Obesity is an epidemic in pet dogs and cats, but there are pets who need to gain weight, usually due to a medical problem. So is your “skinny” pup really skinny, or are we just not used to what “normal” looks like? Here are some ideas I offered to a dog owner writing about her new puppy’s weight and diet.
Q: My new puppy is 5 months old and a little on the skinny side. Can you give me some tips on fattening her up? Should I cook for her or just feed her more of her regular food?
A: I’m betting that your puppy isn’t too skinny but instead is just right. When we picture puppies in our minds, the image is usually of a roly-poly fuzzball, but when it comes to growing puppies, being on the thin side is better. Puppies need to grow slowly and steadily. Putting on too much weight too quickly stresses their still-developing bones and joints and can lead to orthopedic problems such as hip dysplasia later in life.
A good rule to live by is “Watch the dog; don’t watch the bowl.” In other words, how the dog looks should tell you whether you’re feeding the right amount. A healthy puppy in good shape looks muscular but not fat.
To gauge your puppy’s overall condition, give him an “eye exam” followed by a hands-on test. Eye your pup from above; he should have a visible waistline when you look down at him. Then put your hands on him, thumbs along the spine and fingers spread downward. You should be able to feel but not see his ribs. If you can see his ribs, feed more.
I’m a big fan of feeding puppies with puzzle toys instead of bowls. Having to put forth some effort for their food keeps dogs from eating too much or too quickly. Put your dog’s normal amount of food in it and let him push, roll or manipulate it in other ways to get the food to fall out. Keep several and rotate them to keep your pup interested and challenge his brain and body.
Read more in Pet Connection, the weekly nationally syndicated pet feature I co-write with Kim Campbell Thornton and my daughter, trainer Mikkel Becker.