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How to Fatten Up an Old Dog: A Hearty Guide to Senior Pooch Plumping

Photo of Tamsin De La Harpe

Written by Tamsin De La Harpe

how to fatten up an old dog

Navigating how to fatten up an old dog is a task that requires care, patience, and a sprinkle of love. When your dog hits the old age mark, they might start to look a bit more like a skinny legend than you’d want. It’s not just about giving those puppy eyes more treats; it’s about ensuring they’re packing on pounds in the healthiest of ways.

Helping your faithful companion gain a bit of weight as they step into their golden years isn’t rocket science, but it does need you to play detective and chef rolled into one. Detective because you’ve got to figure out what’s stopping your dog from maintaining a healthy weight. And chef because these old puppers need some pretty impressive recipes to encourage them to eat. 

Could it be dental problems making dinner time as appealing as math? Or maybe their metabolism is slowing down, just like Uncle Bob after a big Thanksgiving meal. Once you get to the bottom of it, you can whip up a meal plan that’s more tempting than a belly rub. With my own certification in canine nutrition and practice, I have often had to help a senior dog gain weigh. However, we also asked Dr. Dorothy P. Lafflame, DVM, PhD, DACVN, who specializes in older pet nutrition, for all your calorie-burning questions to help with your pup’s weight journey. 

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Weight loss is inevitable when canines age, as we observed in our article on weight loss in senior dogs. Remember, fattening up your dog isn’t about transforming them into a furry bowling ball (obesity causes its own set of health issues). It’s about bringing them back to a weight that’s just right for their breed and size. 

It’s about those extra calories meeting the right nutrients to ensure your old buddy stays as happy and healthy as a puppy chasing its tail. Keep it tasty, keep it balanced, and you’ll have your dog wagging their tail with a bit more oomph in no time.

Remember, before making any dietary changes, chat with your vet. Your dog’s health is the top priority, and a professional can steer the process in the right direction. Keep the eating fun, like a game, and watch your furry buddy thrive!

But before we get into bulking strategies, let’s look at why these gray pups get skinny in the first place:

Why Do Old Dogs Lose Weight?

a woman holding food to a thin older dog to help them fatten up

Ever noticed your old furry buddy doesn’t fill out their collar like they used to? It’s not just because they’re not “working out” at the dog park as much. As dogs age, they go through changes, kinda like their humans, that can lead to weight loss.

They’re Losing Muscle Mass

First off, muscles aren’t just for show — and your senior pooch’s ability to strut their stuff depends on them. But their body might be slacking a bit at using proteins to build those muscles (old dogs have an issue with protein synthesis). This means a pinch more protein in their diet can help, as long as their kidneys and liver give the thumbs-up.

This muscle loss and reduced synthesis is why our consultant vet expert, Dr. Lafflame says aged dogs have an increased need for dietary protein, suggesting a minimum of 25% protein intake. We recommend even higher protein percentages (30 to 45%) as long as your dog has no kidney or liver issues. Kidney problems may force you to pick a lower protein diet.

Loss of Sensitivity to the Hormone for Hunger, Ghrelin

Now, remember the last time you had a cold and food tasted like cardboard? Dogs can have a similar vibe when they age — they might lose their sense of smell and taste by being less receptive to ghrelin.

Appetite studies show that this hormone controls feeding habits in dogs. Insensitivity to it is basically like a dinner bell that doesn’t ring, resulting in less interest in food and sometimes skinnier waistlines.

Health Hurdles

Things like dental issues can make eating harder. Plus, heart problems or other internal system slowdowns can mean weight drops off, even when they’re chowing down the same amount. Others, like arthritis and hip dysplasia, cause the dog pain. And, of course, it’s not easy to eat when you’re in pain.

If your old dog loses a lot of weight suddenly, it’s time to see a vet immediately. It could be due to something called cachexia, which happens when dogs have serious diseases like heart failure (or other organs like the liver) or cancer. Rapid weight loss is often an emergency red flag in dogs.

Reduced Digestion

Older dogs may be more prone to digestive issues, such as malabsorption or inflammatory bowel disease. These conditions can affect nutrient absorption and lead to weight loss despite eating a regular amount of food.

