What do you feed a sick and starving dog?

Written by elizabeth tumbarello
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What do you feed a sick and starving dog?
Feed the dog high calorie treats to facilitate weight gain. (dog biscuits image by Greg Pickens from Fotolia.com)

Animal abuse and neglect are heart-wrenching things. They are even more heart-wrenching when you come face-to-face with a sick and starving dog who has been denied access to food. Depending on your state's laws concerning animal abuse and neglect, you may be in the position to help a sick and starving dog by feeding it.


Consider the background of the dog, whether it is a stray or if it is a dog owned by someone else. If the dog obviously belongs to someone else, your state's laws may limit what you can do to feed it. Determine whether the dog is starving because it is sick or if it is sick because it is starving. What and how you feed the dog is affected by any underlying health problems that might be present. Also consider how long the dog has been sick and starving. If the dog has not eaten in over two days or is otherwise stressed or in ill health, dehydration is a concern. Simply feeding a sick and starving dog may not be enough--if food is introduced to a completely empty stomach, the dog may vomit and choke or may go into a coma induced by shock, advises the "Clinical Textbook for Veterinary Technicians." When in doubt, speak to a licensed veterinarian as soon as possible.


The Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine advises people with emaciated dogs to feed them a high-quality, well-balanced dog food. A well-balanced dog food includes protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals and is labelled under federal regulations as nutritionally complete. Nutritionally complete foods have enough of these vital substances to meet a dog's daily metabolic needs. Avoid nutritional supplements unless otherwise advised by medical personnel--these may give the dog too many nutrients at once when combined with dog food. If the dog is sick and unable to keep any food down due to a minor illness but is otherwise healthy and not emaciated, try feeding a mixture of white rice and boiled or baked shredded chicken for a few days until the dog's stomach settles down enough to accommodate regular dog food, according to the "Clinical Veterinary Advisor."

Time Frame

"Nutrition for Veterinary Technicians" advises caretakers of emaciated dogs to feed the dog ½ to 1 whole cup more food than recommended for the dog's age and weight for the first two to three weeks, adjusting the dog's intake to accommodate for illness, disabilities and strenuous exercise. Within one week, the dog's muscles will begin to regenerate. Within two weeks, a healthy layer of fat should grow. Within a month, a severely nutritionally deficient dog's coat regains lustre and sheen. If weight gain does not begin within a week, seek the advice of a veterinary professional.


Dogs that are not accustomed to food can experience gastrointestinal upset. If the dog experiences vomiting, make the dog as comfortable as possible and ensure its airways are clear and that it is able to expel any food that it vomits up. Try feeding the dog a high-quality puppy food. These foods are made high in nutrients and are more easy to digest than adult dog foods. Dogs that are sick and starving may sleep more than healthy dogs. This is a normal part of the body's healing process, as outlined in "Shelter Medicine for Veterinarians and Staff."


Starved dogs may gain a few pounds within several days, with weight gain stopping abruptly for a period of several days to a week. This is a normal occurrence and is part of the body's recovery process. Feed the dog high-calorie, high-fat treats freely in order to facilitate weight gain. Yoghurt, peanut butter and commercial dog treats are all viable options.

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