Caring for an Emaciated Dog

Determining How Much to Feed

Nutritionists employ a number of methods and formulas to determine the average total caloric intake for dogs based upon the dog’s ideal body weight. Any estimate of "how much" to feed is inherently subjective and lots of variables will apply to each individual dog.

Some nutritionists rely on the (MER) Maintenance Energy Requirement to determine approximately how much food (actually how many calories) an average dog needs on a daily basis to maintain body weight. In spite of exceptions and variables, calculating the MER is sensible and useful.

Below is an approximation for an average dog’s maintenance daily caloric requirements:

Dog’s Weight in Pounds Total Calories Needed Per Day
11 456
22 725
44 1,151
66 1,508
88 1,827
132 2,394

The stress of recovery from a starvation state might demand a slightly higher caloric intake than estimated. When feeding the emaciated dog, the number of calories the dog should ideally consume during recovery from starvation should be approximately the same as what the dog would consume at its normal weight. For example, if a rescued Mastiff is extremely thin and emaciated and upon examination she weighs 88 pounds and you estimate that when healthy she would weigh 130 pounds, try to feed the dog a daily caloric amount calculated for a 132 pound dog. Therefore, during a 24-hour day you would provide the dog not with 1,827 calories but rather 2,390 calories.

Every pet food or supplement label must list the calories per unit weight of the product. Plus, the percent fat and protein are listed. For some mysterious reason carbohydrates (CHO) percentages are not often listed and, if needed, must be calculated by deduction from the percentages of everything else listed on the label. Fortunately, in the starving dog’s recovery diet our main focus is on fat and protein intake so calculating the calories supplied by carbohydrates isn’t a priority.

It is suggested that dogs mildly to moderately underweight be provided with a diet moderately high in fat and protein. These diets should have adequate levels of carbohydrates but not predominantly carbohydrate. Try to feed products that show (for dry food) fat content of 18% and protein 28-30%. (Liquid supplements will list seemingly lower percentages for fat and protein because they typically are 60 to 70% moisture whereas dry pet foods have only 10% moisture.)

For a markedly underweight dog that truly looks starved, an even higher fat content in the diet is recommended... but remember to start out slowly! Do not overfeed with too much at any single feeding. Also, check with your veterinarian before giving an emaciated dog a recovery diet.

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