So, what’s a pet parent to do? Keep an eye on your dog’s weight and food habits. And remember, you’re not the only one trying to figure all these out. But what can you do about it?

10 Ways To Fatten Up Your Senior Pup

how to fatten up senior dogs

When it comes to plumping up your old pupper, it’s not as simple as giving extra treats; it’s about the balanced, nutritious chow and proper health checks. 

Let’s get into the nitty-gritty of how you can fatten your dog:

1. Understand Senior Dog Nutritional Needs

Let’s chew on the basics of a senior dog diet. Unlike the young whippersnappers, older dogs need fewer calories but the same, if not higher, nutritional content. Here are the essentials you should look for in your dog’s food:

  • A lot More Calories!

If your gray pup is leaning on the skinnier side, the best thing you can do is feed a high-calorie diet. You’re looking at food with over 400 kilocalories per cup if your canine is losing mass drastically. 

  • They Need That Protein (30 to 45%)

As canines age their protein requirements increase dramatically. In fact, protein is shown to be the most important nutrient for senior dogs. It helps rebuild the lost muscle mass, which is crucial because some dogs lose so much muscle they can’t walk.

Note that aged canines don’t have an issue with protein digestion, only protein synthesis. This is why they need more protein (30 to 45%) to compensate for all that won’t be absorbed. However, dogs with kidney and liver issues need less protein, so get your vet to check your dog. 

  • Fat for Skinny Dogs (20%)

Yep, good fats are still needed, but in moderation to avoid packing on unhealthy weight. Omega-3 fatty acids in fish oils like EPA and DHA (bonus: has been proven to help with brain function) have anti-inflammatory qualities. Omega 6 is in chicken oil and vegetable oil like safflower and sunflower oil.

 Keep fats at around 15 to 20% of the food. Purified MCT oil (not to be confused with MCT oil) can also help in very small quantities (dogs don’t like it and it can cause diarrhea if you give too much). 

However, be careful of giving your dog too much fat. Too much fat is associated with dangerous health issues such  as pancreatitis or even bloat. If your dog has a history of issues like pancreatitis will also need a low-fat diet.

  • Don’t Forget the Carbs (45%)

 With the rise of trends like “grain-free diets” and raw foods, carbs have been demonized. However, carbs are paramount to your skinny pooch’s health. Around 50 to 80% of daily caloric intake in dogs is for energy alone. So, if most of the energy comes from carbs, your canine will be able to use the protein and fat for weight gain. 

  • Vitamins (B)

You remember that older pups don’t synthesize protein too well? Well, B vitamins can help with that since they’re involved in the process. Additionally, vitamins in general, help with coat and cognitive health, and in biochemical processes.  It’s usually safe to give your dog extra vitamin B supplements because they are water soluble and your dog will just pee out the excess.

2. Assess Current Health and Weight

You’ve got to play detective with your doggo’s current health status. Grab a notebook and jot down your pup’s weight — it’s time to compare it to the ideal weight range for their breed. If they’re underweight, you’ll need to figure out why. Is it just a picky appetite or something more complex? Here’s a chart to help you track it:

MM/DD/YYYYXX lbsObservations
MM/DD/YYYYXX lbsChanges/Concerns

3. Increase the Number of Meals

hands holding out food to an old dog to help them fatten up and gain weight

Increasing the number of meals you feed your senior buddy can help. Instead of two meals a day, consider offering smaller, more frequent meals. Start with three to four meals daily and monitor their weight progress. 

This will help your pup not get overwhelmed by the food, and as a bonus, it prevents bloat risk in bigger dogs. However, contradicting but inadequate studies do exist that claim that once-a-day feeding is more helpful in digestive and cognitive health. The best approach is how you know your dog best.

4. Enticing Scent & Texture

Dogs love food that smells scrumptious and has an interesting texture. Play around with different types of food to see what gets your dog’s nose twitching and taste buds dancing. 

Remember that these dogs are less sensitive to ghrelin (the hormone that makes them feel hungry), so they have to be convinced by enticing food. You can do this by adding sodium-free broth, sugar-free yogurt or kefir, eggs, poultry and healthy fresh fish for those omega-3 fatty acids.

