Caring for an emaciated dog



ledpup, CC-BY-SA 2.0

ledpup, CC-BY-SA 2.0

Emaciation. A troubling health concern for both people and pets.

Emaciation becomes especially disturbing when it develops in pets that have otherwise been maintaining a healthy weight. Sudden loss of weight would indicate an immediate need for medical attention.

The causes of emaciation in our pets are many and varied. While finding the cause of a pet’s sudden lack of weight would help in determining the necessary steps to take that will help to literally cushion the problem, knowing how to put the weight back on a dog that is a little too bony will relieve pet owners of a worrying burden. A dog that is starving will need added attention from its owner that not only gives it help, but may save its life.

Symptoms of emaciation

Emaciation is defined as the loss of subcutaneous fat or adipose tissue. If too much of it is lost and the animal’s ribs and pelvic bone are easily visible to the eye, the dog is getting a little too skinny and emaciated.

Causes of emaciation in pets

The causes of emaciation in pets are varied and will always require veterinary advice. However, when a dog becomes emaciated, it is definitely serious and will require immediate care and attention.


One of the greatest causes of emaciation in pets is a lack of nutrition. At times, it is the result of the neglect of owners in feeding their pets.

More often, it is the lack of a proper balance of nutrients. A dog may have excess calcium in its diet that causes its bones to grow too fast, particularly if the plates of its bones have not fused, making him emaciated.


The onset of illness may cause a dog to ignore its food and become emaciated.

Kidney failure discovered in its late stages would mean that a dog, aside from having pale gums, is suffering from gradual loss of muscle mass. Apart from experiencing vomiting, fatigue and lethargy, it could suffer from emaciation as well.

The symptoms of Addison’s disease also include vomiting and the dog ignoring its food. When such symptoms are noted, do pay an immediate visit to the vet.


Worms and other parasites in the digestive tract will eat what the dog is consuming and rob it of the nutrition it needs. That, of course, will cause a dog to become weaker and less fleshy than usual.

Caring for an emaciated dog

If you have rescued or adopted a dog from an animal shelter and it appears emaciated, there are a few steps that can be taken to ensure its proper care.

Create a chart that records the progress of its health.

A chart which records the dogs weight will be extremely helpful for owners to keep track of a dog’s weight and other aspects of its health, especially if it is ill. Include columns for recording its weight,its temperature, amount of food administered and any medication that has been administered. Include an estimated normal weight on the chart

Record its temperature and weight.

Make it a point to do this daily as a record of the dog’s progress towards its normal weight.The dog should be moving towards its expected normal body weight. A record of its temperature will enable owners to determine if their dogs are ill.

Give it a physical exam.

If a newly rescued dog has been welcomed into the home, a thorough physical exam is in order. Feel all areas of its abdomen. Stand or kneel at the dog’s hip and, while facing forward, place the fingers of the left hand along the left side of the dog’s abdomen. Then, pass the right hand under the belly. Finally place the fingers of the right hand opposite to the left fingers. Gently bring the hands together, probing and pushing various areas along the abdomen to reveal important information.

If the dog does not wince or reflect any pain during this process, it probably does not suffer from any digestive worms or illnesses that strike the abdomen.

Check its gums regularly.

If the gums are pale, they would be indicative of illness. They should be turning a healthy color as the dog returns to its normal weight.

Observe the dog’s ability to drink.

Non interest in drinking would indicate a high possibility of illness and dehydration. Pinch a fold of the dog’s skin to see how hydrated it is. In a hydrated dog, the fold of skin should snap back immediately. In an emaciated, dehydrated dog, the skin will show poor elasticity and take a longer time to return to place.

Pay a visit to the vet to get the dog hydrated as soon as possible.

Gradually, the dog’s body will mobilize the reserves of glucose stored in its liver.

Putting on weight on an emaciated dog

Renourishing an emaciated dog will take time, a little patience and a few supplemental boosts to its diet.

Feed it small meals throughout the day.

Switch your dog’s diet to high quality puppy food or a growth formula to stimulate an increase of muscle mass. Feed it to the dog at roughly 6 hours apart.

Augment the food.

Add healthy foods to the puppy food to encourage weight gain. Supplementing the food with rice or pasta will augment the complex carbohydrates needed. Sauces for dogs, available at some pet food stores, may help to make the food more palatable.

Determine its calorie needs

Dogs will have a Resting Energy Requirement. Do this by weighing the dog. A small dog of about 10 pounds requires about 450 calories. Its medium sized counterpart of about 45 to 70 pounds will need about 1200 calories while big dogs over 70 pounds will need to take in about 1800 calories a day. ‘

An emaciated dog needs a little assurance and motivation to start eating. With a little time and patience, it should develop more muscle mass daily and start getting back on its feet. What is important is a little tender loving care!

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