding schedule, you can start making adjustments.

4. Start by increasing one meal a little bit. Depending on the total size of the pet, this may be ½ cup for large and giant breeds, ¼ cup for medium breeds, or a 1/8 of a cup for cats and smaller breed dogs.

5. Allow approximately two weeks for the pet to adjust to the new amount of food. This should provide enough time to see some changes. Evaluate the pet's BCS. If they still need to gain weight, increase the 2nd meal by the same amount. Wait another two weeks and reevaluate.

6. Repeat steps 4 and 5 if the pet still needs to gain weight.

7. If after a couple of increases to the diet there is still no weight gain, you should schedule an appointment with your veterinarian to see if there might be a medical reason for the pet's inability to gain weight. Your veterinarian may recommend doing a complete blood analysis to insure that everything is working correctly.

If your pet is not eating all of their food, here are a couple of tips to try:

1. Wet their dry food with some warm water. Just enough to make a little "gravy" but not so much to soften the food. This makes the food more aromatic which makes it taste better without losing the cleaning action provided by physically crunching food.

2. Adding some canned food can have the same effect (especially if you warm the canned food a little first). It is recommended to use the same brand of canned food as you use with their dry food to avoid upsetting their stomach.

3. If they are still not eating all of their food, you may need to supplement their diet with a few more dog biscuits throughout the day.

4. You may also want to consider changing foods to something they may like a little more or has more calories. When changing food, be sure to make the change gradually to allow their digestive system time to get used to the new food. Remember to feed your pet a high quality (which often means higher cost) pet food. The higher the quality, the better the ingredients. This means that the pet is able to properly digest and use the nutrients in the pet food. Your veterinarian may even recommend switching to a prescription food for gaining weight.

5. Most bags of pet food have a recommended serving size. This is only a recommendation. Every pet's metabolism is different and their caloric requirements may not be the same.

6. Eliminate table scraps. Dietary indiscretion, as we like to call it, can certainly lead to pets not wanting to eat their regular diet as well as increasing the risks of food allergies, upset stomach, vomiting and diarrhea.

7. Monitor your pet's eating habits. Some pets will not eat if distracted, so they need to be placed in a quiet environment. Others do not like to eat alone, and they want to be near you when they eat. Make sure that they are not losing their food to any of the other pets in the household.

Remember these are just some suggestions that we routinely make to our clients here at the Veterinary Treatment Facility on F.E. Warren AFB; it is always a good idea to consult with your veterinarian regarding the specific needs of your pet.

The Veterinary Treatment Facility is located in BLDG 288 on the corner of Frontier and 5th Cavalry. We share a parking lot with the Independence Gym. Our current hours of operation are Monday through Thursday from 0800-1200 / 1300-1630. We are closed on Fridays, weekends, and Federal holidays. Hours of operation are subject to change due to military obligations and mission requirements. All pets are seen by appointment only, and appointments are normally available Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. Please call (307)773-3354 for more information or to schedule an appointment.