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How to Care for a Malnourished Dog: What You Should Do

by Geoff Works |

It’s nothing new for adoptive pet parents to find canines suffering from malnourishment, especially in pet shelters. The condition is common among pooches, and dogs usually experience malnutrition because of underlying conditions. A malnourished dog needs a lot of TLC because they’re more prone to infections and bouts of depression. 

Be a compassionate pet owner and help these lovable dogs become happy again. Read on to discover how to help a malnourished dog gain weight and enjoy a better quality of life.

What is Malnourishment in Canines?

Malnutrition happens when a dog’s body suffers from nutrient deficiencies. Most homeless canines and puppies experience malnourishment since they don’t have access to quality food. As a result, they can become thin, weak, and unable to perform daily tasks. Due to their low energy, they can’t play and exercise, which are two things dogs love doing.

Canines that have lost 10% of their body weight are already considered malnourished. Dogs experiencing extreme undernourishment also have prominent hip and rib bones. Usually, it’s immune system becomes compromised due to poor nutrition. It could put them at risk of various health conditions, some of which could be life-threatening.

What Are the Causes of Malnutrition in Dogs?

  • Insufficient diet

One of the common causes of malnutrition is food insufficiency. Hence, it’s crucial to ensure that your dog is consuming enough food to maintain the proper weight. Pet food products indicate the right portion sizes to guide you in feeding your pet. However, take note that canines with slower metabolisms require less food while dogs with highly active lifestyles may require more.

  • Parasite infection

Parasites prevent the body from absorbing necessary nutrients. That’s why even if you feed your pet quality food, it’ll stay malnourished if they have a parasite infection. Should you notice that your dog has an expanded abdomen and experiences vomiting and diarrhea, communicate with your veterinarian immediately. These are signs of parasitic infections.

  • Poor diet

Dog nutrition should include food products rich in vitamins and minerals. If canines don’t get enough nutrients, then they will eventually experience malnutrition. Moreover, dehydration or lack of fluids can also cause malnourishment so it’s important to provide your dog with nutritious food and sufficient water.

  • Other health conditions

Underlying conditions can also cause dog malnutrition. These can range from tooth pain to intestinal tumors. In some cases, diabetic dogs also suffer from malnourishment because of abnormal weight loss and frequent urination.

What Are the Signs & Symptoms of Dog Malnutrition?

  • Noticeable weight loss

The most obvious sign of malnourishment is extreme weight loss. A canine or puppy that doesn’t absorb sufficient nutrients will likely become underweight, like any other animal. Should you notice your pet’s ribs and hip bones protruding, contact a veterinarian promptly to get the right treatment.

  • Depressive behavior

Depression is also a symptom of malnourishment. After all, a malnourished dog lacks energy due to an insufficient diet or other underlying conditions. They can’t play and exercise, preventing them from having fun. You’ll also notice them sleeping more than usual since they don’t have the energy to perform daily tasks.

  • Coat and skin issues

Coat and skin disorders are lesser known symptoms of dog malnourishment. Some malnourished canines may experience redness, irritation, wound infection, and hair loss. Canines experience these issues since they lack the vitamins and minerals needed for healthy skin and fur. As a result, your pooch may experience greater pain, discomfort, and irritation.

  • Bad breath

It’s normal for dogs to have that dog smell we’re all familiar with. But if they have a foul breath, it might be a sign of other health conditions. Bring your pet to a veterinarian to check for periodontal disease, which could cause loss of appetite. Like humans, dogs with cavities on their teeth find it difficult to chew and eat.

  • Digestive problems

Gastrointestinal disorders can also cause malnutrition since they prevent your dog from absorbing the necessary vitamins and minerals from the food they eat. For instance, animals with stomach ulcers could frequently experience vomiting, which could result in weight loss. Your dog may also suffer from a lack of appetite due to abdominal pain.

How Does a Veterinarian Diagnose Canine Malnutrition?

Immediately schedule a consultation with a board-certified veterinarian if you suspect that your dog has malnutrition. Take note of the symptoms that you observe and prepare your pet’s medical history for a more accurate diagnosis and effective treatment plan.

Your veterinarian will request tests such as complete blood count (CBC), urinalysis, and biochemical profile to evaluate your dog’s health. Also, the specialist may perform other procedures depending on the initial diagnosis. This way, he or she can present a tailored treatment plan for a speedy and healthy recovery.

What are the treatments for a malnourished dog?

  • Recovery diet

Sometimes, it’s difficult for pet parents to decide what to feed a malnourished dog. But veterinarians recommend feeding ¼ of the recommended portion size during the first weeks. This approach prevents refeeding syndrome, which can overwhelm a dog’s compromised immune system.

Provide your pet with food high in fat, protein, and minerals (like magnesium, potassium, and phosphates). During the recovery period, choose pet foods that are low in carbohydrates to prevent refeeding syndrome.

  • Supplements

Depending on the severity of your dog’s case, your veterinarian may recommend supplements for additional vitamins and minerals. Provide your dog with veterinarian-approved supplements to avoid aggravating your pet’s condition.

  • Deworming medications

If your veterinarian finds that a parasitic infection is the cause of your dog’s malnutrition, they may prescribe deworming medications to get rid of the parasites. Expect temporary side effects such as vomiting or lack of appetite. After eliminating the parasites, portion feed your pet with small amounts of food. 

  • Intensive care

In extreme cases, your dog may need esophageal feeding tubes (e-tubes) or gastric tubes (g-tubes) for nutritional support. A veterinarian will perform minor surgery to insert and remove the tubes. It’s important to provide moral support and care for your pet during these difficult times.

Early Detection is Key

Always observe your dog’s behavior and appearance so you can spot negative changes that may be signs of serious health conditions. Malnourishment, like other disorders, can be treated, especially when diagnosed early. Check out the LickSleeve blog for more information on canine and puppy health.



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