The Perfect Guide To Keep The Emaciated Dog From Getting Thinner

Keeping an emaciated dog from getting any thinner is a difficult task. It’s especially difficult, when the dog is seemingly doing well on a diet and not losing weight. In this article, we’ll provide you with tips to help you keep your dog from becoming emaciated. We’ll discuss the signs of an emaciated dog, and tell you how to determine if your dog is losing weight too quickly. We’ll also provide you with tips on how to properly feed your dog, and offer advice on how to deal with an emaciated dog if you encounter it in your everyday life.

The following presentation relates to the care and recovery assistance provided to dogs that have been homeless for days to weeks. Non-veterinary care can be successful as long as the rescued dog does not have a serious medical disorder such as kidney failure, anemia, pancreatitis or bowel obstruction due to garbage or foreign body ingestion.  

Keep The Emaciated Dog From Getting Thinner

Always consult with your veterinarian before treating or providing care for any malnourished animal.

Every animal shelter or rescue group will at times be presented with a homeless dog where simple observation reveals the animal to be in a markedly thin and undernourished condition. (The significant loss of body fat and muscle mass is termed emaciation.) Ideally, the dog should be thoroughly checked by a veterinarian and veterinary advice should be given regarding the dog’s nursing care. If veterinary assistance is not available, shelter personnel should, upon initial admission to the shelter, to the following:

1. Create an individual animal chart for the dog so that daily records and notes can be recorded.

2. Do a thorough inspection for any identification markers such as ear or inner thigh tattoos and/or microchips. These subcutaneous tiny microchip implants can migrate so scan the entire dog for a microchip implant.

3. Record the dog’s temperature, weight and also note an estimated normal weight on the chart.

4. Do a thorough physical exam. Don’t neglect to inspect the oral cavity for fractured teeth, bone fragments lodged between teeth, and lacerations to or under the tongue. Check for eye and ear infections, check under the tail for evidence of anal sores, tapeworm segments, or maggot infested moist infections. Check the paws for abraded pads or interdigital infections or foreign matter.

5. Gently probe with your fingertips all areas of the abdomen. This is most easily done having an assistant restrain the dog’s head while the dog is in a standing position. The examiner stands/kneels at the dog’s hip and facing forward places the left hand fingers along the left side of the dog’s abdomen and passing the right hand under the belly and placing the right hand fingers opposite to the left. Gently bringing the hands together, and probing and pushing various areas along the abdomen will reveal important information. Does the dog display pain? Does the dog “cramp up” and grunt when abdominal pressure is applied? If so, the dog may need veterinary care. If no pain is noted and the dog tolerates the abdominal palpation, the odds are good that there are no significant or life abdominal threatening problems.

6. Check the gums and tongue for color. A pale or grayish color may indicate anemia from blood loss or rodent poison ingestion. Likewise, if there are areas on the gums or whites of the eyes where blotches of hemorrhage are noted, veterinary care is needed right away. The gums and tongue should be pink to reddish.

7. Offer the dog a small amount of water and observe the dog’s interest and ability to drink.

8. Determine if the dog is dehydrated. The best way to visually estimate if dehydration is present is to gently grasp a fold of skin at the base of the neck and pull the skin upward, away from the dog. In a normal state of hydration when you let go of the stretched fold of skin, it readily snaps back into place. If, however, the skin fold does not snap back, but seems to dissipate in slow motion, that display of poor elasticity will only occur if the dog is dehydrated.

What happens during starvation?

Researchers have good documentation on how the dog’s body organs and biochemistry are disrupted by various lengths of time of starvation. If the dog is healthy to begin with, and no medical problems exist that, of course, would compound the starving dog’s medical status, a predictable sequence of adaptations take place. The dog’s biochemical functions shift into survival mode within twenty-four hours with no nutritional intake. The highest priority of the dog’s metabolic processes becomes the necessity to keep the blood glucose concentration at a normal level. If the blood glucose (“blood sugar”) level drops too low for any reason, the brain, heart, muscles and kidney function shuts down rapidly and death comes quickly. So, when the dog has no opportunity to eat, the survival mode’s first concern is to mobilize stored glucose from liver and muscle reserves by changing the biochemical processes to different chemical pathways that make glucose readily available.

Good results should be expected within days of nursing care of the starved dog. After about two days without food the liver reserves of glycogen (glucose) are depleted. So in order to keep the blood level of glucose in the normal range, new chemical pathways open, called gluconeogenesis, where the liver and kidneys create molecules from complicated biochemical reactions so that fats and proteins are extracted from adipose tissue and muscle. As the glucose reserves are tapped and diminished, chemical reactions kick in to create glucose internally from those protein and fat reserves. Energy to run the body’s machinery (muscle, brain, kidney, heart and other organ functions require energy to fuel their activities) is now fueled less by glucose and more by fatty acid extracted from fat reserves.

After five days of starvation fat becomes the main source of energy.

Feeding the Starved Dog

Animal caretakers must exert strict self-control when attempting to nurse a starved dog back to good health. The natural and common tendency is to overfeed the dog “because he’s ravenous.” Serious consequences await, called Refeeding Syndrome, if an emaciated and starved dog is suddenly overfed. Signs of Refeeding Syndrome 

Intravenous therapy may be needed to get started on the road to recovery. are described as muscle weakness, muscle cramps, heart muscle damage and rhythm irregularities, seizures, red blood cell rupture and respiratory failure. A sudden load of carbohydrates in a large meal fed to a starved dog can create serious shifts in potassium and phosphorus concentrations in all body cells and create life-threatening Refeeding Syndrome.

