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How to Help Your Underweight Pet

Help Your Underweight Pet Regain a Healthy Weight

By Madeleine Burry. October 16, 2012 | See Comments

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    PetCareRx Staff Veterinarian

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How to Help Your Underweight Pet

Underweight pets can suffer from health issues as easily as overweight pets can. Treat your underweight pet with these tips.

Regardless of the cause behind your pet’s weight loss or decreased appetite, it’s important to get your cat or dog eating again, since a lack of nutrients can have a long-term health impact. Here's what you can do.

Encourage Pets to Eat

It’s one thing for pets to be finicky eaters--particular about the brand of food they eat, or how it’s served. But if pets are losing weight, or just avoiding food entirely, tempting them to eat regularly with balanced food is important for their health.

  • Change Feeding Patterns: To help pets recover their appetite, try feeding them several meals a day. If your pet doesn’t have a history of struggling with weight gain or obesity, you could try the free food method, which allows pets to graze on food throughout the day. Rather than giving lots of treats, eliminate treats entirely, and provide food to pets after a walk (or after vigorous exercise play for cats).
  • Increase Calories: If you find that your pets do eat, but don’t seem to be ingesting enough calories, try switching brands. Food specifically made for young pets--puppy or kitten food--is one good option, since it’s higher calorie. 
  • Make Food Tempting: If you’ve got a finicky eater on your hands, you can mix in delicious temptations--fish oil or a bit of tuna fish is perfect for cats--or try warming up food. You can also try to make eating a special moment with a new bowl, or by feeding the pet with a troubled appetite separately from other pets.
  • Provide Supplements: Slip vitamins or supplements into your pet’s food, or give them to your cat or dog directly, to ensure that your pet is receiving sufficient nutrients. In very worrisome cases, try providing pets with pedialyte or another electrolyte solution to ward off dehydration.

One caution: With any changes to feeding, be careful that attempts to encourage pets to eat and gain back weight do not result in tipping the scale over to the reverse problem of obesity. Make dietary changes gradually, and ease up on fattening foods when pets get back to a normal weight.

Resolve the Underlying Issue

If your pet’s weight loss is a symptom of a disease, such as heart disease, cancer, or diabetes, treatment of the underlying cause may help bring back your pet’s appetite, or allow nutrients to be absorbed properly. Resolving dental problems, whether by pulling teeth or other dental surgery, can help quell the pain that prevents cats and dogs from eating. Parasites will often prevent pets from absorbing the nutritional content of their food; eliminating parasites will help solve that problem, and will generally help with any reluctance to eat.

Get a Diagnosis

Whatever the cause of your pet’s loss of weight, the impact can feel alarming, as formerly plump pets become skinny and lethargic. If you can’t tempt your pet to eat with special treats or warmed up food, and your pet continues to lose weight or eat less than usual, a visit to the vet is in order. Your veterinarian can help you figure out what’s causing the loss of weight or disinterest in food, whether it’s a disease, parasites, or a shock to your pet like moving homes or changing routines.

This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by, your veterinarian with respect to your pet. It has, however, been verified by a licensed veterinarian for accuracy.

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