Tuesday, 10 October 2017

How to put weight on a sick, skinny or underweight dog with no appetite

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This Blog has valuable and practical advise for those with an ill or sick dog (or even those with a dog that is fit but skinny and cannot put on weight). 

I've written many blogs and a number related to dogs’ health and also about obesity in dogs. Overweight dogs are far more prevalent than those that are too thin (my blog: When a Pooch has a Paunch Problem) But what can you do to help underweight dogs? Read on to find out.

From a health perspective a skinny, fit dog would be far less of a concern to a Vet than a Pooch like a Porker! But a dog can be too thin, and if this condition is related to ill health, it can be very challenging to turn it around and you end up with a negative spiral. Your dogs health goes rapidly down hill when they can no longer tolerate or get benefit from normal food.

Past a certain point, with their become so system compromised and they may be so ill that they have no appetite and can’t be tempted to eat at all.

We had exactly this situation with my daughter’s wonderful boxer, Elly who was about 4 when she started to get unwell. We were constantly taking her for tests yet our vet could not find what was causing her to be so ill. As days turned to weeks Elly’s deterioration was distressing to see.

Not eating and barely drinking, Elly had to be carried outside to go to the toilet. She was becoming weaker and weaker,  could barely move, and all her sparkle had gone. She wasn’t even able to raise a tail wag.

Elly went from her normal healthy weight of around 25 kgs to barely 19kgs – skin & bone . She was wasting away before our eyes and still we did not have a diagnosis.

Looking at her one night it hit me she was so ill, thin and frail she was actually going to die of starvation if we did not get find out what the problem was, and turn it round – fast.

So I said to my daughter she should get a referral to SASH (Australia’s world famous Small Animal Specialist Hospital)

Arriving at SASH we were fortunate to see Vet Dr Justin Wimpole. Justin has a wonderful approach to both dogs and their owners. He scooped up Elly’s by now tiny body into his arms and as he held her there she didn’t move. She was all legs and angles with bones jutting out of her head. He said very simply “this is a very sick little girl”.

At last Justin had put into words what we seen over the weeks and my daughter and I were crying with relief and worry all in one.

After that Justin’s investigations found the problem very quickly. (It was found to be a digestive problem, rare for dogs in general, but found in certain breeds, including boxers).

With a definitive diagnosis finally Elly was prescribed the right drug to treat her condition. But her recovery was far from certain because by now our darling girl could barely stand. Even on the medicine she still had no interest in eating anything. A  drip might have kept her alive, but was not realistic as it wouldn’t have built her up.

Elly desperately needed energy  - yet how could we get energy into her? We'd tried every food recommended. In fact every conceivable variation of protein based dog foods and human foods, yet she had no interest, would sniff and walk away – nothing could tempt her.

Then I suddenly had my stroke of genius – tempting her was the answer because she was sniffing food – but with what? I realised she needed something tasty, easy to eat and in a way that was almost predigested calories - and that was what I came up with.

When I first made my concoction and Elly lapped it all up  – we all cheered and cried at once. It had been so long she would touch anything – and she kept it down and wanted more.

The food that worked the magic was a home made Carb & Protein Mash. It had the effect of stimulating her appetite and within a few days bit by bit we were able to introduce normal food and we gained time which allowed the medicine time to do its work.

Now I fully admit this will not win prizes for nutrition! But it does answer as a short term method of getting calories - and thus energy -  into a dog when normal foods aren’t working.

Clearly my Carb & Protein Mash it is not a substitute for normal protein dog foods – just keep  in mind what the intention is. It is for an acute period to give your dog concentrated calories to build them up and help them recover.


  • 7-8  plain biscuits, I usually used Rich Tea but 6 Digestives would be OK
  • 2 Wheatabix or Oat Brits
  • Cup of hot milky tea with 2 teaspoons sugar
  • An egg

Optional extra: 1 tsp powdered Brewer’s Yeast*
Optional extra: small amount cooked basmati rice (I didn’t add this to my mix but you could)

  1. Crunch up the biscuits & Wheatabix (or Oat Brits) into a bowl
  2. Make the tea put a couple of sugars in then add an amount of milk to make it milky
  3. Pour the tea over the biscuits & Wheatabix
  4. Mash it until no obvious biscuit is seen into a smooth, warm mash
  5. Break a raw egg into this and stir in
  6. Mix in a teaspoon of powdered Brewers Yeast (not essential)
  7. Offer a portion* of this to your dog whilst it's still warm

The above mix is around 900 calories consisting mainly of carbs and sugar. There is some easily digested protein in the form of the milk and egg. Fat content is low deliberately.

If you don’t have fresh milk pour on black tea but then sprinkle a couple of tablespoons of skimmed milk into the mixture.
*Some dogs are allergic to yeast, and the symptoms seen can be itchy skin and upset, bloated, gaseous stomachs. Overall, for most dogs, brewer's yeast is safe and beneficial. With a dog that is thin through illness then give this Mash without this and you could add it in later and then you would know if it has any negative effects

*This is a large amount of food and may overload your sick dog’s system if given all at once.

In which case if this is for a dog that is ill with little appetite make the full amount but give little and often through the day-  some every hour or even 45 mins – you need to assess and see how it goes.

For maximum temptation offer this to your dog when it’s warm.  If giving it throughout the day gently reheat a portion in the microwave (be careful not to let it get too hot). A sick dog might get runny poo if this is all they are eating. Though because so much of this is easily digested there is not too much waste.


Keep in mind my CARB & PROTEIN MASH is very useful for a fit skinny dog. Case in point GSP Pepper. She is exceptionally fit but underweight – ribs protruding and sharp bones in her shoulders/chest. The owners struggled to get her to gain weight as whenever they increased her normal food by giving her  an extra third meal she always ended up with diarrhea.

When Pepper came and stayed with me and I gave her the mash mix in the middle of the day – the result was a noticeable improvement and weight gain in just 10 days.

If you make the amount above for a fit dog which happens to be skinny you might be able to feed it all at once. I would give it all to Pepper in the middle of the day between her two normal meals and she didn’t get diarrhea. But you would monitor your dog as tolerations to large amounts varies.

Foot note re Vet Dr Justin Wimpole of SASH

After Justin’s help in finding the root problem of  Elly’s illness she recovered and my daughter, her sister and I were blessed with some more wonderful years with her.

However in 2016 when she was coming up to her 10th birthday again she was ill. This time symptoms were different but despite lots of tests the local vets could not diagnose the problem. So we asked for a referral and again took her to Justin at SASH. Astonishingly Justin remembered Elly, but not only that, he took one look at her and believed  -  and was subsequently proved correct by blood tests and investigations – that she had a malignant tumour of the brain.

We made her last days as comfortable as we could as sadly no magic mixture was able to save our darling girl this time.

Our adored Elly in happier times....

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