The food being fed to the starved dog should have adequate mineral composition especially for phosphorous, potassium and magnesium. (Therefore, do not be tempted to feed, for example, just hamburger which does not have a wide or balanced mineral content.)

The amount of food, or total calories, should not exceed over 24 hours what the dog would normally eat at its normal weight. The dog would do best consuming a small meal every six hours (4 times a day) rather than consuming one or two larger meals.

A broad-spectrum vitamin and mineral supplement is important to include at each meal.

Some evidence supports the addition of the amino acid glutamine to the recovery diet.

Omega 3 and 6 Fatty Acid supplements are beneficial to the recovering dog. The amino acid Arginine should be plentiful in the recovery diet. Dietary nucleotides are important contributors to the formation of DNA and RNA and assist in a number of metabolic activities of healthy cells. Diets rich in meat provide adequate nucleotides.

By feeding a highly digestible, meat-based “Puppy” or “Growth” food, along with certain supplements, recovery and weight gain should be evident in a short period of time . . . as long as the dog has a normal appetite. The daily suggested amount to feed should be divided into four smaller portions. Close monitoring of the dog’s intake at each meal should be noted on the dog’s chart. Feed the recommended amount for the dog’s estimated healthy weight (read the pet food label about how much to feed) and the dog’s caretakers should accurately note the amount eaten. For example, the record could state, “8:00 a.m. meal – “ate 100%” or “ate 50%” or “ate 10%”.

It is common to see occasional vomiting or loose stool in the early recovery time of a starved dog. By weighing the dog twice a day (a.m. and p.m.) and by noting the amount of food ingested versus the amount vomited and passed as feces, an assessment can be made regarding positive or negative weight gain. Veterinary care is needed if bloody stool or vomit is noted or if there is weight loss during the re feeding and recovery period.

Determining How Much to Feed

Nutritionists employ a number of methods and formulas to determine the average total caloric intake for dogs based upon the dog’s ideal body weight. Any estimate of “how much” to feed is inherently subjective and lots of variables will apply to each individual dog.

Some nutritionists rely on the (RER) Resting Energy Requirement to determine approximately how much food (actually how many calories) an average dog needs on a daily basis to maintain body weight. In spite of exceptions and variables, calculating the RER is sensible and useful.

The stress of recovery from a starvation state might demand a slightly higher caloric intake than estimated. When feeding the emaciated dog, the number of calories the dog should ideally consume during recovery from starvation should be approximately the same as what the dog would consume at its normal weight.

Every pet food or supplement label must list the calories per unit weight of the product. Plus, the percent fat and protein are listed. For some mysterious reason carbohydrates (CHO) percentages are not often listed and, if needed, must be calculated by deduction from the percentages of everything else listed on the label. Fortunately, in the starving dog’s recovery diet our main focus is on fat and protein intake so calculating the calories supplied by carbohydrates isn’t a priority.

It is suggested that dogs mildly to moderately underweight be provided with a diet moderately high in fat and protein. These diets should have adequate levels of carbohydrates but not predominantly carbohydrate. Try to feed products that show (for dry food) fat content of 18% and protein 28-30%. (Liquid supplements will list seemingly lower percentages for fat and protein because they typically are 60 to 70% moisture whereas dry pet foods have only 10% moisture.)

Suggested foods to use as a base upon which to build a recovery diet for the starved dog are displayed below. There are numerous others and be sure to check with your veterinarian about the use of any of these suggestions as recovery diets.

Dry Foods

Eukanuba® Puppy Weaning Diet Formula Crude Protein (Min) 32.0% Crude Fat (Min) 21.0%
Pro Plan Chicken/Rice Growth Formula Crude Protein (Min) 28.0% Crude Fat (Min) 18.0%

Canned Foods

Hills A/D Protein (Min) 44.0% Fat (Min) 32.0% (Dry Matter Basis)
Eukanuba Maximum Calorie 42.0% Fat (Min) 36.0% (Dry Matter Basis)

Liquid Supplements

Abbott CliniCare Canine
Waltham/Pedigree Concentration Instant Diet/Canine


The Missing Link… Has Omega fatty acids and a wide spectrum of other micronutrients
Pfizer Pet Tabs Plus… A standard vitamin and mineral supplement for dogs

Amino Acids

Any health food store will have a wide selection of all the important amino acids in powder form to mix in with the recovery diet.

Are you worried about your emaciated dog? Do you feel like you’re doing everything you can, but he’s still losing weight? You’re not alone! Many pet owners struggle with this issue, and there’s no one-size-fits-all answer. However, by following some helpful tips, you can help your dog regain his weight and maintain it. Here are a few of the most important tips:

Frequently Asked Questions

How can I help my emaciated dog gain weight?

The dog should be allowed to sleep, kept warm, and examined by a veterinarian as soon as you can. Some really malnourished dogs won’t live without medical attention, so don’t skip this step or wait and see! To aid the body in recovering more quickly, add 1-2 IU of vitamin E per pound of body weight.

How do you nourish an emaciated dog?

A little meal every six hours, or four times a day, is preferable to one or two larger meals for a malnourished dog. It’s crucial to take a multivitamin and mineral supplement with every meal. There is some evidence in favour of include glutamine in the recovery diet.

How do you bulk up an emaciated dog?

It is preferable for an anorexic dog to have four tiny meals throughout the day as opposed to one or two larger ones. At every meal, it’s crucial to take a multivitamin and mineral supplement. The use of the amino acid glutamine in the recovery diet is supported by some research.

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