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My old dog is losing weight, why?

Old gryehound dog advice © Unsplash

Have you noticed your old dog losing weight? Dogs generally seem to get fatter as they get older, because – like humans – their metabolism slows down. But (like humans) really old dogs can tend to get super skinny again

By G. John Cole

Very old dogs often find it difficult to keep weight on. They might have reduced appetite due to loss of the sense of smell and taste. The process of eating can also be difficult for them. But it is important to monitor weight loss in an old dog and do what you can to keep him at a healthy level.

Should you worry about an older dog losing weight?

Experts suggest that if your dog loses 10% of his weight, it is time to worry. This is considered significant weight loss in a dog. If it happens suddenly, it’s all the more concerning.

It could be the normal kind of weight loss experienced by the elderly. Or it could be a particular condition or illness that is cause for concern. You should take your dog to the vet to get him checked out either way.

You should pay attention to any other symptoms of illness that your dog shows. Your vet will need to know all of your dog’s symptoms if she is to make an accurate diagnosis.

Weight loss and diabetes

Older dogs sometimes start to suffer from diabetes. This happens when he is unable to transform glucose into energy. His body starts burning up fat and protein instead.

If his appetite is strong, but he seems weak and lethargic in behaviour, it could be a sign of diabetes. You will likely notice he is drinking and urinating more, too.

Diabetes can be managed with a regime of exercise, diet change, and medication – but you’ll need your dog’s vet to guide you through.

Weight loss and cancer

There are lots of possible symptoms of cancer in a dog, and few that are ‘guaranteed’ symptoms. Once again, if your dog shows symptoms in addition to weight loss then it will be up to your vet to investigate.

If your dog’s appetite is down, he has lumps and bumps or his belly starts sticking out, it could be a sign of cancer. Likewise if his peeing habits change, or he becomes more lethargic.

But these can be signs of many things, so before you panic – get him checked out.

Weight loss and kidney failure

Your dog’s kidneys filter the toxins that pass through his body, and eject them in his urine. Unfortunately, like the best of us, your dog’s kidneys can start to work less and less as he ages.

He may start drinking more water to try to wash out those toxins. And so he may start peeing more to deal with all that fluid. At the same time, you might notice a loss of appetite and energy, or pale gums.

Kidney disease, like most illnesses, is best dealt with early, so ship your dog off to the vet as soon as you have any concerns.

How to deal with an old dog losing weight

These are just some of the most common reasons for your dog to lose weight. He might also just lose weight because he is getting older. What’s most important is, that the sudden weight loss is dealt with quickly. But even gradual weight loss in an older dog is a good reason to go and see the vet.

Believe it or not, your dog is considered to be middle-aged-senior from when he’s around seven years old. So, it’s time to stop treating him like a puppy! You can gradually change his diet to ‘senior’ level, by buying senior formula foods. Antioxidants and polyunsaturated oils may help.

You can try giving your dog warm food or several small meals a day instead of two big feasts. You might add a little vegetable oil to make the food fattier. Your dog’s sense of taste and smell start to fade as he gets older, so making his food tastier with a sprinkle of one of his favourite treats can help to boost his appetite.

And if there’s a younger dog around, make sure she’s not pinching your older dog’s dinner if granddad is taking his time over eating it!

Consult your vet before doing anything mad with your dog’s diet, especially if he’s had special dietary needs in the past. The irony is that you’ll likely have to deal with overweight before underweight. Middle-age spread can start to happen around seven. Just a couple of years later, the symptoms previously described can start to show. That’s why it’s important to weigh your dog regularly. You might not notice visible changes if you’re with him every day.