This Dog Is So Skinny & Was Forced To Breed. What Should You Feed an Emaciated Dog?

If you work in a dog rescue or shelter, you may encounter a dog that is severely underweight and malnourished. This is a heartbreaking situation, but also a delicate one that requires careful intervention. Feeding an emaciated dog is not as simple as giving them as much food as they want. In fact, overfeeding a starved dog can be fatal. In this article, we will explain the causes and consequences of starvation in dogs, and how to safely and gradually restore their health and weight.

What Causes Starvation in Dogs?

Emaciated Dog
Greta the Boxer mix is filthy and emaciated.

Starvation in dogs can be caused by various factors, such as:

  • Neglect or abuse by owners
  • Abandonment or homelessness
  • Illness or injury that prevents them from eating or absorbing nutrients
  • Parasites or infections that deplete their resources
  • Dental problems that make chewing painful or difficult
  • Stress or anxiety that suppresses their appetite
  • Competition or bullying by other dogs that limits their access to food
emaciated dog
Greta the Boxer mix is filthy and emaciated.

Whatever the cause, starvation has serious effects on a dog’s body and mind. It can lead to organ failure, immune system dysfunction, muscle atrophy, dehydration, electrolyte imbalance, hypothermia, anemia, and behavioral problems. Starvation can also make a dog more susceptible to diseases and infections, and less responsive to treatment.

How to Recognize an Emaciated Dog?

Greta emaciated dog

An emaciated dog is one that has lost more than 20% of its normal body weight. This can be assessed by using a body condition score (BCS) system, which ranges from 1 (emaciated) to 9 (obese). A healthy dog should have a BCS of 4 or 5, which means that you can feel its ribs but not see them, and that it has a visible waist and a slight tuck in the abdomen.

Emaciated Dog

An emaciated dog will have a BCS of 1 or 2, which means that you can see its ribs, spine, hip bones, and other bones protruding under the skin. It will also have no fat deposits, no muscle mass, and a sunken appearance in the face and eyes. An emaciated dog may also have other signs of poor health, such as dull coat, dry skin, sores, wounds, infections, parasites, bad breath, or dental problems.

How to Feed an Emaciated Dog?

How to Feed an Emaciated Dog

If you find an emaciated dog, the first thing you should do is take it to a veterinarian for a thorough examination and diagnosis. The vet will be able to determine the cause and extent of the starvation, and prescribe the appropriate treatment and diet plan. The vet will also be able to monitor the dog’s progress and adjust the feeding schedule as needed.

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The general principle of feeding an emaciated dog is to start with small amounts of highly digestible food, and gradually increase the quantity and quality over time. This is to prevent refeeding syndrome, which is a potentially fatal condition that occurs when a starved animal receives too much food too quickly. Refeeding syndrome can cause severe electrolyte imbalance, cardiac arrest, organ failure, or death.

What is refeeding syndrome?

emaciated dog

Refeeding syndrome is a serious condition that can occur in dogs that have been malnourished or starved for a long time. It happens when they are fed too much or too fast, especially with foods that are high in carbohydrates. This causes a sudden increase in insulin, which drives glucose, potassium, phosphorus and magnesium into the cells. As a result, the blood levels of these electrolytes drop, leading to various complications such as muscle weakness, heart failure, seizures, hemolysis and even death .

To prevent refeeding syndrome, dogs that have been starved should be fed gradually and carefully, starting with small amounts of a low-carbohydrate, high-protein diet.

The daily caloric intake should be calculated based on the resting energy requirement (RER) of the dog, which is 70 x (body weight in kg)^0.75^. The first day, only 25% of the RER should be given, divided into several small meals. The amount can be increased by 25% every two days until the dog reaches 100% of the RER by the seventh day.

The blood glucose, potassium, phosphorus and magnesium levels should be monitored closely during this period and supplemented if needed.

The following are some guidelines for feeding an emaciated dog:

guidelines for feeding an emaciated dog
  • Start with a bland diet that consists of boiled chicken or turkey and white rice, or a prescription diet that is specially formulated for gastrointestinal problems. Avoid foods that are high in fat, fiber, sugar, or salt.

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  • Feed the dog four to six small meals per day, rather than one or two large meals. The total amount of food per day should be about 50% of the normal daily requirement for a dog of its ideal weight. For example, if the dog’s ideal weight is 20 pounds, it should receive about 500 calories per day.
  • Increase the amount of food by 10% every day until the dog reaches its normal daily requirement. For example, if the dog’s ideal weight is 20 pounds, it should receive about 1000 calories per day when fully recovered.
  • Introduce new foods gradually and cautiously. After the dog has stabilized on the bland diet for about a week, you can start adding small amounts of regular dog food to the mix. Increase the proportion of regular food over time until the dog is eating only regular food.
  • Monitor the dog’s weight, body condition score, appetite, stool quality, energy level, and behavior regularly. If the dog shows any signs of discomfort, vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, or aggression, consult your vet immediately.
  • Supplement the dog’s diet with a multivitamin and mineral supplement that contains essential nutrients such as calcium, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, iron, zinc, copper,selenium,vitamin A,vitamin D,vitamin E,vitamin K,vitamin B complex, and vitamin C. Some evidence also supports the addition of the amino acid glutamine to the recovery diet, as it may help repair the intestinal lining and boost the immune system. This is an excellent multivitamin.
  • Provide the dog with fresh water at all times, and encourage it to drink frequently. Dehydration can worsen the effects of starvation and refeeding syndrome, so it is important to keep the dog hydrated.
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How long does it take for an emaciated dog to recover?

The recovery time for an emaciated dog depends on several factors, such as the severity of the starvation, the underlying cause, the age and breed of the dog, and the quality of care. In general, it may take several weeks to months for an emaciated dog to regain its normal weight and health.

How can I prevent my dog from becoming emaciated?

The best way to prevent your dog from becoming emaciated is to provide it with a balanced and complete diet that meets its nutritional needs, and to monitor its weight and body condition regularly. You should also ensure that your dog has access to clean water, a safe and comfortable environment, regular exercise, social interaction, and veterinary care. If you notice any signs of weight loss, illness, injury, or behavioral changes in your dog, seek professional help as soon as possible.

What are some common causes of weight loss in dogs?

Parasites such as worms, fleas, ticks, or mites
Infections such as bacterial, viral, fungal, or protozoal
Diseases such as diabetes, kidney failure, liver disease, thyroid problems, cancer, or inflammatory bowel disease
Dental problems such as tooth decay, gum disease, or oral tumors
Medications or treatments that affect appetite or metabolism
Stress or anxiety that affects eating habits or digestion
Food allergies or intolerances that cause vomiting or diarrhea
Dietary changes or deficiencies that result in malnutrition
Aging or senility that affect taste or smell
Competition or bullying by other dogs that limit food intake

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Is it safe to approach an emaciated dog I found?

Approach with caution, especially if the dog appears frightened or defensive. Use a calm and gentle tone, avoid sudden movements, and consider using treats to establish trust. If the dog is aggressive or appears sick, contact local animal control or a rescue organization for assistance.

What’s the first thing I should do if I find an emaciated dog?

First, give the dog clean water. Next, don’t give the dog too much food. It will make them sick. Instead offer very small portions to start of chicken or turkey. If you have fresh chicken or turkey that’s even better. But you can choose dog food that includes easily digestible carbohydrates like rice or sweet potatoes. Look for formulas that are specifically labeled as “sensitive stomach,” or “recovery”

If your dog is losing weight for no apparent reason, or if it is accompanied by other symptoms such as lethargy, weakness, pain, fever, or abnormal behavior, you should consult your vet for a diagnosis and treatment.

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