In canines, changes in health naturally come with age. It can be concerning to notice your older dog losing weight, so owners should know when it's time to see the vet. Our Los Angeles vets discuss weight loss in older dogs, and how you can look after your senior pet.

Why Your Old Dog May Be Losing Weight

If your older dog is losing weight, it may happen gradually until you notice subtle differences in their body, or they may drop weight suddenly. No matter the pace of your senior pup's weight loss, it's important to pin down why it's occurring. 

An old dog losing weight or muscle mass may point down to an underlying health issue - and sometimes this problem can be serious.

With any health problem, catching it early is key to managing disease or illness and ensuring your older dog maintains the best quality of life possible in their golden years.

You're in a great position to watch for any subtle changes because you see your furry friend every day, even if they initially seem inconsequential. Keep track of any changes you notice, as your veterinarian may need to know. It's crucial to keep an eye out for any noticeable changes in appetite or weight as your dog ages.

In this post, we'll discuss some common causes of weight loss in dogs, when you should be concerned, how a dog could lose weight even if eating, what to feed an old dog that's losing weight, and  how to get your senior dog to gain weight. 

Causes of Weight Loss in Older Dogs

While some dogs start to lose weight and muscle mass as they get older (around age 6-8 for larger dogs and 8-10 for smaller dogs), some do gain weight as they enter their senior years. This could also be a sign that your elderly dog is having trouble keeping up with their physical health on their own.

Older dogs require more calories and in the form of easily digestible protein to help them maintain their muscle mass. 

That said, it's not unusual for even healthy senior dogs to gradually lose weight as they age. There may be a few causes for this kind of weight loss, including:

  • Reduced appetite 
  • Poor absorption or digestion of food 
  • Declining muscle mass

As previously stated, sudden weight loss could point to a serious health condition in your older dog despite the above symptoms naturally occurring. Gradual weight loss is less likely to have been caused by a serious health issue.

Changes in other behaviors or bodily functions may help your vet pin down a reason for the weight loss. Some general reasons include:

  • Dehydration
  • Dental issues
  • Hip arthritis or lower back pain
  • Gallbladder or liver disease 
  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • Kidney disease 
  • Cancer

If your senior dog appears to be losing weight over time, contact us to request a physical exam

If the weight loss is more sudden, especially coupled with the above symptoms, it's vital to see your veterinarian as soon as possible to rule out potential disease or illness. Your veterinarian can also develop a diet plan to feed an old dog losing weight to counteract the loss.

Why Your Dog May Lose Weight if They're Still Eating

If your dog doesn't exhibit the aforementioned causes and symptoms, you may be perplexed as to why they're losing weight despite eating normally or exhibiting a normal appetite. Different justifications for this include:

  • Changes in diet - either the brand of food your senior dog is eating or its ingredients (i.e., sometimes kibble companies will change their recipe and the number of calories per serving) 
  • Liver disease
  • Maldigestion disorders that disrupt the body's ability to break food down into nutrients 
  • Malabsorption disorders such as inflammatory bowel disease 
  • Diseases such as diabetes, which can cause loss of weight and muscle mass

Causes for Concern

While there is no need to assume the worst, most veterinarians will advise you to seek a thorough medical examination if your dog has lost 10% or more of his or her normal body weight.

If your dog has lost this much weight within the past year or less, it's important that your vet conduct a full physical checkup. Your vet should know about and monitor for:

  • Changes in behavior or character
  • Signs of stress or excessive whining, pacing, or panting 
  • Constipation or a distended belly
  • Lethargy, confusion, or depression
  • Complete loss of appetite
  • Dry heaving, vomiting, or diarrhea

Diet for an Older Dog That Is Losing Weight

Remember that older dogs require a diet packed with calories so they won't need to consume as much or as frequently to reach their caloric requirements. 

Animals with normally functioning kidneys will need high-quality, easily digestible protein. While a dog's diet should contain moderate fat content, as they transition from early senior to geriatric, you should be adding high-quality fats to the mix to improve protein efficiency and increase calorie content.

Plus, picky eaters may be more inclined to eat high-caloric meals. Dense substances like fiber can be used to alleviate constipation issues for aging dogs and help them feel fuller while they consume fewer calories. That said, geriatric dogs will often need lower amounts of fiber, more easily digestible food, and higher density in calories. 

Look for premium dog food and ask your vet how much exercise is appropriate for your dog's specific needs. 

If your elderly dog is losing weight and muscle mass, your veterinarian may perform blood tests and a urinalysis to determine whether your dog has diabetes. Other diabetes symptoms include excessive thirst and urination, increased appetite, cloudy eyes, and chronic or recurring urinary infections. If your veterinarian confirms a diabetes diagnosis, treatment will include a special diet and insulin shots.

Importance of Routine Pet Care

Understanding your dog's current health status and new or ongoing medical conditions, as well as any changes to their behavior or physicality, will help inform your vet about potential causes for their weight loss or muscle mass decline.

It is beneficial to schedule routine exams with your veterinarian so that they can establish baselines for your pet's typical health and behavior. This can be useful if they aren't feeling well or if their health status changes as they get older.

Your vet can advise you about how often they recommend coming in for a checkup and may recommend increasing the frequency of visits as your dog ages. 

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Have you noticed significant weight changes in your dog? Contact our Los Angeles vets today to book a wellness exam for your senior dog.