For most cats and dogs, getting to a healthy weight involves weight loss. But some pets need to gain weight to be at a healthy weight. For dogs and cats who are dangerously underweight, your first step should be to consult with a veterinarian. Refeeding syndrome can be a fatal condition that occurs with significantly underweight pets. However, for cats and dogs that need only a small amount of weight gain, small nutritional changes can often help you meet your goals.
To find out more cat and dog weight gain tips, we talked to Tryniti Thresher. As a store lead at the Mill Creek Mud Bay, Tryniti loves helping customers find nutritional solutions to their pet’s problems, particularly if their dogs or cats need some help maintaining a healthy weight.
MB: What are your recommendations if someone comes in with a dog or cat who has unexpected weight loss?
TT: No one in a Mud Bay store is a veterinarian, so we can’t make any diagnosis about the reason for weight loss. And weight loss can be indicative of significant health issues. You want to make sure that your dog or cat is healthy or you know the reason why they’re losing weight before we start talking about the nutrition aspect of weight loss.
This is particularly important if it’s at all possible that your pet has a blockage, has thyroid problems, or has diabetes. In the store, I’ll often start by asking customers: Have you seen your vet to rule out any medical issues?
And sometimes the cause of weight loss is a medical issue, but it’s already been diagnosed. Customers might want a specific food that coordinates with what their vet recommends as part of an overall treatment plan.
MB: Cats tend to become underweight more often than dogs. Do you have any tips for helping cat owners encourage weight gain?
TT: Absolutely! I had this problem with my cat when she switched to a meat-based wet food. Eliminating the carbohydrates in her food was biologically appropriate, but it becomes more difficult for her to maintain her weight.
Usually, when customers ask me about this problem, they’re having issues with older cats who can’t maintain weight. So, what works for most cats is finding a food with a high meat content that is also very calorically dense. An option I found, was to sprinkle Ziwi Peak on top of a cat’s food every day. It’s very calorically dense, and it’s 98-percent meat.
For me and most customers, adding a high-calorie topper works very well. It only took a couple of weeks before I started to see some improvement in my own cat. And although customers should expect that it will take some time for their cats to gain all the weight they need; my cat was able to gain the right amount of weight over several months. And you can tell that she feels great.
MB: Do you have any specific recommendations for dog weight gain?
TT: I would recommend a similar approach for dogs. It’s important before you start any type of feeding plan that you know the reason why they are underweight. The most common reason is the dog is particular about food. In that case, you need to find a food that he likes. We do lots of food sampling so you can try different foods from our stores to find the one that will increase his appetite.
Sometimes a dog is ill so that he won’t eat at all. There was a very sweet, very old dog named Ginger who used to come to the store. She was diagnosed with cancer, and she lost her appetite because of the chemotherapy she was undergoing.
And I was very concerned about this dog. So, I talked with her owner, and we tried to convince Ginger to eat by using tripe. Tripe is very pungent, and a lot of dogs tend to like it. It’s also a natural source of probiotics. And it worked—Ginger liked the freeze-dried beef tripe that Vital Essentials makes.
When she started eating tripe, Ginger’s owner started making tripe meatballs out of canned tripe, and she put other food inside of the tripe to create a more balanced diet.
Ginger visited the store after several months, and she looked like a completely different dog! When she first came into the store, she was so skinny, and she wouldn’t take any treats from me. And when she came back, she was willing to take treats and happy to eat them.
Ginger lived for another two years. For me, it was an incredibly rewarding experience that we helped Ginger and her owner get through this rough patch in their lives. And I have a deep fondness for smelly tripe because of that experience.
MB: Do you have any tips for those dogs or cats that are just a little reluctant to eat full meals?
TT: Persistence is key to getting any animal to consider a new food. So, I suggest trying the food three times. And if the animal won’t touch the food, I suggest waiting a week and then trying again.
For example, if you’re trying a new wet food, and you want your cat or dog to eat this specific wet food, I suggest serving it straight out of the can first and letting it sit there for ten minutes. If she walks away from it at first, don’t give in. My cat will often do that. She’ll look at it and walk away to see if I’ll give her anything else. Then, after 10 minutes, when no new food appears, she’ll come back and eat it.
If your animal doesn’t eat after 10 minutes, I suggest picking it up and adding some hot water straight out of the tap to the bowl. You don’t want to microwave the food because then you’re cooking it. And cooking pet food can change the smell and the texture. But by adding a little bit of hot water, you can make the wet food smell more and get the aroma to lure your pet to the food. And that will work for a lot of animals who wouldn’t consider the food straight out of the can.
But if that doesn’t work, you can try a meal topper. If you already have a treat that your dog or cat loves, that’s perfect. You can crumble a favorite treat over the food, and your pet may get so excited that she’ll eat the whole thing. My cat loves those Orijen freeze-dried chicken treats, so she’ll eat the whole bowl if something is sprinkled on top.
Also, if you’re trying to help your dog or cat gain weight, don’t make the mistake of taking exercise off the table. Exercise enriches our pets’ lives, and it has a lot of health benefits. So maybe try adding a bit more food or treats during heavy exercise days, but trust that the exercise also has significant benefits.
Store Lead Tryniti Thresher is happy to talk about pet weight loss or weight gain with any customers who visit Mill Creek. When she’s not at work, she’s hanging out with her miniature schnauzer and Yorkshire terrier mix (she calls her a Schnorkie!) Suki and her cat, Yumi.