5. Warming Food Up

Let’s heat things up a bit! Warm food is more aromatic and can arouse your dog’s appetite. A brief zapping in the microwave might just do the trick. Always check the temperature to make sure it’s just warm, not hot.

6. Switching to Wet or Balanced Raw Food

Sometimes, the allure of wet food or balanced raw diets can be the change your dog craves. Wet food is often more flavorful and easier to eat — plus, the extra moisture is good for hydration.

7. Exercise Your Aging Dog

Incorporating certain types of exercises can help build muscle mass and stimulate appetite, which may indirectly contribute to weight gain. However, remember to balance exercise with calorie intake so that your dog doesn’t keep losing mass. 

8. Supplements That Can Help

If you think your dog’s kibble could use a boost, consider these supplements:

  • Green-lipped mussel extract: Packed with omega-3 fatty acids for joint health and a shiny coat. Just be sure to check that you supplements that are guaranteed not be rancid by the time they reach your dog.
  • Glucosamine and Chondroitin: These joint-supporting supplements can be a godsend for arthritic seniors.
  • Probiotics: For maintaining a healthy gut, especially if your dog is on antibiotics.
  • Antioxidants: Antioxidant supplements containing vitamins like A, C, and E can support the immune system. 
  • Multivitamins: Senior-specific multivitamin supplements can help fill nutritional gaps.
  • Taurine: Your vet can instruct yo on this supplement that helps with heart and immune health.

Remember, before adding any supplements to your dog’s diet, having a chat with your vet is always a smart move!

9. The Importance of Veterinary Advice

Before you start switching up Rover’s diet, hold your horses! It’s best to talk to a vet. They’re like the nutritionist superheroes for pets. They can guide you on suitable diets, supplements, and how to transition to new food without causing an upset tummy. They will also tell you if medical issues are behind the weight loss. 

10. Regular Check-Ups and Weigh-Ins (Monitoring Progress)

Make it a date! Every two weeks, grab a scale and note your dog’s weight. Jot it down in a notebook or use a snazzy app.

  • First Weigh-In: Note baseline weight.
  • Follow-Up Weigh-Ins: Compare against baseline.

Watching the scale’s story will tell you if you’re on the path to pooch plumpness or if you’re dealing with a stubborn scale.

Why is it Important to Help Your Old Dog Gain Weight?

old dog Cavalier King Charles Spaniel fat but losing weight from underlying heart issues

When your furry senior companion starts looking a bit more like a noodle than a meatball, it’s time to consider beefing them up — literally. Now, why should you worry about a slender senior doggo? Maintaining a healthy weight isn’t just about looks; it’s crucial for their well-being. Especially for old pals battling serious health issues like a wonky liver or the big “C” (cancer), every extra pound can be a small victory in their fight. 

Dr. Linda Case says in her book on canine nutrition, that dogs who have serious health issues like cancer or heart failure, have better outcomes and live longer if you can keep their body weight up.

Your dog needs a bit of extra “fluff” to keep their strength up and fight off health issues. Plus, that added weight acts as a cushion for their body, making them more comfortable during treatments. This is similar to why it’s important to fatten up runts or smaller puppies.

So, while you’re thinking “my dog should be fit, not fat,” remember that a little extra padding isn’t about spoiling them with treats. It’s about giving your old-timer the backup energy and comfy cushion they need to live their best life. Keeping them at a healthy weight helps ensure they stay the happy, tail-wagging friend you’ve come to love for as long as possible. Keep it up, champ!

Choosing The Right Food For Your Senior Dog

Selecting the ideal food is critical for your aging dog’s health and waistline. You might find the options baffling, but with a bit of know-how, you’ll be the expert on the dog food aisle.

Senior Dog Food Options

When it comes to your senior dog’s diet, think easy-to-digest and nutrient-rich. Brands often market senior dog food with a balance of proteins, fats, and fibers suited for older dogs.

Look for foods that list quality protein sources like chicken, lamb, or fish among the first ingredients. You also want lower-calorie options because older dogs tend to be less active and need fewer calories. Here are the top picks you should consider:

  • High-quality commercial senior dog food: Specially formulated with the right balance of nutrients.
  • Homemade diets: Tailored to your dog’s specific needs but require veterinary guidance to ensure balanced nutrition.
  • Prescription diets: May be necessary for seniors with health issues like kidney or heart disease.

