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Monday, August 22, 2016

Undernourished Or Sick? Getting A Pet To Gain Weight

Recently a reader sent me an email with a question about their dog.  I think the situation is applicable to any pet, and is a good topic of discussion.
Last month, my dog, a 1 and a half year old female Belgian Malinois suddenly lost her appetite, shed a lot and resulting in her losing about 2++ kg from her previously 23 kg body frame. 
My vet gave her some antibiotics tablets for 2 weeks because he suspected it was tick fever, which he told me was common all year long in our location. 
She started to show interest in food again on third day after starting antibiotics, which is a great relief. Apart from her vomitting on the second last day on antibiotics, i think she is all cured now.
When she had recovered, she was still very thin, her hip bones are very visible, she has a very obvious abdominal tuck and waist, her lumbar vertebra is very pronounced, her ribs are showing at a certain angle. I would say she easily score a 2.5 in the body score chart. She stands at 24inches at withers, her weight was only around 20kg then. 
Even though she was still very very energetic, basically there was no obvious change in her energy level throughout the whole time, I was very concern on her weight lost, so on top of her usual diet of Royal Canin Medium Adult, I bought a high protein adult Orijen dry food to boost her weight.
I mix it half and half, but she did like the Orijen better. Her waist is not so obvious now, but her hips are still showing. 
She is also having soft runny stool, likely from the switch in diet and also the high protein?
I would like to know whether what I did was ok, was i too anxious about her weight and wanting her to put on weight fast, so I introduced a high protein food in her diet a bad thing? How to ensure my dog gain weight safely and properly post an illness? My dog is not food motivated but is highly energetic , which was why I always ensure she eats properly, but is my concern for her weight valid, as I have seen rescue dogs gaining weight beautifully anyway.
Please let me know your thoughts, i would love to know how to care for my dog properly post an illness.
The question here is why is the pet underweight?  Is it due to the recent illness, or is there something else going on?  Based on this email I'm not sure if any diagnostic tests were performed on the first visit, and I'll make a perhaps incorrect assumption that they were not.
Weight loss can happen for a number of reasons.  Maybe it's because the pet simply isn't getting enough food and calories, and would need to be fed more.  Maybe they aren't eating well for some reason, and we need to figure out why their appetite has decreased.  Some disorders prevent the intestines from properly absorbing nutrients, leading to weight loss.  Certain illnesses such as cancer can draw resources out of the body, resulting in other tissues being malnourished and a resulting decrease in weight and muscle mass.  At just a glance and doing only an exam there really isn't a way to tell which of these things is causing weight loss.
In a case like the one above I would first recommend starting with a simple, fast, inexpensive exam of the feces for parasites.  If there is a high number of parasite eggs we may be able to fix the problem with inexpensive dewormers.  If the fecal exam was negative I would want to run a full blood chemistry profile and complete blood cell count.  Kidney disease, liver disease, diabetes, and other disorders can be detected with these tests and could give an answer.  It may also be worthwhile to give a broad-spectrum dewormer such as fenbendazole (Panacur) even if the fecal sample tests negative, as no fecal test is 100% accurate.  If all of these tests were normal and the stools were soft or loose, I would probably recommend testing for a condition called exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI).  This disorder happens because the pancreas stops producing certain digestive enzymes, and can be resolved with a simple dietary supplement. 
Assuming that all of these tests are normal I would try feeding more, and perhaps even giving a higher protein diet.  I wouldn't increase the protein level without first checking the kidney values on the chemistry profile.  While high protein levels aren't the only source of "stress" to the kidneys, we need to be careful with it if there is kidney damage.  I would also consider switching to a different brand of food based on the vet's recommendations, and at least temporarily using a puppy formula to promote weight gain.

As you can see there is more here than simply feeding more or using a high protein food.  The problem may not be a deficit of calories and may actually suggest a more serious health problem.  If there are underlying diseases or health problems simply increasing the food intake isn't going to help.