The term malnutrition refers to dogs that have lost more than 10% of their normal body weight. They are thin, with prominent bones, especially the hips and ribs. Malnourished dogs will often suffer from dehydration, lethargy, and skin disease.

In most cases, malnourishment in dogs is a result of a lack of food or its poor quality that can't meet the canine's nutritional requirements. Sometimes, the reason is a medical condition that prevents the dog from eating. When the malnourishment occurs, it is necessary to take the dog to the vet to recommend a specific diet and help in recovery.

How to Help a Malnourished Dog Recover

Dog Body Condition Score Chart (BCS)In most cases, the malnourishment occurs as a result of a health issue. Once that primary problem has been solved, the dog will generally regain their original weight back. It is crucial to start feeding an underweight dog in small amounts of food a few times a day.

Providing too much food too fast to an emaciated dog may cause the development of refeeding syndrome which is just as serious condition. Digestive and neurological problems can also occur if feeding too much at once. Several crucial steps in this process, outlined below, will help the dog recover safely.

1. Regular Vet Visits

Never attempt to determine the right meal for a malnourished dog without consultation with the veterinarian. After a thorough examination, the vet will give appropriate advice and a step-by-step plan on how to feed an underweight dog and restore them to full condition.

Also, the vet can help you monitor the progress, dog's current weight, and the overall health of your pet during these regular checkups, advising on any dietary or exercise adjustments if needed. It is necessary to check the dog's body temperature, the state of the dog's immune system, and any possible misbehavior issues during this process.

2. Appropriate and Comfortable Environment

A malnourished dog generally needs more warmth since their underfed body will have a problem maintaining body temperature in physiological limits. Without the necessary amount of body fat, the dog will shiver when the outside temperature is slightly lower, which will lead to additional burning of calories.

Plus, a malnourished dog needs to feel safe and calm as they will be more sensitive to the environment, so it is necessary to provide a stress-free, cozy, and comfortable place for your pet to rest, play, sleep and otherwise spend their time.

3. Gradually Increased Frequency of Meals

Providing an extra meal for the dog during a day is the most comfortable and appropriate way to help the dog gain weight. Sometimes, the dog will refuse to eat and syringe feeding may be necessary.

At the initial stage, the most essential thing is not to increase the amount of food per meal but to add an extra feeding time. By preventing overeating, the dog won't have an issue with digestion or nausea.

4. Improved Quality of Dog Food

If feeding homemade, adding more muscle meat in meals will help the dog to put on weight in a short time. If the dog usually eats commercial kibble, providing an extra cup of food rich in protein between regular meals will help them to add necessary pounds.

There are certain weight gain foods that are designed for underweight dogs. Alternatively, many experts recommend feeding an underweight dog with a high-quality puppy food, which is generally higher in protein and fat, but lower in carbs.

After determining the desired daily amount of food according to the dog's size, they should get approximately 25% of the recommended meal on the first day. The goal is to increase the necessary daily amount of food gradually within 10 days.

5. Gradually Increased Calorie Density

On top of meal frequency and food quality, it is also helpful to choose calorie dense dog food to help the dog consume those extra calories. The best solution is to reduce carbs, but increase proteins and fat with every meal.

Also, adding weight gain supplements that contain essential vitamins and minerals, especially phosphate, potassium, and magnesium, will support a healthy increase of the weight for the dog.

6. Homemade Dog Food Meals

Homemade meals can be chosen instead of commercial foods, or they can be fed in addition to commercial kibble.

By adding nutrient dense foods like whole egg to your pet's meal, the dog will get a more significant amount of protein (from egg white), vitamins (from egg yolk) and calories. You can also add fruits and vegetables to the meal, such as apples, pumpkin, or sweet potato.

Water needs to be available to the dog at all times, and constantly changed to keep it fresh and cool enough since dehydration and losing up to 15% of body water can jeopardize an underweight dog's life.

7. Appropriate Exercise Routine

Gaining weight by food intake without proper workout can be counterproductive. The exercise route should not be designed for burning excess calories. On the contrary, it should be regular low key walks and easy playtime that will improve the dog's appetite, keep the animal healthy, and prevent obesity.

Avoid forcing the dog to run or over-exercise. The goal is to let the dog's body to recover and put on lean muscle gradually. Just as with feeding routine, exercise should start with low impact ones and increased gradually in its intensity.

8. Tracking the Dog’s Progress

It is essential to check the dog's overall condition daily yourself, on top of the scheduled visits to the vet. Feeling the animal along the ribs, checking their body composition and weighing the animal are the most proper ways to keep track of weight gaining progress.

If the weight of the dog increases over time, the actions taken are adequate. On the other hand, if your dog's weight stagnates, you need to consult with a vet and change the diet, or increase the calories in the meal, or reconsider the dog's exercise routine.

Best Weight Gain Dog Food for Malnourished Dogs

Dog foods designed for weight gain are generally high in protein and calories, and will pack additional nutrients, vitamins and minerals (similar to weight gainers for body builders). Some of the best weight gain dog foods for underweight dogs include:

How to Feed an Underweight Dog

Structuring a Diet for an Underweight Dog

Dog's Breakfast

It is the most important daily meal for underweight and malnourished dogs. If feeding homemade diet, this meal should include high protein source, enriched with some carbohydrate like white rice and additional fat and vitamins sources like eggs.

Start breakfast with one cup of food and give one more in case the animal asks for more. However, careful dosing of the meal is also important to prevent overfeeding and vomiting.

Dog's Lunch and Dinner

Once again, high protein is the priority for your pup's lunch and dinner. Adding a cooked egg and rice to one cup of high-protein dog food is an excellent choice. Carefully increase the amount if the pet remains hungry.

Dog's Treats and Snacks

Except for regular meals, the malnourished dog can have a snack in mid-morning and in mid-afternoon. Among natural foods, the best choices are things like cheese, chicken, beef and similar high protein, high fat foods. Also, your dog will probably enjoy high-calorie dog treats during a day and some dry food overnight.

Probiotics and Weight Gain Supplements

As a result of the lack of food or feeding with inappropriate ingredients, malnourished dogs often suffer from gastrointestinal problems. Therefore, adding probiotic supplements into your dog's meals will help restore regular digestive function.

Weight gaining supplements will support the dog's body to restore overall well-being by providing essential nutrition without rapidly putting weight by increasing the percentage of fat.

The goal is for the dog to regain muscle mass. Supplements can help the dog get back in shape by providing crucial vitamins, minerals, omega-3 fatty acids, which are normally hard to pack into meals.

Some of the best weight gain supplements for underweight dogs include:


Malnourishment in dogs can be a result of some health conditions including parasites, tooth damage, mouth injuries, metabolic disorder, infection, or even cancer. It is necessary to take the dog to the vet for treatment of the original cause first.

This can also be due to neglect of the dog by previous owners. But no matter what the cause of the dog's malnutrition is, the primary goal is to increase its weight by consuming adequate nutrients. The next thing is to gain lean muscle by exercising.

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Shelly lives in Iowa with her husband and Australian Shepherd named Tex. She's been an animal lover since she was a child. Currently, she enjoys reading and writing about dogs, and spending time with her family and getting involved in all things pets.