How to Put Weight on a Dog: Top 5 Foods for Healthy Weight Gain

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The Can Dogs Eat It Team

How to Put Weight on a Dog: Top 5 Foods for Healthy Weight Gain
Reading Time: 8 minutes

joana garridoReviewed By Joana Garrido DVM

A dog that is underweight is just as debilitating if not worse than being obese. A 2023 study shows that underweight canines at any life stage have a significantly lower life expectancy compared to dogs with an ideal body weight as well as overweight and obese dogs.

When dogs are sick or injured, they lose muscle (cachexia). This happens in dogs with illnesses like cancer, heart or kidney disease. Aging dogs naturally have less muscle (sarcopenia) compared to younger dogs. Muscle loss affects their strength, immune system, and recovery from illness or injury. Inflammation from illness or aging plays a big role in muscle loss, regardless of their appetite.

Helping emaciated pooches get back to their normal body weight largely involves feeding the right food. Here are our top 5 picks of weight-gainer human foods for underweight dogs.

5 foods that help with weight gain for dogs infographic

1. Red Meats

red meats

Red meat is sourced from nonfowl mammals such as beef, lamb, and pork. Like white meat, it provides high-quality proteins crucial for muscle building in underweight dogs.

However, red meat has a higher fat content, which serves as fuel for the muscles and provides energy for movement.

Red meat also contains more concentrations of certain nutrients like B vitamins, iron, and zinc, which help malnourished dogs regain optimal health.

When choosing red meats for skinny dogs, here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Choose red meats with less fatty cuts such as tenderloin. Although fats are essential for weight gain, they can cause pancreatitis when consumed in excessive amounts.
    It is also a good idea to source red meats from gamey animals such as boar, venison, and bison since they tend to be leaner.
  • Avoid conventional meats since they are frequently exposed to harmful chemicals such as antibiotics. They can compromise the fragile health of underweight dogs.
    Look for grass-fed or organic meat instead. Check the product and make sure they have the American Grassfed Approved label or USDA organic seal to ensure they are of high quality.
  • Feed Fido fresh red meat. Avoid the processed variety because they are often heavily seasoned with sodium and other additives. Moreover, they are carcinogenic by nature.

2. Sardines


Sardines are a protein powerhouse for underweight dogs. A ¼ cup serving of these small fish provides 13 grams of high-quality protein.

They are rich in calcium and healthy omega-3 fatty acids, which are good for maintaining strong bones and well-lubricated joints.

Unlike large fish such as salmon and tuna, sardines do not accumulate high levels of water pollutants like mercury and lead. Thus, heavy metal poisoning is the least of your concerns.

As much as possible, feed your dog fresh sardines to get the most out of their nutrients. Canned sardines are an acceptable alternative once in a while. But avoid ones that are soaked in brine since they contain too much sodium.

3. Cottage Cheese

cottage cheese

Cottage cheese is a great weight-gainer treat for skinny dogs. A half cup of full-fat plain cottage cheese contains 4.5 grams of fat and 12 grams of protein.

For added health support, choose cottage cheese with probiotics since they help combat imbalances in the gut microbiome of underweight dogs caused by certain factors like stress and malnutrition.

As evidenced in a 2021 study, supplementation of probiotic cheese reduced harmful bacteria load and increased beneficial microbiome in the intestine of dogs.

Cottage cheese containing prebiotics will have the label “live cultures” on its packaging. Make sure that it also states the type of cultured bacteria it has such as L. bulgaricus and L. acidophilus.

Since cottage cheese is usually high in sodium, use it as a high-value dog treat. Only dish it out in small amounts every time your furry pal does an excellent job carrying out a task or command.

4. Sunflower Seeds

sunflower seeds

Sprinkling crushed sunflower seeds on your dog’s food or using it in homemade dog treats will help him bulk up in weight.

¼ cup of unsalted dry roasted sunflower seeds has over 5 grams of protein and 19 grams of fat. It also contains 7 grams of carbohydrates.

Dog owners should note that carbs are not inherently bad for canines, particularly if they are complex carbohydrates. These types of carbs are commonly found in fresh foods, including sunflower seeds. They are slowly broken down in the body, providing underweight dogs with longer-lasting energy.

Sunflower seeds are abundant in immune system-boosting flavonoids like kaempferol and quercetin. They are also packed with a variety of nutrients such as folate, magnesium, niacin, potassium, and zinc.

According to research, sunflower seeds have varying levels of the heavy metals cadmium and nickel. To avert risks of toxicity, do not let underweight dogs overindulge in consuming sunflower seeds.

5. Peanut Butter

peanut butter

Peanut butter is every dog’s favorite treat. It makes a wonderful natural appetite stimulant and a weight gainer for underweight dogs that are picky eaters.

2 tablespoons of peanut butter offers 7 grams of protein, 8 grams of carbohydrates, and 16 grams of fat.

Although peanut butter works great as a wet and dry food topper, avoid overfeeding it to underweight dogs. Its high-fat content can cause GI distress such as vomiting and diarrhea, which may turn life-threatening if not addressed quickly.

For safety reasons, stick to all-natural, unsweetened peanut butter. Beware that some sugar-free varieties may contain xylitol, which is an artificial sweetener highly toxic to dogs.

Always do your due diligence to check the ingredients list to make sure that the product is xylitol-free.