Wet Food Vs. Dry Food: Pros and Cons

Choosing between wet food and dry food? Here’s the scoop on both:

  • Wet Food:
    • Pros: High moisture content, can be more appetizing, easier to eat for dogs with dental issues.
    • Cons: More expensive, can spoil faster, might contribute to dental plaque if not managed.
  • Dry Food:
    • Pros: Cost-effective, convenient to store, helps clean teeth with its crunchy texture.
    • Cons: Lower in moisture, some dogs might find it less appealing, not ideal for those with certain health issues.

Caring for Your Old Dog’s Overall Well-Being

When your furball starts getting a bit more… well, furry and slow, it’s time to focus on what makes their tail wag in their golden years.

Hydration and Its Role in Health

Water is the secret sauce for your old pal’s health. Make sure their water bowl is always brimming with fresh water because staying hydrated helps maintain kidney function and aids digestion, which is super helpful when you’re trying to get them to gain a little weight.

Comfort Measures at Home

Your dog’s bed is their throne. As they age, their joints might be feeling a bit creaky, like an old door hinge. Invest in an orthopedic dog bed to cushion those precious paws and achy joints. 

Also, keep their living space warm because older dogs can get chilly as their internal furnace isn’t what it used to be. A warm blanket can make a big difference.

Emotional Health and Quality of Life

Old dogs can teach us new tricks about taking it easy. Your senior dog’s emotional health is also key to their quality of life. Stay engaged with daily cuddles, gentle play, and regular, short walks to keep their spirits high. 

And don’t forget, nothing says ‘I love you’ to your canine companion like a good, soothing belly rub. Emphasize routine because your wise woofer probably loves predictability in their older age. It’s the little things that count, so keep their tail wagging with the simple joys of life.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Caring for an old furry friend involves knowing the right foods and strategies to keep them healthy and at a proper weight. This section tackles some of the common curiosities you might have when trying to beef up your senior dog.

What are the best high-calorie foods to help an old pooch pack on the pounds?

To help your senior dog gain weight, consider adding more proteins like boiled chicken or lean beef, as well as complex carbohydrates such as sweet potatoes to their diet. These foods are not only high in calories but also are nutritious and easier for your old pal to digest.

Can you suggest a good senior dog diet to help your dog feel full and plump?

Absolutely! A diet rich in fiber and with an appropriate balance of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates can keep Fido feeling satiated and energetic. Look for senior dog food formulas designed for weight gain and consult your vet to make sure it’s a fit for your dog’s specific needs.

What are some tasty human snacks that are safe to slip to my skinny canine to help them bulk up?

Certain human snacks are safe and can help your dog gain weight, like plain, boiled chicken, pumpkin, carrots, or rice. Just remember to avoid toxic foods like chocolate and garlic, and keep treats to less than 10% of their daily intake — because you’re aiming for pudgy, not pudgiest.

What could be causing my wise old dog to drop weight even though they’re eating a lot?

Weight loss in senior dogs, despite a good appetite, could be due to health issues like dental problems, diabetes, or even parasites. A trip to the vet is needed to rule out these conditions and figure out a safe weight gain plan.

My Dog’s Spine is Showing. How do I help them get back to a healthy weight?

Boosting their calorie intake with healthy, vet-approved snacks between meals can help. Also, consider feeding smaller, more frequent meals to help increase absorption and digestion. Aim for that rounder look, where the backbones don’t take center stage.

How Do I Help My Elderly Dog Gain Weight?

Try upping the diet with a bit more protein and fat in their diet under your vet’s guidance. This might mean more wet food or adding in some dog-safe oils like flaxseed to their kibble. Remember, we want Casper to look less like a ghost and more like a well-stuffed pillow.

Final Thoughts

When you set out to plump up your seasoned pup, remember it’s not just about more food — it’s about the right food. Trade up those table scraps for high-quality nutrition that’s easier on older stomachs and packed with more goodies per bite.

Cherish this time with your dog, and have fun helping them get their bounce back. Remember, a little more padding can be good, as long as you aim for healthy, not hefty! Keep wagging along!


Meet Your Experts

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Tamsin De La Harpe


Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions. Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.

Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions. Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.