The Safe Way to Put Meat on a Skinny Dog's Bones

 |  Nov 18th 2010  |   0 Contributions


Manny is asweet, beautiful dogwho was found last month wandering inBrooklyn, New York. He was wearing a T shirt and hooded sweatshirt made for a human. The garments were loose-fitting, sotheyaccentuatedManny's shocking physical condition: He was severely emaciated, acanine X-ray at 41 pounds,all ribs andjutting, angularhips, with dry, scabby skin draped overhis almost-barebones.

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Malnutrition and dehydration had impacted hissilvery taupecoat, resulting in largebaldpatches along his back and tail. Yet the dog'sframe - not to mention the impressive size of his head and paws - suggest that by rights his ideal weightshould beabout 80 pounds. Happily, with TLC the city shelter - Animal Care and Control of New York City - was able to make quite a few pounds stick to Manny's ribs. By thetime he came home with me, he had alreadyput ona whopping 17pounds, weighing in at 58.6!Hishealthy weight gain isa greattestament to thecompassionate staffofAC&C.

The phenomenon of severely starved dogs turning up at animal shelters is unfortunately quite common nowadays, as the recession forces many pet owners to do the unthinkable: cut back on feeding their animal companions. Until the economy rights itself, our country'sshelters will be seeing more and more sad, skinny dogs just like Manny and possibly even worse -so adopters, foster caregivers, and rescuers of strayswill need to know how to safely help those dogs gain weight.

When I saw Manny's sad,noble face and gentle demeanor, I felt compelled to step up, foster him, and put some meat back on his bones. I also changed his name. This sexy beast looks like a miniature Great Dane, with the silvery coat color of a Weimaraner; I reckoned he deserveda more elegant handle. But since he already knew the name Manny, I had to tweak it rather than alter it drastically. And so, Manny was rechristened Magnus, the Latin word forbig. (Magnus also happens to be a character played by Keir Dullea in the movie "The Haunting of Julia" - but I digress.) Since K9 Magnus is a razor-thin shadow of his once and future self, he also sports a nickname: Magnus Minimus.

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I've never had to deal with an emaciated dog before. I knew what to do when occasionally my dogs would become overweight - this wasbefore I became strict about measuring kibble portions instead of eyeballing them - somy area of expertisewas alwaysreducing overweight dogs. Now, in preparation for this hungry dog who was about to eat food faster than I could acquire it, I made sure to lay in a supply of cinnamon, pumpkinand acidophilus, to minimize the chances of his developing diarrhea (which obviously wouldn'tadvance ourweight-gain campaign).

Next I consulted Dr. Edward Moser, board certified veterinary nutritionist, who warned, "Don't overdo it - there's plenty of time to put weight onMagnus gradually, and workhim up to whatever weight he does go to."That same principle applies when slenderizing a dog: slow and steady wins the race. For a total of 1800 calories per day - the right amount for an 80-lb. canine -Dr. Moser recommended the following twice-daily feeding regimen: one cup of Wellness Large Breed Puppy formula dry food (for its high protein and calorie content) even though Magnus is three years old, plus one 12.5-ounce can of Wellness wet food (so far Magnus's fave flavor is Lamb & Beef Stew).

"You want to feed 90 percent of the calories as dog food," Dr. Moser added.Although it's tempting to let a hungry dog carb-load on bagels, biscuits,and other such guilty pleaures in between meals, Dr. Moser advised agaisnt it. Instead, I have the vet'sblessing togive Magnus snacks of fresh, organicbanana (his favorite) andapples, plus cooked sweet potatoes, broccoli, andkale... all healthy treats. Magnus goes ape over bananas, practically swallowing them whole! Feeding him fruit is quite entertaining, like tossing fish to a sea lion.

After deciphering his diet, I made surethis badly neglected doggot a bath in TheraNeem pet shampoo, to condition his dried-out 'dermis. I didn'twant poor Magnus getting itchy, flaky skin from exposure to the cold, dry, late-autum air. The sudsingimmediately resulted in a super-soft coat, and helped condition the exposed skin, so Magnus can cope more easily with the cool climate conditions of November in New York City.

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Today, almost a week afterhe came home from his neuter surgery, I have good news: Magnus is on the mend.His neuter incision is perfectly healed up - an excellent indicator, Dr. Moser points out, that his immune system isin goodshape despite his still-skeletal appearance. His spirits are high, and he already looks like a healthier, happier, and - yes - bigger dog.

And boy, doeshelove to eat. Yet despite having experienced the terrible pain of starvation,Magnus doesn't inhale hisfood; rather, he displays beautiful table manners, delicately eating the contents of his bowl, then licking it clean, rather than breathlessly inhaling his meals.

We've all heard of "The Biggest Loser"; I'd like Magnus to be The Greatest Gainer! He's well on his way.I'll keep you posted on his progress as he eats his way to health -and I welcome your comments, suggestions, tips, and any war stories you may want to share.

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