We suggest consulting your veterinarian or a certified vet nutritionist before making changes to an underweight dog’s diet. It is important to rule out any systemic condition as the cause of cachexia.

While all of the foods listed promote weight gain, adding them to your dog’s meals without an expert’s help can lead to nutritional imbalances.

Additional Tips to Help Your Dog Gain Weight Safely

weight on a dog 5

Here are other tried and tested methods on how to put weight on dogs:

1. Switch to High-Protein and High-Fat Dog Food.

In most cases, underweight dogs will need more protein and fats to achieve their ideal body weight. Here are some helpful guidelines to refer to when looking for dog food that fits their needs:

  • Pet foods marketed toward highly active canines and working dogs are a good option for them. In kibble form, these products consist of around 28 to 30% protein and 18 to 20% fats.
  • On the other hand, wet food varieties have lower percentages of protein and fat due to their high moisture content. They typically contain about 7% protein and 5% fat.
  • High-quality protein and fat-rich dog foods should use whole meats as their main source of protein such as beef, chicken, or salmon. These ingredients must be listed on the first top rows of the ingredients list.
  • Primary sources of fats must come from animal or plant fats such as pork fat, flaxseed oil, or salmon oil. They should be specified on the ingredients list. Avoid products that contain vague ingredients like vegetable oil or poultry fat.

Transitioning an underweight dog to a different diet is not a decision to be taken lightly. Discuss your plan thoroughly with the vet to be sure that it is a safe choice for your canine companion.

2. Feed Small Frequent Meals.

Offer underweight dogs 3 to 4 smaller meals daily instead of allowing them to gorge on one large meal.

This feeding method helps their digestive enzymes to break down food more efficiently. As a result, they absorb and metabolize nutrients from their meals better without overloading their digestive system.

3. Do Not Skip Regular Exercise.

It might make sense to keep your dog from exercising if he is underweight. After all, exercise is usually done to lose weight. However, withholding this activity is a bad idea.

Allowing dogs to gain weight without exercise will make them accumulate undesirable belly fat. On the opposite side of the spectrum, some canines develop muscle wasting.

Keeping your furry pal active promotes sturdy muscle mass, which adds more bulk to his weight.

Choose less intensive exercise activities to avoid putting too much strain on his body. These include short 30-minute walks, hide-and-seek, fetch, and swimming.

4. Assessing Body Condition Score (BCS) and Weekly Weigh-Ins

To assist in maintaining an appropriate weight for your dog, it is recommended to assess the Body Condition Score (BCS). A body condition score of 4 or 5 on a 9-point scale indicates a healthy body fat percentage.

Weekly weigh-ins are essential for successful weight management as they provide insights into the effectiveness of weight gain strategies. Avoid daily weigh-ins as notable changes may be difficult to observe. For small- to medium-breed dogs, a regular weighing scale at home is sufficient, but for larger dogs, setting up weekly weigh-in appointments at the vet clinic may be necessary.

5. Have Your Notes Ready.

Keep a journal with you where you can write down a detailed breakdown of the foods your dog has eaten in a day. Ideally, it should include the calorie count and portion size of each meal and dog treat.

Also, list down the length and type of exercise he gets daily as well as his weekly weigh-ins. Noting all these important information makes it easier for you to check why your dog is consistently gaining weight or why he isn’t.

Providing these details to the vet saves them time in tracing the potential causes of these results.

If your dog fails to gain weight despite your efforts, it is a symptom of more serious medical conditions. Have him properly diagnosed by the vet to resolve the root cause of his abnormal weight loss.

FAQs About How to Put Weight on a Dog

1. How Do I Get My Dog to Gain Weight Fast?

Incorporating human foods that are loaded with high-quality proteins and fats into your dog’s diet can help him gain weight fast.

You may also want to check with the vet if your dog can benefit from a high-protein and high-fat dog food diet.

Be sure to provide him with daily exercise so that he builds muscle mass, not tummy fat. Most importantly, do not forget to take note of his progress so you will know how close he is to achieving his goal.

2. How Many Times a Day Should a Dog Eat to Gain Weight?

A dog should eat 3 to 4 times a day to gain weight. Splitting your furry pal’s meals into smaller portions makes it easier for his stomach to break down food and metabolize nutrients efficiently.

3. How Do You Feed an Underweight Dog?

Underweight dogs with good appetites need minimal encouragement to consume their food. However, for picky eaters, you will need to add aromatic dog food toppers such as peanut butter to get them to eat.

Heating their food or mixing a small amount of warm water to their meals also does the work. Either of these methods greatly increases the palatability of their food.

4. How Many Days Does It Take for a Dog to Gain Weight?

It will take around 6 weeks for a dog to gain noticeable weight. However, for severely emaciated dogs, they will need months of proper diet and exercise regimen to reach their ideal body weight.

Helping your dog gain weight is a painstaking task. However, if you do things correctly, the outcome will greatly improve his quality of life.


a dog getting fed

Being underweight can cut down the lifespan of your canine companion. To increase his chances of living longer, dietary changes need to be made.

Adding human foods containing high-quality fats and proteins to his meals will help him achieve his ideal body weight. This should be done along with other weight management strategies for better results.

Learn how to make weight-gainer treats for underweight pooches with the help of our article, “Satin Balls for Dogs: Benefits, Serving Size, and Recipe.”