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How to Build Muscle on a Dog With Food: 5 Vet Approved Tips

Written by: Kristin Hitchcock

Last Updated on July 12, 2024 by Dogster Team

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How to Build Muscle on a Dog With Food: 5 Vet Approved Tips


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Dr. Maxbetter Vizelberg

DVM (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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There are several reasons that you may want to build muscle on your dog. Canine athletes often benefit from increased muscle mass, as it helps them go harder and longer. Older dogs often lose substantial amounts of muscle mass, and they often need extra help to maintain their body weight. Overweight dogs may also benefit from muscle gain, as it will increase their metabolism.

No matter the reason, building muscle mass has much to do with what your dog eats. While your dog needs to stay active to ensure that they gain muscle and not fat, they won’t gain anything unless they’re eating the correct stuff.

Fortunately, helping your dog gain muscle through eating isn’t that difficult. It simply takes a bit of background knowledge and a few specific steps.

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First, a Word of Warning

There are several healthy reasons that your canine may need to gain muscle. For instance, overweight and senior dogs may need help gaining muscle mass. Athletic dogs often need muscle-building food to support their active lifestyles.

However, there are also several unhealthy reasons. For instance, some dog owners attempt to increase their puppy’s muscle mass, often because puppies tend to look a bit skinny. Usually, this occurs in large breed dogs whose owners expect them to fit a specific standard. This is not recommended.

Large breed puppies that gain weight too fast are at very high risk of developing a number of serious health conditions. For instance, excess caloric intake is a common reason for hip dysplasia, which develops in puppyhood. While genetics also play a role, diet can seriously increase your dog’s chance of developing these conditions.

vizsla pitbull mix puppy dog with tongue out
Image by: Michael J Magee, Shutterstock

divider-dog pawThe 5 Tips to Build Muscle on Dogs

1. Choose a Muscle-Gaining Dog Food

First, your best bet for helping your dog gain muscle is to choose a dog food that is specifically designed to do so. You can also find muscle-gaining treats, but these will make up a small amount of your dog’s diet (and therefore not have as big of an impact as their food).

We recommend choosing a quality, weight-gaining food, as they are not all made the same. A food preferably should have a lot of meat-based protein. Without enough protein, your dog simply won’t gain muscle.

Furthermore, to help digest this protein, fiber is recommended. Your dog may benefit from more or less fiber, depending on their activity level and needs. You may need to play around with moderate- and high-fiber foods until you find one that works best for your canine. If your dog experiences digestive upset when consuming their dog food, it could be a sign that they need more fiber.

Finally, your dog also needs micronutrients, which are all the proper vitamins and minerals to stay healthy. A sickly dog is not going to gain muscle.

man checking dog food label
Image by: BearFotos, Shutterstock

2. Amp Up the Flavor

If you want your dog to gain muscles, they need to eat. Therefore, the food you offer must be flavorful. While many dog food companies do a good job of this on their own, adding some meat-based toppers may be a good option.

3. Don’t Forget Hydration

Your dog needs plenty of hydration to build muscle. Hydration is vital for transporting nutrients throughout your dog’s body. Plus, less-than-optimal hydration can lead to problems with your canine’s exercise routine, which is also vital for muscle building.

Of course, toppers can add extra hydration to your dog’s diet, but dogs are pretty good about drinking enough water. Be sure that your dog’s water is clean and available at all times. If you take your dog on a walk, consider taking water with you if it’s more than a mile or so. Generally, if you take water with you, your dog should also be provided water.

dog drinking water
Image by: Peter Roslund, Shutterstock

4. Consider Adding Extra Food

Many people assume that their dog needs raw or cooked meat to gain weight. However, this typically isn’t the case if you utilize a muscle-gaining formula. These dog foods typically contain all the protein your dog needs to gain weight. However, you may want to consider adding a source of omega-fatty acids to their food. Fish oil, such as cod oil, provides plenty of omega fatty acids and adds flavor. You may also consider adding berries and other antioxidant-rich ingredients.

Make sure you’re feeding your dog the right amount, check out our dog food calculator here:

The exact amount of calories an individual animal needs to maintain a healthy weight is variable and influenced by many factors including genetics, age, breed, and activity level. This tool is meant to be used only as a guideline for healthy individuals and does not substitute veterinary advice 

5. Add Supplements

There are several supplement options on the market for dogs that need to gain muscle. Be sure to use an option specifically designed for canines, as not all human supplements are safe for dogs to take. These supplements can contain a variety of different ingredients, so be sure to take a look at the ingredient list before purchasing it. Of course, speak to your vet if you have any questions or concerns.

giving shih tzu a dog supplement
Image by: ALPA PROD, Shutterstock


In Conclusion

Most pet owners report that their dogs gain weight pretty quickly when given the appropriate diet. Usually, you’ll see minor results in only a month or two. However, for serious muscle gain, you’ll likely have to continue the diet for many months.

If you’ve tried all of these steps and your dog still isn’t gaining muscle mass after a month, speak to your vet. Practically all dogs should gain weight after trying these steps. If your dog isn’t, it could be a sign of an underlying illness. Parasites and absorption problems can get in the way of weight gain, and these problems require veterinary diagnosis and treatment.

Featured Image Credit: Nadezhda Zaitceva, Shutterstock

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