Caring for a neglected and starved dog can be difficult but fulfilling work. Outlined below are the steps you can take to help your starved dog through the journey to be healthy and fit.
1. Crisis Intervention
If you find a stray obviously neglected and starving your first step is to ensure your own safety – be sure the dog is friendly and if you aren’t sure, handle with extreme caution. First, get the dog indoors right away, starved dogs are extremely sensitive to heat and cold and desperately need to use the calories that keeping warm or panting to cool down would burn.
Introduce food to the dog in small quantities (about 15-20% of what you would typically feed a dog that size) every 20-30 minutes. Do NOT let the dog gorge itself. Use puppy food or a high protein, high quality food to maximize nutrition. Feed the best quality puppy food you can afford- it steals calories for the dog’s digestive sustem to have to work breaking down a lesser quality food.
Keep the dog separate from your other pets until a veterinarian can check it. Most starved dogs will seem exhausted because they have no reserve of energy that isn’t being used for basic body functions. Let the dog sleep, keep it warm, and have it checked by a vet as soon as possible- some very emaciated dogs will not survive without medical care so don’t neglect this step or wait and see! Supplement with 1-2 IU of Vitamin E per pound of body weight to help the body recover faster.
2. Veterinary Care
Starvation is not always caused by a lack of food alone. Parasites and infection may also be robbing the dog of energy. Get to the vet as soon as possible to have the dog examined and for specific advice in helping the dog gain weight.
3. Fat Building
Once the dog is determined to be otherwise healthy, continue with small to medium meals three to four times a day. For extremely starved dogs, every bit of energy goes into keeping them alive, so don’t be suprized if your rescue dog sleeps 18-20 hours a day. Just keep the dog warm and allow them time for their body to heal.
Even as your dog gains weight, she won’t want to play much at first. Give treats often and stuff Kong toys with peanut butter and make Frosty Paws for high calorie snacks. The dog may gain a few pounds immediately and then stop gaining for a week or longer. This is normal and just a result of the dog’s body recovering. If weight gain does not resume in 2 weeks you should consult your veterinarian.
Weigh your dog weekly by dropping by the vet (your vet should not charge a fee for a simple weigh in, but call to check first) or at home. You can weigh most dogs using a bathroom scale by weighing yourself and then weighing yourself again while holding the dog- subtracting the first weight from the second to calculate the dog’s weight.
4. Muscle Tone
Once your dog gets up to 80-90% of their ideal weight you can start feeding regular adult food or only puppy food at the noon meal. At this point it is time to start deliberately building the starved dog’s muscle tone. During extreme starvation, the body feeds off the muscle tissue in the body, so starved dogs may have no muscle to speak of. (which also explains the weakness in earlier stages) Daily walks are important to help build muscle. Watch the dog’s body language as an indicator of how much exercise is enough. Take it easy! Your pup has little fat and muscle to cushion her bones and joint so may need to walk slow.
Once your dog reaches a healthy weight and has begun to build muscle tone he’s well on his way to health. You’ll be surprised over the course of the next few months at the new, healthy coat that will begin to grow and how much energy your dog will have. Even after your dog reaches a healthy weight you should be considerate of their body and remember that extreme starvation can have an effect on their body for up to 12-18 months.